After a brief holiday last week, I returned to some heavy reading courtesy of the federal government. Some of the materials that I read were gratifying, and one was terrifying.

In one week, the Supreme Court told the police that if they want to examine the contents of our cellphones, whether at traffic stops or serious crime scenes, they need to get a warrant. It told the president that he cannot wait until Saturday morning, when the Senate is not in session, to appoint high-level officials whose jobs require Senate confirmation and then claim that they do not require Senate confirmation because the Senate was in recess. And it told selfless parents who stay home to care for their disabled children that the government may not force them to join health-care labor unions and pay union dues against their will.

Buried in these opinions was a legal memorandum sent to the president on July 16, 2010, nearly four years ago, and released last week, after two years of litigation aimed at obtaining it. The Obama administration had successfully resisted the efforts of The New York Times and others to induce a judge to order the release of the memo by claiming that it contained state secrets. The judge who reviewed the memo concluded that it was merely a legal opinion, and yet she referred to herself as being in “Alice in Wonderland”: The laws are public, and the judicial opinions interpreting them are public, so how could a legal opinion be secret?

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