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The conventional wisdom in the wake of Saturday morning’s raid to retrieve Elian Gonzalez is that Attorney General Janet Reno should have sought a court order to force the Miami relatives to turn over the boy. Senator Arlen Specter, Representative Tom Delay, and several prominent newspapers have claimed that the Attorney General acted too quickly, and that Reno should have asked a federal judge to provide blessing to the law enforcement operation beforehand. Faced with the fact that the Attorney General actually did get a search warrant from a federal magistrate on Friday night, many of these critics are now asking why she did not get a second court order to force the family to turn Elian over to the government. This type of reasoning is extremely dangerous; of all possible places to vest responsibility for such a momentous decision, an unaccountable federal judge with life tenure is an odd one to pick. The suggestion that the Justice Department should have obtained this flurry of court orders is an unnecessary sideshow, and one with potential to undermine our constitutional system of government.

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