27 September 2007

Federal Judge Defends the 4th Amendment.

Ed Brayton has sent out another good dispatch from the culture wars, alerting us civil libertarians that another portion of the USA PATRIOT Act has been struck down as unconstitutional.

The decision came in a lawsuit filed by Brandon Mayfield, the attorney from Portland, Oregon,--and a muslim--who was falsely and foolishly suspected by the FBI of being a conspirator in the Madrid train bombings 2004. Using a portion of the PATRIOT Act, they got a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court without having probable cause, and planted bugs in his house while doing a "sneek and peek" search.

No problem, except that a search without probable cause is an explicit violation of the 4th Amendment, which reads "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause." The judge explained it clearly.

Now, for the first time in our Nation's history, the government can conduct surveillance to gather evidence for use in a criminal case without a traditional warrant...For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law - with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill advised.

Hey, all you conservatives out there who think the Constitution means exactly what it says! Are you cheering right now? If you mean what you say, then you should be. But if you throw up some jibber-jabber about security and the war on terror, then you're admitting that you don't take the Constitution nearly as literally as you claim to.

The problem stems from the way the Patriot Act was passed. Playing on the fear generated by 9/11, Republican leaders in the House and Senate jammed through the bill with no debate, and without letting anyone read the contents. Rushig to pass ill-conceived legislation is exactly the kind of thing the House tends to do, but the Senate nearly always slows things down, acting, as George Washington is alleged to have said to Jefferson, as a "cooling chamber for legislation." The Balanced Budget Amendment, the Flag Burning Amendment, the Gay Marriage Amendment, and the Contract with America are just some recent examples of the Senate blocking silly legislation passed by the House. But with the Patriot Act they forgot their proper role in the U.S. system.

And while it was Republicans who pushed it through, the Democrats are no less guilty. After all, they voted blind on major legislation, like the cowards they generally are. Anytime the Republicans murmer, "Un-American," the Dems rush to out-fascist the fascists just to prove their patriotism.

As if gutting the Bill of Rights is by any stretch of the imagination patriotic.

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