WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CONSTITUTIONAL CHECKS AND BALANCES?
Since September 11, 2001, serious questions have been raised about the health of our constitutional system of checks and balances.
Here are some of the reasons why:
The executive branch
• The powers of this branch (which includes not just the presidency, but the intelligence and law enforcement agencies) have been considerably expanded by the USA PATRIOT Act.
• Through executive orders the President and Attorney General have expanded their powers in the name of fighting the "war on terror."
• Executive branch actions have increasingly been carried out in secret, making meaningful oversight by Congress and the courts impossible.
The legislative branch
• Both Houses of Congress have been in the hands of a single party, which has controlled how matters are conducted and made it difficult for opposition voices to be heard and investigative committees to function.
• Congress gave the executive branch significant new powers when it passed the USA PATRIOT Act. Other pieces of legislation expanding executive branch power have been buried in larger bills and passed without sufficient notice or debate.
• On those rare occasions when Congress has acted to check the executive branch such as by passing Senator John McCain's anti-torture amendment the President has added a "signing statement" to the legislation claiming he does not have to abide by it.
• Several of the lower courts have played a significant role in exercising a brake on what they have viewed as unconstitutional power, only to be overruled by higher courts when the government has appealed their decisions.
• The Supreme Court has declared that the government does not have a "blank check" in the war against terror. But rather than lead to meaningful reforms, the Administration has stalled or sought out ways to minimize the impact of Supreme Court rulings in cases involving detainees in the "war against terror."
• Increasingly, the Administration has used the "state secrets" argument in court, claiming courts cannot hear certain cases because to do so would jeopardize "national security."
The debate over the USA PATRIOT Act
Around the country in 1995-6 a debate took place over the balance between "national security" and civil liberties as part of the Congressional debate on the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act's "sunset" provisions. These were 4-year-long limits attached to 16 of the PATRIOT Act sections requiring that they either be reauthorized by Congress in that 4-year period or expire.
On December 16, 2005, in the middle of this debate, The New York Times published a story it had been sitting on for a year. It revealed that President Bush had signed a secret executive order sometime in 2002 permitting the super-secret National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans within the US without getting warrants from the secret FISA court as required by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The FISA court had been established after a Congressional committee revealed the extent of government spying on Americans in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. President Bush defended the NSA domestic surveillance program as both lawful and necessary, but refused to allow Congress to hold an investigation into how it was being carried out. The debate over this surveillance program and questions about what else the executive branch was doing that had not yet come to public attention - became part of the public debate over the PATRIOT Act reauthorization and the failure of the constitutional system of checks and balances.
Arguments used by the Bush Administration to defend the USA PATRIOT ACT
Here is how Attorney General Alberto Gonzales who heads the Justice Department in the executive branch defended the new powers given to the executive branch by the USA PATRIOT Act. His article appeared in the Washington Post and various other national newspapers. It provides a good summary of the arguments used by Administration supporters as the PATRIOT Act debate heated up.
Congress Should Reauthorize the Patriot Act and Further Strengthen Homeland Security
By Alberto R. Gonzales
On Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists inspired by hatred murdered nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. In response, Congress overwhelmingly passed the USA Patriot Act. Now, before it adjourns for the year, Congress must act again to reauthorize this critical piece of legislation. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations are at work: Their stated goal is to kill Americans, cripple our economy and demoralize our people.
The bill to be considered this week is a good one. It equips law enforcement with the tools needed to fight terrorists, and it also includes new civil liberties protections. Members of Congress should put aside the rhetoric and focus on the facts surrounding this vital legislation.
The Patriot Act has been successful in helping prevent acts of terrorism in many ways. First, it updated anti-terrorism and criminal laws to reflect evolving technologies. Second, it increased penalties for those who commit terrorist crimes. Third, it gave terrorism investigators the same tools used by those who pursue drug dealers and the Mafia. Most important, the act helped break down the wall preventing regular exchange of information between the law enforcement and intelligence communities.
Four years later, after a lengthy and extensive public debate, Congress has produced a comprehensive reauthorization bill to permanently reauthorize 14 of the act's 16 expiring provisions. During this important debate, Republicans and Democrats have discovered that concerns raised about the act's impact on civil liberties, while sincere, were unfounded. There have been no verified civil liberties abuses in the four years of the act's existence.
Furthermore, the new bill adds 30 safeguards to protect privacy and civil liberties. Specifically, it includes measures providing that those who receive national security letters may consult an attorney and challenge the request in court; requires high-level Justice Department sign-off before investigators may ask a court to order production of certain sensitive records, such as those from a library; and requires that the FBI describe the target of a "roving wiretap" with sufficient specificity to ensure that only a single individual is targeted.
In addition, this bill further strengthens homeland security by creating a new national security division at the Justice Department, providing additional protections against the threat of attacks on mass transportation systems and at our seaports, and granting us additional tools to protect Americans from terrorism.
Congress must act now or risk bringing terrorism prevention to a halt. For example, it is widely accepted -- and documented by independent bodies such as the Sept. 11 and WMD commissions -- that a lack of information-sharing and coordination in our government before the attacks of Sept. 11 compromised our ability to connect the dots about what our enemies were doing. The Patriot Act helped dismantle this barrier. And if we allow certain provisions to "sunset" on Jan. 1, we risk shutting down essential intelligence-sharing that occurs in the National Counterterrorism Center and other facilities where law enforcement officials sit side-by-side with intelligence professionals.
Those who voice concern that Congress is rushing to reauthorize the expiring provisions fail to recognize the oversight it has conducted. In 2005, Congress held 23 hearings focused on reauthorization and heard from more than 60 witnesses. The Justice Department was pleased to provide witnesses at 18 of those hearings, with more than 30 appearances by our experts. I testified three times, explaining the importance of the act, responding to concerns and directly addressing the act's critics. My testimony was informed not only by the successes of the act but also by my personal meetings with representatives from groups such as the ACLU and the American Library Association. During the reauthorization discussion, I asked that certain provisions be clarified to ensure the protection of civil liberties, and Congress responded.
For example, Section 215 of the act permits the government to obtain records on an order issued by a federal judge. I agreed that the statute should allow a recipient of such an order to consult a lawyer and challenge it in court. Further, I agreed that Congress should make explicit the standard under which such orders are issued: relevance to an authorized national security investigation. In 2001 one prominent Democratic senator agreed that the "FBI has made a clear case that a relevance standard is appropriate for counterintelligence and counterterrorism investigations, as well as for criminal investigations."
The president has said that our number-one priority is preventing another catastrophic terrorist attack. Congress must act immediately and reauthorize the Patriot Act before the men and women in law enforcement lose the tools they need to keep us safe.
An editorial "health check" on constitutional checks and balances and the USA PATRIOT Act:
Here are statements taken from newspapers round the country during the debate over the USA PATRIOT Act and warrantless domestic spying by the National Security Agency.
Valley Morning Star (Harlingen, TX), February 22, 2006
“The surveillance program has raised several questions that remain unanswered, and congressional inquiries could at least begin the process of answering them … Heaven knows a congressional inquiry is not always the best way to answer such questions, but it’s an important vehicle in our form of government. If the legislative branch is still a factor in our constitutional scheme, it needs to exercise this oversight power aggressively.”
The Beacon Journal (Akron, OH), February 22, 2006
“Fast-forward to April 2004, when, during a campaign speech in Buffalo, NY, while discussing the USA Patriot Act, President Bush stated in part: ‘Now, by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about a wiretap … a wiretap requires a court order. Nothing has changed…’ It has now come to light this administration has authorized wiretaps without court orders in the course of ‘chasing down terrorists.’ What was it again that Bush said in Buffalo about wiretaps and court orders?”
Chattanooga Times Free Press (Tennessee), January 10, 2006
“Mr. Bush has … gratuitously implied that he was faithfully respecting Americans' legal rights, while he was secretly allowing electronic spying on thousands of Americans, including even environmental groups. He owes the nation an explanation, a correction, and an administration that respects the law.”
Dallas Morning News (Texas) January 8, 2005
“The Patriot Act is an essential tool in this nation's defense strategy. …But House leadership and the president are pushing a version of the legislation that fails to strike a proper balance between protecting America and infringing on civil liberties. These significant shortcomings must and can be fixed.
“A periodic discussion about the scope and effectiveness of emergency anti-terror powers is a crucial part of maintaining checks on the power of the executive branch. … The recent controversy over domestic spying illustrates why these checks and balances are mandatory. … Common-sense revisions…to provide clear and fair due process would shore up the concerns of all but the most ideologically driven civil libertarians.”
Baltimore Sun (Maryland) January 3, 2006
“Four Republican senators joined Democrats last month in demanding more Patriot Act safeguards against government snooping into business, bank and medical records, as well as secret searches and tapped phones. They are responding to constituents alarmed by a government that just last week was caught sneaking software ‘cookies’ into private computers to track Internet activity.
“A consensus may be finally emerging that nothing justifies such means a welcome development that should help restore some balance. No administration, of either party, should be allowed such power.”
Palm Beach Post (Florida) December 31, 2005
“The administration's excesses the president's secret authorization of surveillance on Americans without a court order being the latest have justified concerns regarding unconstitutional abuses [under the Patriot Act].
“Mr. Bush's unapologetic stance on domestic spying underscores why Congress was correct to block the administration's make-it-permanent demand and take time to get the Patriot Act renewal right.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania) December 30, 2005
“Promoting security is not incompatible with preserving freedom, provided adequate safeguards and oversights are clearly included in any expanded authority of the government to conduct search-and-seizure operations on private citizens. But our civil liberties are in danger of being seriously compromised by a government with too much power to pry into the lives of Americans. We've already seen evidence of that with the Bush administration's domestic spying program.
“Enacting serious evasions of the Constitution won't make the country more secure only less free. Keep the Patriot Act, but mend it.”
Washington Examiner (District of Columbia) December 27, 2005
“Passed in the tumultuous aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, the USA Patriot Act greatly expanded the government's ability to find and prosecute suspected terrorists. …
“When a critical balance between safety and security must be found, it's often hard to draw the line. But it's certainly not where the threat to liberty from your own government looms far greater than the original risk.”
Patriot News (Pennsylvania) December 26, 2005
“Essentially, the Patriot Act diminishes the role of the courts in protecting individual privacy rights. The White House and its congressional supporters have been pushing to renew the act with some even stronger provisions than the original. What's needed are more protections for Americans, not fewer.
“With the recent disclosure of White House-approved warrantless wiretaps of U.S. citizens within the United States, we think more debate and more consideration of civil liberties, rather than less, is appropriate.”
Star Tribune (Minnesota) December 26, 2005
“The president couldn't be surer that [the Patriot Act] works. … [But] he’s not cited a single instance in which the Patriot Act has proved pivotal in averting terrorism. Yet somehow, even in the absence of proof, the assumption prevails that the Patriot Act is all that stands between American tranquility and terror.
“It's a dangerous assumption to make especially when American liberty is at stake. That's the point the president seems to miss and that the skeptical seek to emphasize. Many of the Patriot Act's provisions, they grant, raise no concerns at all. Their misgivings focus on a few provisions that have greatly broadened the government's power to invade personal privacy.”
The Providence Journal (Rhode Island) December 25, 2005
“If anything is worth more deliberation and deliberation on extending the Patriot Act has gone on for months our civil liberties are. …As the debate continues, we urge Congress to make sure that government retains power to investigate terrorists without tipping off terrorist networks. But there must be reasonable checks on executive spying by the legislative and judicial branches.”
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (Indiana) December 24, 2005
“Congress passed the original [Patriot] act in haste. This time, it deserves analysis and debate. Congress must remember that protecting Americans’ civil liberties is as important as protecting their physical safety”
News-Leader (Virginia), July 4, 2005
“Happy Independence Day, Virginia; although we’re not sure if a few famous Virginians would feel as sanguine about that wish if they were zapped forward in time from the year 1776. …
“Would Thomas Jefferson, who said, ‘where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe,’ appreciate the government’s desire to know what we read in the name of the USA Patriot Act?”
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia), June 29, 2005
“If you say the Patriot Act does not do away with some of our civil liberties, then you are ignorant of its provisions or are simply lying. In any case, you are clearly not competent to judge anyone’s loyalty.
“The true enemies of freedom are among us.”
Philadelphia Daily News (Pennsylvania), June 21, 2005
“The scariest thing I’ve seen lately… was a C-SPAN tape of the House Judiciary Committee chairman closing down a hearing on the Patriot Act on June 10. …
“No wonder some true conservatives have joined with civil libertarians to broadcast this clear and present danger to our freedomsand why the House of Representatives last week passed an amendment not to enforce the ‘library provision.’”
The Clarion-Ledger (Mississippi), June 20, 2005
“Passed in the weeks after 9-11, the Patriot Act had a number of provisions with an automatic repeal due to their far-reaching infringement of citizens’ rights that Bush now seeks to make permanent. A coalition of liberal and conservative groups has united to oppose extending them.
“Congress must cautiously guard civil liberties, not expand government surveillance and control.
“The Patriot Act needs retooling, not reauthorizing.””
Palm Beach Post (Florida), June 19, 2005
“A House vote on Wednesday to kill one of the Patriot Act’s silliest provisions…is a sign of progress. Lies, secrecy, and bullying are no way to justify expanded governmental power. …
“… Congress should not let the FBI bypass judges and issue its own warrants. As the Justice Department noted, the FBI missed five chances to snag two of the 9/11 hijackers. A better FBI will make the nation safer than an open-ended Patriot Act.”
The News & Observer (North Carolina), June 19, 2005
“The House of Representatives last week voted to block federal agencies from prying into the private reading habits of Americans. It was a triumph of American values over police-state paranoia. …
“If President Bush, as he has threatened, exercises veto power because of the stricken provisions, Congress should stand firm. Americans have willingly made great sacrifices in the war against terror. Giving up the right to such fundamental privacy as the choice of reading material is too much to ask of a free people.”
The Dallas Morning News (Texas), June 18, 2005
“We say bravo to the U.S. House, which voted 238-187 to block the portion of the Patriot Act that allows the government to investigate the library and bookstore habits of terror suspects. Congress, which quickly passed the Patriot Act in the days after 9-11, is right to remove this provision that violates the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding Americans.”
The Denver Post (Colorado), June 18, 2005
“The House of Representatives has voted down a provision in the Patriot Act that curtails the FBI’s powers to secretly monitor and seize library records. …
“… So far, seven states and hundreds of cities and towns have objected to the law, which gives the government far too much power to invade the privacy of ordinary Americans. …
“… This week’s action did nothing to alter the sneak-and-peak provision, which allows the government to spy on people without notifying them or obtaining a court order. Neither did it curtail the FBI’s ability to seize medical records. More bipartisan action is needed to safeguard civil liberties."
The New York Times (New York), June 17, 2005
“In a welcome rebuff to President Bush, the House has finally heeded the public’s growing fears for their liberties under the Patriot Act’s sweeping police powers…
“The action was needed to stop federal agents from conducting secret fishing expeditions. …
“Parts of the Patriot Act are reasonable and necessary, but too much of it provides license for federal agents to spy on innocent people and suppress dissent. … Protecting civil liberties is never a one-shot exercise. It is crucial that the surprise House coalition defend its vote and the public’s interest.”
Detroit Free Press (Michigan), June 17, 2005
“Bush should back off his all-or-nothing stance and allow leeway for legislators to make reasonable alterations to the Patriot Act. That should include keeping Big Brother out of the nation’s reading rooms.”
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri), June 17, 2005
“The idea of government agents checking what Americans read goes against the grain of our free society, which explains why Democrats and Republicans found themselves on the same side of the issue. …
“Much of the Patriot Act is a logical response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. … Congress needs to study the law more carefully and reassess whether all the trade-offs between personal freedoms and national security are warranted.”
The Post-Standard (New York), June 17, 2005
“President Bush has threatened to veto Wednesday’s House action to block renewal of some intrusive provisions in the Patriot Act. He should recognize that the vote expresses a measure of the outrage many Americans have voiced since the act was passed in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. …
“Some measures to protect Americans from terrorism are legitimate. But over-reaching governmental powers must be challenged because they make us less free, more vulnerable and less American.”
San Jose Mercury News (California), June 17, 2005
“No section of the USA Patriot Act has caused more unease among ordinary Americans than the so-called ‘library provision.’…
“Most Americans are profoundly offended by the notion that the government could snoop on their reading habitsand rightly so. In the land of liberty, the freedom to read anything without fear of the government intrusion ought to be sacrosanct.
“So it was heartening that the House of Representatives voted Thursday to curtail the library provision. …
“… Americans care deeply about their civil liberties. While they want their government to protect them from terrorists, they are increasingly wary about needlessly intrusive measures that threaten their most fundamental rights.”
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), June 17, 2005
“The Bush administration has declared that each of these federal intrusions [“sunset” provisions of the Patriot Act] and more are necessary to the preservation of this nation.
“We, as well as hundreds of communities, tens of thousands of Americans, and a growing number of members of Congress, believe the administration is wrong. …
“The administration hopes that the Senate will retain its ability to legally snoop wherever it chooses. We urge that body … to emulate the courage blossoming in the House. The intrusive Patriot Act provisions reach too far into innocent people’s lives. They, and not liberty, must be extinguished.”
Dayton Daily News (Ohio), June 16, 2005
“The president is at pains to suggest that 200 convicted terrorists are in jail. It’s not anyplace close to true. …
“This discussion [of the Patriot Act] is not going to get far if the president insists on using misleading numbers to paint his opponents as people who are trying to change a law that is working.”
The Boston Globe (Massachusetts), June 8, 2005
“… While some sections of the law are useful, its implications for civil liberties are troubling and its impact on terrorism is unclear. …
“Congress ought to be pruning unnecessary, intrusive sections instead of adding more threats to personal liberty.”
The New York Times (California), June 5, 2005
“One of the most common complaints about the Patriot Act is …it was a wish list of powers law enforcement officials had yearned for over the years that Congress had rightly resisted conferring. Now the Bush administration and its Senate allies have come up with another: a proposal to let FBI agents write their own ‘administrative subpoenas’…
“Freeing agents from getting a judge’s sign-off is an invitation to overreaching and abuse…
“Legitimate complaints that the existing law is overbearing have been heard from hundreds of state and local officials and from civil liberty and libertarian groups. Rather than addressing these flaws, Senate Republicans seem to be planning to compound them.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Washington), May 31, 2005
“… Some in Congress and the White House would not only make permanent the law’s controversial elements but also expand the law to increase the power of the federal government to sift through our files and peer into our lives.
“One of the most troubling of the proposed new powers would be granted to the FBI, in the ability to issue ‘administrative’ subpoenas, which would not require a judge’s approval. Surely legislation in such blatant conflict with the Fourth Amendment should at least be debated in the light of day.”
The State Journal-Register (Illinois), May 31, 2005
“The Patriot Act now draws criticism from across the partisan and ideological spectrum of American politics. Those committed to protecting our constitutional values from both the political right and the political left in our nation want to use this renewal process as an opportunity to ‘fix’ some portions of the Patriot Act. …
“… The provision of the Patriot Act authorizing secret searches contains a broad justification for secret searches…
This overly broad loophole leads to abuse of innocent persons. …
“It is precisely this sort of abuse that led a bipartisan group of legislators in both houses of Congress to introduce the Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) bill. …
“Unfortunately, one part to these discussions is unmoved by evidence of abuses the Bush administration. While most of Congress is talking about limiting power under the Patriot Act, the Bush administration actually wants to expand the reach of the Patriot Act.”
Monterey County Herald (California), May 31, 2005
“Under a misguided proposal long on the wish list of federal law enforcement, the FBI would be given virtually unchecked subpoena powers to search records in terror probes. In like manner, the agency would have near-carte blanche to track the mail of Americans a move that has U.S. Postal Service officials concerned about privacy. …
“Congress should be focused on reining in the more intrusive investigative techniques under the anti-terrorism law…
The Miami Herald (Florida), May 29, 2005
“Incredibly, the FBI not only wants all of the ‘sunset’ features made permanent; it wants them expanded. One proposal would allow the FBI to subpoena records in intelligence investigations without the approval of a judge or grand jury. This do-it-yourself search warrant represents another unchecked power that makes it easier for prosecutors and police to go on fishing expeditions. …
“Instead of seeking unlimited power to protect the lives of Americans, at the expense of the civil liberties we enjoy, the administration should consider how it can protect both.”
The Miami Herald (Florida), May 28, 2005
“The Patriot Act… already gives law enforcement considerable leeway in going after the personal information of anyone within reach. The request for expanded power suggests that judicial review, a crucial safeguard against the abuse of power, is considered a mere inconvenience to be discarded whenever possible. …
“… Instead of seeking unlimited power to protect the lives of Americans, at the expense of the civil liberties we enjoy, the administration should consider how it can protect both.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer (Pennsylvania), May 26, 2005
“Not only is there a chance the Senate intelligence committee will meet behind closed doors today, it's also likely to consider what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as ‘a dramatic expansion of secret search powers.’"
”Under a misguided proposal long on the wish list of federal law enforcement, the FBI would be given virtually unchecked subpoena powers to search records in terror probes. …
“There's no reason to believe the FBI cannot safeguard the nation against terror attacks and yet still subject its investigative techniques to judicial review. Congress has rejected the idea of administrative subpoenas for the FBI before, and should do so again."
Plain Dealer (Ohio), May 26, 2005
“Secrecy is the enemy of liberty. Why, then, is the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence meeting in secret today to finish the details of its Patriot Act rewrite?
”The committee, at the behest of the White House, not only seeks to make permanent the Patriot Act’s most onerous features, but plans as well to give federal authorities yet more unquestioned access to the private medical, financial and transactional records of Americans without so much as a by-your-leave from any court. …
“… That’s too much power for any law-enforcement agency to wield with no oversight. It invites misuse and abuse and threatens the freedoms the Patriot Act sought to protect.”
The Post-Standard (New York), May 26, 2005
”The Fourth Amendment … protects the people's right ‘against unreasonable search and seizures.’ Those seeking to protect those same people from terrorists have not made a compelling case for breaching that precious right.”
The San Francisco Chronicle (California), May 24, 2005
“The so-called Patriot Act went too far, but the Bush administration doesn't think it went far enough. …
”If the proposed changes are made, the committee would effectively eliminate what little checks and balances were left once the Patriot Act was put into play."
St. Petersburg Times (Florida), May 23, 2005
“There already are civil liberties concerns over the lax standards for records access contained in Section 215 of the Patriot Act one of the provisions set to expire.
“Getting rid of this individualized suspicion requirement enabled the FBI to gain access to huge databases that include personal information on law-abiding Americans, with only the barest of judicial oversight. …The Bush administration and Republican leaders … now want to allow the FBI to obtain these sorts of records with an administrative subpoena, which can be issued internally without a request to a judge. …
“… The FBI may not want to be answerable to a judge when it seeks to peer into our private lives, but the protection of our liberty demands it.”
“The usual conservative and libertarian opposition to expansions of government powers seems to be missing, with the exception of former Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, an outspoken critic of the act who earlier this month submitted to the Senate a thoughtful series of recommendations for checks and balances in renewing the Patriot Act. It looks as if he has been ignored.
”Mr. Barr told The Associated Press, ‘While we're fighting to bring provisions back into balance with the Bill of Rights, here we have the intelligence committee moving to give the government more power outside the judicial system to gain access to records of Americans.’”
Pittsburgh Tribune Review (Pennsylvania), May 22, 2005
“If Congress capitulates to the Bush administration and expands the power of the Patriot Act, it also should pass a resolution demanding the repeal of the Fourth Amendment to make it official. …
“The government must not be allowed to increase its already awesome power by redefining ‘probable cause’ into ‘fishing expedition.’
“And it must not be allowed to redefine ‘patriot’ as someone who refuses to protect the rights that the original patriots fought and died for.”
Lansing State Journal (Michigan), May 20, 2005
“The USA Patriot Act is being rewritten to give the FBI the power to subpoena records without approval from a judge or grand jury. …
“This would result in one less check on an administration that has zealously undermined the civil liberties of American citizens in the name of fighting terrorism. …
“It’s unclear whether we’re winning the war on terrorism.
“But it seems certain we’re losing the battle to retain our right to privacy.”
The Roanoke Times (Virginia), May 20, 2005
“Congress should devote a more measured, studious approach to providing necessary terrorism-fighting tools without eroding constitutional protections.
“Instead, the Bush administration appears to be pushing for a dramatic expansion of the already expansive powers contained in the Patriot Act, and the Senate Intelligence Committee is meeting behind closed doors to consider changes.
“Such secrecy is an inauspicious beginning to the reauthorization. …
“Achieving security need not involve sacrificing fundamental liberties. Congress should undertake a calm and open debate about how best to accomplish that.”
The Deseret News (Utah), May 12, 2005
“There are two areas that cause us concern. One is a section that allows authorities to easily obtain so-called ‘sneak and peek’ warrants. …
“The other is a section that requires libraries and other non-profit organizations to turn over information about their patrons to investigators who request it. …
“No one should underestimate the threat that terrorists pose to the nation. …
“It's hard to effectively keep them at bay without trampling on constitutional rights. And yet the Constitution is the most precious document of this nation's government. It protects and guarantees the very things the terrorists wish to destroy.”
The Palm Beach Post (Florida), May 4, 2005
“The excessive secrecy …only feeds concerns about secret searches of homes, possessions, library records and other forms of spying on Americans who pose no threat."
The Baltimore Sun (Maryland), April 28, 2005
“It's understandable that the beefy Patriot Act would pass in haste after the country was attacked on 9/11, but right that it be reconsidered at leisure, especially as Americans better understand how provisions are used and how tight the cloak of secrecy really is.”
The Dallas Morning News (Texas), April 17, 2005
“When fear replaces reason, lawmakers sometimes embrace a dishonorable route to an honorable end. Witness the USA Patriot Act, the collection of strong anti-terrorism measures Congress passed as the rubble of Sept. 11 smoldered and America's tears hadn't dried. …
“The nation must conduct the rigorous civil liberties debate that didn't occur in that fearful fall of 2001. Congress and the American people have an opportunity and, indeed, an obligation to correct provisions that assault our most sacred constitutional values.”
The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (Washington), April 17, 2005
“Conservatives and liberals united recently to introduce a bill repealing some of the worst parts of the USA Patriot Act. Rolling back the excessive powers granted to federal authorities will be a difficult fight. …
“It’s not surprising that Congress and the administration went too far with the Patriot Act. That’s happened in other wartime situations…
“The United States’ struggle with terrorism will be a long one. … Adhering to the civil liberties embodied in the Constitution will strengthen the freedom of Americans and the nation’s ability to hold itself up as a beacon of liberty.”
Argus Leader (South Dakota), April 17, 2005
“That law, the USA Patriot Act, largely was a mistake, addressing phantom problems while stripping Americans of some basic rights and freedoms.
“… The most offensive provisions are due to expire at the end of this year. The Bush administration not only wants all provisions renewed, it wants the Patriot Act expanded. …
“Supporters of the law say…there's been no evidence that civil liberties have been violated. …
“And how would we know if civil liberties have been violated, when so much of this is done in secret? …
“The potential for abuse exists, and our government hasn't given us any reason to be confident our civil liberties will be protected.
“We have an opportunity now to maintain the parts of the USA Patriot Act that really do offer common sense reforms to help law enforcement while ridding ourselves of onerous provisions that attack our basic freedoms.
“It is time for the USA Patriot Act to change.”
USA Today, April 12, 2005
“The record shows government can't be trusted to protect privacy rights, and the law has been abused.
“After months of denials that turned out to be false, the Justice Department reversed itself and acknowledged April 5 that it had secretly searched the home of an Oregon lawyer who was wrongly accused of being a perpetrator of last year's train bombings in Madrid. He was never told of the search. …
“And while the granting of unprecedented law-enforcement powers was justified as essential to the special needs of the war on terrorism, the act's provisions have been used in criminal investigations as mundane as a Las Vegas bribery probe.
“The need to renew portions of the Patriot Act due to expire at the end of the year gives Congress the opportunity to take a careful look at the entire law and this time show as much respect for the rights of ordinary citizens as for the demands of law enforcement.”
Toledo Blade (Ohio), April 12, 2005
“Objections to the Patriot Act are based not on irrational fears but on the oft-demonstrated tendency of power to corrupt that warrantless searches, secret confiscation of medical and other personal records, and similar tactics ultimately will tempt authorities to stray into fishing expeditions with a political or otherwise extralegal motive.
“If the zeal to track down terrorists results in the dilution of constitutional strictures against unreasonable search and seizure, government snooping will be institutionalized, and we will have lost the war we've been fighting, without a shot having been fired.”
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette (Indiana), April 12, 2005
“Clear thinking and not fear should drive the discussion on the Patriot Act. It should say something to Congress that the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union are on the same side on the topic. It’s time to reclaim liberty.”
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Pennsylvania), April 11, 2005
“We should at all times be wary of government power and any efforts to expand it. This is the position taken by people who esteem liberty.
“Yes, we need a Patriot Act. But Congress must not let ‘patriotism’ blind it to any signs that any administration is abusing the rights of American citizens.”
The New York Times, April 10, 2005
“When Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is not exactly a renowned civil libertarian, says the Patriot Act may need some adjustments, it clearly has serious problems. The act, which was rushed through Congress after the Sept. 11 attacks, gives government too much power to invade the privacy of ordinary Americans and otherwise trample on their rights. …
“… Parts of the law are reasonable law enforcement measures that have generated little controversy. But other parts unquestionably go too far, and invite the FBI, the CIA and the White House to spy on Americans, and suppress political dissent, in unacceptable ways.”
Contra Costa Times (California), April 8, 2005
“What is needed now is a calm and thorough review of how the Patriot Act has been used or, as critics assert, misused in the fight against terrorism. …
“Even in the midst of national hysteria, some in Congress had the good sense to recognize that it was treading on dangerous ground in passing a bill that sharply curtailed basic constitutional protections. …
The Chronicle-Tribune (Indiana), April 8, 2005
“The Bush administration claims it has been careful with the law, and perhaps that is true. But leaving such powerful laws on the books leaves open the invitation for abuse. Plus, keeping the government accountable is difficult because much of the government’s actions under the Patriot Act are classified.
“The act has the potential to weaken our rights under the First, Second, Fourth and Sixth Amendments. And if the fight against terrorism isn’t a fight to protect our rights, what are we doing?”
Statesboro Herald (Georgia), April 6, 2005
“When groups as politically polar opposite as the American Civil Liberties Union and the American Conservative Union join together to lobby against an issue, it should make both liberals and conservatives study the particular issue of commonality more closely.
“The basic fear of the Conservative Union, ACLU, many senators of both parties and, we believe, many Americans, is two-fold erosion of freedoms spelled out in the Constitution and potential for abuse by overzealous law enforcement agencies. …We must preserve checks and balances on enforcement even in the face of terrorism. Otherwise we put our democracy at risk. …We believe tightening some surveillance powers will better protect our rights of privacy as Americans and not adversely affect the war on terror at home.”
The Roanoke Times and World News (Virginia), March 27, 2005
“Almost four years into the war on terror, and counting, Americans should curb some of the Patriot Act's most intrusive powers. …
“Written in fear, to forestall future acts of terror on a scale most Americans had never before conceived, the Patriot Act was a conscious surrender of some civil liberties to fight a new kind of threat to the nation's survival. …
“Now, the danger of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil has not passed. But enough time has passed to weigh the new balance that was struck, look at the inevitable unintended consequences, and move carefully toward restoring government to its founding principles. …
“If Americans must forfeit their First, Second, Fourth and Sixth Amendment rights to fight terrorism, what is the fight for? Life without liberty?”
Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), March 27, 2005
“Congress and the courts should listen up. For as Mr. Franklin so prophetically warned, ‘They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.’”
Port Huron Times Herald (Michigan), March 24, 2005
“The extraordinary powers given to government in the war against terrorism raise legitimate concerns about the threat they pose to Americans’ freedom. …
“The war against terrorism also is a defense of liberty. The latter is just as vital. To erode the freedoms that define America is to give comfort to our enemies.”
The Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), March 7, 2005
“This is the year that Congress must re-examine and, we hope, do away with some of the most dangerous elements of any legislation it ever has passed.
… So it would behoove anyone interested in preserving what remains of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to get in the fight right now.
“The threatening language is found in the USA Patriot Act, passed in the near-panic weeks after the 9/11 attacks. Even then, certain of its elements, imbuing the government with extra-constitutional police powers for secret searches and effectively unlimited surveillance, troubled members of Congress enough that they wrote ‘sunset’ provisions into its creation. If those portions are not specifically reauthorized, they will die.
“And die they should. Unchallenged, they lay the basis for a secret police state as complete as ever existed in Berlin, Moscow or Beijing.”
The Times Union (Albany, New York), February 17, 2005
“The fate of civil liberties, even in the post-Sept. 11 eras, can’t be determined by presidential fiat and a cowering Congress.”
Reno Gazette-Journal (Nevada), February 1, 2005
“Reviewing the Patriot Act should be nothing to fear. Rather, Americans should be as concerned about the possibility of losing their rights, liberties and expectation of privacy in the effort to ensure their safety.”
Winston-Salem Journal (North Carolina), January 23, 2005
“While Bush enunciates beautiful concepts of liberty, he is also pursuing renewal of the U.S. Patriot Act that threatens the civil liberties of many Americans. … America's 43rd president provided the world with a lyrical song of freedom. ... Now he must demonstrate that America truly is the world's leader on matters of freedom and liberty.”
Click here for information about the reauthorized USA PATRIOT Act.