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Bush’s War on the Bill of Rights

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  • fastmuscleman
    Bush s War on the Bill of Rights BY: Anthony Gregory Lately, I have argued that the Bush administration s attacks on the Bill of Rights, egregious as they are,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 21, 2004
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      Bush's War on the Bill of Rights

      BY: Anthony Gregory

      Lately, I have argued that the Bush administration's attacks on the
      Bill of Rights, egregious as they are, do indeed have their
      precedents in history. I never meant to defend Bush on this basis,
      but merely to give historical perspective. I stand by what I said.
      Bush, bad as he is, has not violated the Constitution any worse than
      Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon or Harry Truman, and not as badly as
      Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, or Abraham Lincoln.

      Nevertheless, Bush did swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, and
      he has shirked that duty considerably. We should not hold him to the
      standard of past American tyrants, but rather to the finest of
      America's founding principles. It is useful, though perhaps
      depressing, to see the many ways in which president Bush has trashed
      the most noble and inspiring of all attempts to limit government
      through law, the Bill of Rights. Even as he advocates a new amendment
      to the Constitution to set national standards on marriage, the most
      important amendments already in place have each fallen prey to the
      ravages of his government.

      Amendment I

      Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,
      or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
      speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
      assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

      George W. Bush has shown an outright hostility to freedom of speech.
      In the name of combating "indecency," the FCC under Bush has raised
      its punitive fines to outrageous new levels, wasted money on
      an "investigation" of Janet Jackson's breast, and pressured Clear
      Channel to drop the Howard Stern Show. Bush has applied and
      maintained draconian restrictions on the press in Iraq, even
      forbidding the photography of flag-draped caskets returning home.

      Attacking the fundamental right of free political speech, he signed
      the horrendous Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform bill, which
      severely restricts dissent. The law makes it a crime for non-profit
      advocacy groups simply to mutter the name of a national candidate
      within the last sixty days before a general election. There is no
      excuse for Congress making a law abridging the freedom of speech when
      the First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law… abridging the
      freedom of speech." Some thought that the Supreme Court would gut the
      law's worst provisions, which it did not. If Congress relied on
      another branch of the government to intervene and protect the public
      from its excesses, it is guilty of a major dereliction of duty.

      As a result of Bush's policies, the government has even attacked
      freedom of assembly, creating "free speech zones" and keeping war
      protesters away when Bush appears on camera. At the outset of the
      Iraq War, Oakland police injured several war protesters by assaulting
      them with wooden bullets and concussion grenades, even as they ran
      away. Some have argued that the protesters, interfering with war
      commerce, got what they deserved, but the "collateral damage"
      suffered by the dockworkers probably disrupted the flow of trade that
      day more than the protests.

      One could feasibly list examples of how Bush has compromised the
      right of Americans to "petition the government for a redress of
      grievances," but the single following statement from Bush to Bob
      Woodward captures the president's feelings about his responsibility
      to answer to the people:

      "I'm the commander, see. I do not need to explain why I say things.
      That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe
      somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't
      feel like I owe anybody an explanation."

      It's a wonder that Bush would want to deny others freedom in their
      speech when he so frequently demonstrates such inspiring eloquence in
      his own.

      Amendment II

      A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free
      state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be

      Many have long argued that Republicans value the Second Amendment
      more than Democrats. So far, Bush's policy has fallen in line with
      the Republican and NRA doctrine on gun control: the right to bear
      arms is an inalienable right, and instead of passing unconstitutional
      gun laws, the government should enforce more strictly the 20,000
      unconstitutional laws already on the books. In effect, Republicans
      oppose government undermining the choices of Americans, but so long
      as government is in the business of doing so, its programs should be
      fully funded and carried out by Republicans with strict adherence to
      the letter of the law, resulting in punishments as severe as possible.

      Ashcroft's Justice Department has indeed turned up the heat on
      enforcing unconstitutional gun laws, boasting: "Under the President's
      Project Safe Neighborhoods program, federal gun crime prosecutions
      have increased by 68 percent over the last three years. Last year,
      the Department set a new record of charging 23 percent more
      individuals for violating federal firearms laws." The Bush
      administration has asked for a $95 million increase in spending on
      gun control programs for 2005. He has also expressed willingness to
      renew the Assault Weapons Ban.

      Moreover, although Bush signed the law passed by Congress that
      allowed airline pilots to carry guns on planes – one of the few
      security measures after 9/11 that might have actually prevented the
      terrorist attack – his administration initially refused to implement
      it. Bush acquiesced only after Congress and the Senate reconvened and
      voted, by a supermajority, to force Bush to put guns in the hands of

      In spite of what Republicans in the NRA and Democrats in the Violence
      Policy Center might say, Bush has hassled gun owners more than any
      recent president, and has shown only contempt for any moderation in
      the War on the Second Amendment.

      Amendment III

      No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without
      the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be
      prescribed by law.

      The Third Amendment is always the toughest to discuss in its
      relevance to today. Just as we must recognize that the "well
      regulated militia" line in the Second Amendment referred to a
      citizen's militia when it was written in the late 18th century, we
      must consider the Third Amendment in proper historical context.

      The American colonists had just fought a revolution against Britain,
      the world's superpower that had imposed its will on much of the
      planet's peoples. The Third Amendment was written in memory of the
      Quartering Act of 1765, which compelled American colonists not only
      to give up sovereignty within their own homes, but also to pay taxes
      to build housing for British soldiers. After winning the Revolution,
      the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent the new American government
      from coercing its people into providing for its imperial and colonial
      ambitions the way Britain had done.

      As the U.S. government levies taxes on Americans – and even on
      Iraqis – to pay its soldiers fighting for the global quasi-Trotskyite
      democratic revolution that the War on Terrorism has become, Americans
      should judge for themselves if the Bush administration has disgraced
      the spirit of the Third Amendment. The manner in which the U.S.
      military treats the houses of Iraqis has hardly been a
      manner "prescribed by law." We can only hope that the U.S. government
      does not take the final steps in defying the letter, as well as the
      spirit, of the Third Amendment, by giving new meaning to "bringing
      the soldiers home."

      Amendment IV

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses,
      papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures,
      shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable
      cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing
      the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      This one is a no-brainer. The Patriot Act allows the feds to come
      into your home, search your residence, and leave without telling you
      for up to six months. It has expanded the government's powers under
      the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act to get warrants for
      wiretaps from special courts, not subject to the same oversight as
      typical courts. Its "Sneak and Peak" provision allowed the FBI to
      obtain library records from librarians, who had to keep their mouths
      shut about confrontations with officials. Within months of 9/11, law
      enforcers had visited nearly 10 percent of America's
      libraries "seeking September 11-related information about patron
      reading habits. "The Justice Department has resurrected COINTELPRO, a
      surveillance program that subverted groups and incited violence
      between political dissidents in the Vietnam era. The administration's
      ultimate goal of "Total Information Awareness" flies in the face of
      any decent understanding of the Fourth Amendment.

      Under Clinton, the Fourth Amendment was already in serious trouble
      due to the War on Drugs and other domestic surveillance programs. It
      has gotten indescribably worse since the 1990s, when Ashcroft
      complained that Clinton wanted "to hand Big Brother the keys to
      unlock our e-mail diaries, open our ATM records, read our medical
      records, or translate our international communications." If today's
      Ashcroft met his counterpart from the 1990s, he would probably say
      that his avatar's warnings against Clinton's policies were
      frightening "peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty" and
      that such anti-government paranoia only gives "ammunition to
      America's enemies and pause to America's friends."

      The Bush administration has no intention to allow the anachronistic
      Fourth Amendment to disrupt the War on Terrorism. This is a war for
      freedom, after all, and we cannot let trivial liberties get in the

      Amendment V

      No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise
      infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand
      jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the
      militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor
      shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in
      jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case
      to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or
      property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be
      taken for public use, without just compensation.

      Shortly after September 11, the Immigration and Naturalization
      Service and Justice Department detained more than a thousand
      individuals, whom Bush labeled as "terrorists" even after the Justice
      Department admitted the detainees had no connection to terrorism. In
      addition, at least dozens of Americans were detained without due
      process of law because of a phony "material witness" status.

      The Patriot Act has greatly expanded federal asset forfeiture powers,
      which allow the government to confiscate property without even
      accusing its owners of a crime. Those who "smuggle" their own money
      out of the country may now see it seized. The administration has
      worked to extend the despotic power of eminent domain, which allows
      the government to seize property for such unconstitutional purposes
      as federal production of interstate electrical lines.

      When the founders discussed "due process of law" they meant more than
      the arbitrary power of executive edict. The Fifth Amendment has
      fallen victim to numerous beatings over the years, but Bush and
      company rank among its all time worst enemies.

      Amendment VI

      In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a
      speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and
      district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district
      shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of
      the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the
      witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining
      witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his

      Perhaps James Madison meant to write at the end of this
      sentence, "unless the president considers the accused an `enemy

      Guantanamo Bay is the clearest and most troubling example of accused
      criminals detained without any of the benefits of an impartial trial
      with the due process spelled out in the Sixth Amendment. They do not
      receive the rights of war prisoners, nor of criminal defendants,
      because they fall under the makeshift category of "enemy combatant."
      Of course, Bush does not "accuse" these prisoners of being "enemy
      combatants" – because then they would have the rights of
      the "accused." He simply asserts they are "enemy combatants," and
      that settles that.

      The assertion that Guantanamo is constitutional because it is located
      outside America is ludicrous and unsettling. It is ludicrous because
      the U.S. has jurisdiction there, and if the government can violate
      your liberties by moving you outside the country, the Bill of Rights
      is meaningless. It's unsettling because it is an admission that the
      goings on in Guantanamo are even more oppressive than the run-of-the-
      mill Bill of Rights violations that Americans will tolerate at home.

      Bush has violated the Sixth Amendment in other ways, but Guantanamo
      typifies his attitude toward its basic principles. The Founding
      Fathers would probably have an impossible time believing Bush's
      flagrant disrespect for the rights of the accused. Of course, the
      Founding Fathers would have probably been considered terrorists, and
      would likely find themselves detained as "enemy combatants" for all
      their un-American beliefs and subversive political activism.

      Amendment VII

      In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed
      twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no
      fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of
      the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

      The Seventh Amendment is often misunderstood. Written in the
      aftermath of the American Revolution, its purpose was not only to
      guarantee the rights of defendants in civil cases, but also the
      rights of plaintiffs – especially of plaintiffs suing government
      agents for violations of their rights. After seeing mock courts set
      up by King George III to protect his minions from any meaningful
      legal recourse, the colonists wanted to guarantee that Americans
      suing government officials would be guaranteed a trial by jury.

      The Bush administration has been frightening in the way it has
      nullified lawsuits against its actions. The Justice Department simply
      laughed at attempts of the ACLU to get lists of detained suspects
      through lawsuits in early 2002. Ellen Mariani's lawsuit against the
      Bush administration, accusing it of foreknowledge of, and failure to
      act on, September 11, may seem to many like the material of a
      conspiracy theory, but we can be fairly sure that the question will
      never go to a jury. Quite recently, an ACLU legal challenge against
      the Patriot Act became news after being silenced for three weeks by
      the Patriot Act.

      Perhaps the reason for the inability of Americans to successfully sue
      administration officials in a trial by jury is that none of these
      transgressions of which the government is accused is a controversy in
      which the value at issue exceeds twenty dollars.

      Amendment VIII

      Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed,
      nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

      We have seen Martha Stewart sentenced to prison for claiming
      innocence of a victimless crime. We have seen Tommy Chong sentenced
      to jail time for manufacturing glassware into the politically
      incorrect shape of marijuana paraphernalia. We have seen Clear
      Channel fined by the FCC for about half a million dollars, all over
      Howard Stern's performing the same radio material he's done for years.

      These are only some high profile cases of Americans suffering
      excessive punishments for victimless activities. One low-profile
      example, which should be widely known, is Mohammed Hussein, the
      first "criminal" ever convicted under the Patriot Act. He was called
      a terrorist by the government and media, he lost his money
      transmitting business, and he received an eighteen-month prison
      sentence. What did he do to deserve this? What was his crime under
      the Patriot Act? He incorrectly filled out an application for a state
      business license. Of course, conservatives still argue that the
      Patriot Act has not been abused.

      For decades Americans have endured punishments that had no semblance
      of proportionality to their "crimes." Under the Bush administration,
      the Eighth Amendment has been circumvented as increasingly cruel
      punishments have become decreasingly unusual.

      Amendment IX

      The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be
      construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

      When the Constitution and Bill of Rights were being considered for
      ratification, some Americans pointed out possible loose ends.
      The "Antifederalists" – who often preferred the term "Federalists,"
      and resented their opponents for stealing the label – wanted to
      ensure that the federal government only exercise those powers
      mentioned in the Constitution and that it did not violate certain
      fundamental rights. The Antifederalists tended to favor the Bill of
      Rights, but they feared that the listing of specific rights would be
      used to rationalize violations of unlisted ones. The Ninth and Tenth
      Amendments were meant to hammer home the notion that the federal
      government was subservient to the people.

      George W. Bush has no conception of the inalienable, unenumerated
      rights of the American people. He has flouted the personal, intimate
      right to self-medication by closing down medical marijuana
      facilities. He has affronted the right to peaceful trade by
      establishing protectionist steel tariffs and imposing sanctions on
      other countries, most recently Syria. His administration has
      abrogated the right to travel with his no-fly list, which uses the
      pretext of fighting terrorism to prevent political dissidents and
      those with names similar to those of suspects from flying. On
      September 11, 2001, the federal government even impeded the right to
      emigrate by forbidding anyone from leaving the country. His Patriot
      Act made it a crime to carry significant amounts of cash on a plane.
      While the Bush administration assaults the liberties specifically
      spelled out in the Bill of Rights, it also punishes those who wish to
      relieve their pain from cancer, improve their lives with commerce, or
      quietly leave the country with their savings – all unwritten,
      essential rights that James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would be
      appalled to see so routinely eviscerated in America.

      As constitutional scholar Randy Barnett says, "The Ninth Amendment
      mandates that unenumerated rights be treated the same as those that
      are listed."8 Bush would probably agree wholeheartedly, as he trashes
      our enumerated and unenumerated rights equally.

      Amendment X

      The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution,
      nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states
      respectively, or to the people.

      The Tenth Amendment concludes the Bill of Rights with a demand that
      the federal government be restricted to activities authorized in the
      Constitution. The constitutional powers of the president, Congress,
      and the Supreme Court are highlighted in Articles I, II and III of
      the main body of the Constitution, and anything outside of this
      delegated authority is not the proper jurisdiction of the national
      government. For years conservatives rightly complained that Democrats
      advanced all sorts of federal programs that had no constitutional

      Almost every government abuse I mention in this essay qualifies as a
      violation of the Tenth Amendment. In addition to these violations,
      Bush has sharply increased farm subsidies, signing a record $190
      billion dollar farm bill, and severely distorting domestic and
      international markets. He signed into law the largest expansion of
      Medicare since its inception, looting present and future taxpayers of
      hundreds of billions and maybe more than a trillion dollars in one of
      most shameless giveaways to preferred voters and business interests
      in decades. Aside from giving prescription drugs away free he has
      unleashed plans to build national surveillance systems to
      monitor "prescription drug abuse."

      Bush has increased federal funding for education, welfare, foreign
      aid, local law enforcement, and "faith-based" initiatives, and he has
      developed programs to encourage marriages and to provide relationship
      counseling. Since Bush took office, the U.S. budget's discretionary
      spending has increased about 28%. Through his "compassion
      conservatism," George W. Bush has perhaps done more to advance the
      American welfare state than any other president in American history.

      There is not a single aspect of Americans' economic and personal
      lives that the modern federal government considers off limits. When
      it comes to providing the federal government with new powers and
      duties for which there exists no constitutional authority, President
      Bush ranks among the very few most ambitious presidents in American

      The Bill of Rights – RIP?

      The Bush administration has been utterly hostile to the entire Bill
      of Rights. I did not focus on it, but one can quickly realize that
      Bush has violated all the principles of the Bill of Rights in regard
      to the Iraq War alone. Iraqis have been censored, disarmed, occupied,
      searched, hassled, regulated by curfew, severely and arbitrarily
      beaten and punished, tortured, humiliated, and generally abused by a
      foreign government that respects no limits on its power and regards
      Iraqis as if they have no impermeable rights at all. This is not to
      say that Saddam respected anyone's rights, but it speaks to the
      lunacy of the U.S. government brutally instituting a constitution
      abroad when it has no regard for the constitutional safeguards
      against any of its own actions.

      During wartime, the Bill of Rights and its corresponding liberties
      tend to suffer extraordinary abuse. Bush prides himself as a "war
      president," and so it should come as no surprise when he treats his
      foreign and domestic subjects accordingly.

      Although, as I've said before, some previous presidents may have been
      as bad or even worse, we must still have a clear understanding and
      appreciation for how much George Bush and the present government are
      undermining the principles that made America so special. The first
      Ten Amendments of the Constitution provide a blueprint for an
      incredibly free society. Perhaps Bush, who has a phobia against
      reading anything aside from what his advisors give him, should break
      with personal custom for at least half an hour and read the Bill of


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