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Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Strange Bedfellows-I find it odd that both Dick Armey and Bob Barr are hooking up with the ACLU. It seems to be an odd alliance, even with the conservative duo's libertarian streak. Why not start a new non-partisan group (call it Americans for Due Process ) that would go after the current tendency of the Justice Department (both Clinton and Bush) to cut corners on protections of the accused and protections against over-searching, as well as putting a curb on the desire to get a database on everything collectable. The ACLU has enough of an anti-religion brand name to be salable on the right, but a non-partisan (no, the ACLU isn't pure Democrat, but close) civil liberties outfit could sell on the right. However, the left could get more following on the right if it didn't overplay its hand, like this Daily Kos paragraph
Still, it's good to see the Right (or at least its libertarian wing) get over its hatred of the ACLU. The organization is really the last line of defense between an administration hell-bent on using fear tactics to erode our hard-earned, hard-fought civil liberties.
This assumes that the Bush administration is using fear tactics and the goal is to erode civil liberties. The tendency of law enforcement is to get as many tools as they can to catch the bad guys; this trend pre-dates the current administration. The Clinton administration proposed a number of intrusive terrorism-fighting proposals that were opposed by both left and right at the time. The goal of both administrations is to protect the country, not to erode liberties; the erosion is minimal for citizens but problematic to legal immigrants The problem with having the ACLU be the point person is their tendency to be hyper-vigilant on establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment to the extent that they interfere with the free exercise side of the equation, especially in schools. They also will reflexively side with defendants and prisoners on any question regarding police/prison officials behavior. This gives the ACLU the reputation of being the friend of militant atheists and criminals. This gives them the reputation party-poopers who want to see criminals get off on technicalities and want to tear down manger scenes on the City Hall front lawn. If you rewind the clock a half-century, the ACLU was in the forefront of a lot of official abuses, stopping police brutality, willy-nilly searches and forced confessions, as well as cracking down on de-facto establishment cases such as where a state-written prayer was a daily requirement. However, the stance of the modern ACLU of thinking that the public square is to be a religious-free zone and that any argument between a prisoner or defendant and the state should side against the state makes them counterproductive. The protections against abuses of state power upon religious minorities and defendants of the 50s and 60s have turned into abuses of judicial power against the police, against prisons and against people of faith. However, many of the things that the current Justice department is asking for is troubling. For now, the focus of the "expanded powers" is upon Islamic immigrants and on allowing looser wiretapping laws, allowing the checking of e-mails. Much of this is needed and is a negligible change in the civil rights of Americans. Some of these changes are to adapt wiretapping law to reflect modern telecommunications; wiretapping a guy's house and work is one thing, but pagers, cell-phones and e-mail add a twist to search law. One area where I'm troubled is the unlimited detention of people on visa violations. If this were being done against citizens, there would be more of an uproar. Also, many of the legal safeguards that are in place for normal criminal investigations aren' t there in visa cases. The ACLU and other liberties groups should focus on the more egregious abuses, such as the indefinite detentions, national ID cards or the proposed megadatabases on all citizens, and chill on the minor tweaks of search law.

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