Magazine article Insight on the News

GOP Congress Would Trample on Constitution

Magazine article Insight on the News

GOP Congress Would Trample on Constitution

Article excerpt

When the FBI's gumshoes stormed Randy Weaver's home at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992 and assaulted the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, in 1993, they ran afoul of something called the U.S. Constitution. They didn't have legal sanction for their deeds, but thanks to a little help from their Republican friends on Capitol Hill, the nation's would-be storm troopers soon may have the polish they need to start shining their jackboots.

One item is the Senate's omnibus terrorism bill, ill-conceived, hastily written and passed amid the smoking ruins of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Another is Section 507 of the Senate crime bill and Florida Republican Bill McCollum's similar measure in the House of Representatives, which would expand markedly the police power of the federal government. The Republicans couldn't have picked a better bill number for McCollum's constitutional sorcery, HR 666, and the paranoiacs who see black helicopters hovering over their survivalist-camp fortresses undoubtedly whipped out the biblical book of Revelation to get some insight on it. But they aren't the only citizens who ought to be concerned; all Americans should. Taken together, the three pieces of legislation constitute a spectacular abuse of constitutional rights.

The terrorism bill awaits action in the House and no doubt got a boost from the Amtrak derailment in Arizona. One mischievous section expands the government's authority to plant so-called roving wiretaps, which would permit the government to spy not only on criminal suspects but also on any individual with whom the suspect comes into contact. Yet another allows judges and magistrates, absent an adversarial hearing, to order banks, hotels, airlines, trains, car-rental companies, trucking companies and storage facilities to surrender records to the FBI. And whatever power the bill does not confer in legal authority it confers in budgetary riches. In addition to the usual appropriations, the bill earmarks nearly $2 billion to "fight terrorism." Between 1996 and 2000, the FBI will receive $1.2 billion; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, $100 million; the Secret Service, $162 million; and the Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA, $400 million. If the terrorists are that tough, stopping them clearly is beyond the ken of American lawmen.

This legislative blunderbuss nicely complements the judicial palm gun contained in the Senate crime bill and McCollumn's HR 666. "Evidence obtained as result of search or seizure that is otherwise admissible in a federal criminal proceeding," Section 507 says, "shall not be excluded in a proceeding in a [federal] court on the grounds that the search or seizure was in violation of the Fourth Amendment." The language in McCollum's bill is substantially the same.

If a citizen sues about a violation of his or her Fourth Amendment rights, the municipal police officer in question magically becomes a federal agent for the purposes of the suit and the federal government would pay any resulting compensatory or punitive damages, which of course are capped. The federales are supposed to mete out punishment to the dissolute police officer, although the bill does not specify how. McCollum's HR 666 excludes the Internal Revenue Service and ATF from its provisions, but still protects rogue FBI and DEA agents, Secret Service agents, U. …

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