Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Laws Erase Legal Protections

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

New Laws Erase Legal Protections

Article excerpt

Forty years ago, at the height of the Red Scare, conservatives in Congress pressed for laws to strip federal courts of power to hear cases involving Communist charges. They were angry at decisions that gave a degree of fairness to Americans investigated and punished for suspect beliefs and associations.

Some of the court-stripping bills passed the House, and in 1958 they almost got through the Senate. But in the end, even in that angry time, we rejected the idea of denying unpopular people the right to their day in court.

This year is different. Congress has passed, and President Bill Clinton signed into law, bills denying all kinds of people their day in court. There has been a flood of court-stripping legislation unlike anything in memory. The new immigration law has many such provisions. One, particularly harsh, takes away the rights of thousands of aliens who may be entitled to legalize their situation under a 1986 statute giving amnesty to illegal aliens. The Immigration and Naturalization Service adopted practices that unlawfully excluded many aliens from that amnesty. The Supreme Court held that anyone who could prove he was deterred from applying by the illegal INS practices could file after the deadline. Cases are pending that involve at least 75,000 and perhaps as many as 300,000 people who could still qualify for amnesty. The new law throws them all out of court. Another provision of the immigration act says that no court may review an attorney general's decision to exclude someone from this country because he has engaged in terrorist activity. No one wants terrorists here. But officials make mistakes in their findings. That is why a central premise of the American system of government has been that we do not give any official unfettered discretion over the lives of individuals. We make the official explain his reasoning in court. Another piece of legislation restricting the process of law is called the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Passed last April, it undermines legal measures to correct prison conditions so horrifying that federal courts have found them unconstitutional. …

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