Simply put, the Patriot Act is one of the most egregious acts against basic rights and liberties that we have witnessed in our lifetimes. The President and many members of Congress will argue that they have a job to keep American safe. But that’s not the starting point. Their job is to see that the Constitution is enforced, and that means keeping us free. As Judge Andrew Napolitano said on his Fox News program this week, the job of these federal officials is to keep us “Free from tyrants who sought and claimed power from thin air; free from prince-like federal agents who could behave without constitutional or legal restraint; free to live with a government that obeys its own laws. Any president who keeps us safe but unfree is ignoring his oath to the American people.” And doesn’t keeping us safe include keeping us safe from the tyranny of our own government as well?
Not only does this unconscionable law rip at the very fiber of each and every American’s basic liberties, several courageous U.S. Senators are charging that federal agents are now twisting the law with interpretations that go way beyond the few limits infused in this unpatriotic act. Senator Mark Udall from Colorado, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned: “Americans would be alarmed if they knew how this law is being carried out.” His concerns were echoed by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, also a member of the Intelligence Committee, who charged: “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”
The President may have inadvertently given an opening to opponents of the act to void it when he “signed” the legislation by using an autopen to reproduce his signature in Washington while he was in France. The primary purpose of the autopen (a machine) is to replicate numerous signatures generated by one person signing with one pen. I used such a pen as Louisiana Secretary of State where my signature was required on virtually all official state documents. But the law is clear that I had to be in the state at the time of signing, and the autopen was merely a convenience so as not to have to sign and hundreds of documents, one after the other, in one sitting.
Now I know that the present mind set in Washington is to pay little attention to the Constitution. But if anyone in charge is remotely interested, Article 1, Section 7 of our founding document clearly states and requires that a proposed law “be presented to the President of The United States; if he approve he shall sign it.” Nothing here about giving the OK to reproduce his signature from 3000 miles away by telephone. It would be interesting how the “strict constructionists” on the Supreme Court would interpret this action.
A lighter anecdote on autopens concerning this extremely serious subject. During the time I was Secretary of State backing the mid 80s, I was in Atlantic City attending a convention, and bought tickets to see one of the last performances of two of my favorites — Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. The show was to be held that evening, and I received a call from the Louisiana Governor’s office around 4:00 in the afternoon. The Governor needed my official signature to call an emergency special session of the Louisiana Legislature, and the proclamation had to be signed by midnight.
No way to make it back, I said. I was 1500 miles away and I certainly didn’t want to miss the concert. Just use my autopen. But the Governor’s two lawyers insisted I had to personally sign and it was imperative and vital that I make it home by midnight. I reluctantly hailed a cab from Atlantic City to Philadelphia, caught a plane back to New Orleans, and landed at 11:50 pm. The lawyers had flown down from the state capitol in a police helicopter, and were waiting on the runway as the plane landed. I signed the required document with only minutes to spare. The President may want to take heed. At least follow the dictates of the Constitution.
The next time you have the chance to talk with your Senator or Congressman, you might want to pose a few questions for his consideration. The Patriot Act has, for all practical purposes, driven a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights. What I would like to ask my congressional representatives is just who will protect us from our government. Congressman, do you support the domestic surveillance of American citizens by authorizing (as you did by voting for the Patriot Act) far reaching authority for government agents to pry, without judicial authorization, into practically every aspect of a citizen’s personal life? Do you agree that government agents can now come to your place of employment and seize your personal and medical records, all without notifying you?
Congressman, do you have any problem with the FBI demanding customer records from a bank, the phone company, an internet provider, a doctor or your local library all without any notice or court approval? How about the monitoring of where one goes to church, clubs they belong to, or their lawful activities with any political organization? What about jailing American citizens indefinitely without allowing a trial? Is this the kind of country you want us to live in Congressman? Is this the kind of country we should ask our young men and women to fight and die for? Congressman, we would like to hear your answer!
“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com. You can also hear Jim’s nationally syndicated radio show each Sunday morning from 9 am till 11:00 am, central time, on the Genesis Radio Network, with a live stream at http://www.jimbrownusa.com.