Courts no longer protect rights
Posted: November 22, 2002
1:00 a.m. Eastern
© 2002 WorldNetDaily.com
It is often said that the United States is a nation of laws, and, in all honesty, I'd have to agree. Americans now suffer through more laws than ever before, as local, state and federal lawmakers do their level-best to control every aspect of our lives from cradle to grave.
Yet according to our three-tiered system of government, one branch – the judiciary – was established by our founding fathers to ensure that laws made by men and women always pass constitutional muster. If not, the judiciary was empowered to strike them down.
All too often over the past several decades, however, federal courts have repeatedly failed in their mandate to protect us from overreaching, overbearing and overpowering lawmakers and presidents. Sometimes courts even imposed their own will, crafting laws out of whole cloth and completely bypassing the normal legislative process.
Then again, why should we expect our courts to be apolitical? After all, as Republicans and Democrats have proven time and again, the process for selecting and approving federal judges has nothing to do with an ability to interpret the Constitution and everything to do with petty partisan politics. Whether judges are "liberal" or "conservative" should never be an issue, but it always is.
At any rate, the judicial branch's failure to protect Americans was in full bloom again earlier this week after a three-judge federal appeals panel overruled a lower court and said the government indeed could – under the auspices of the audacious Patriot Act – spy on every American for any reason, all in the name of fighting "terrorism" and without a constitutionally required warrant or legitimate cause.
The Patriot Act had already weakened something like a dozen or more privacy protections, analysts say, but this new ruling further erodes even those weakened protections, granting Attorney General John Ashcroft and his successors at the Justice Department and in the White House Nazi-like power to snoop on all of us, naturally in the name of "security."
How can this be? The Fourth Amendment is clear and states: "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."
Shouldn't any federal court be able to interpret the new powers sought by the Bush administration as an abject violation of a basic constitutional protection?
In ordinary times, perhaps, but even this "lower court" overruled by the three-judge appeals panel was no ordinary court. Rather, it was the "ultra-secret" Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, whose jurisdiction is to oversee sensitive law-enforcement surveillance by the U.S. government, away from the public's view.
Why a "secret court" even exists in the "land of the free" in the first place ought to be a question on every sane person's lips, but interestingly, this court had originally ruled against Ashcroft's expanded powers request because – get this – it was afraid the government would abuse its new authority.
Our government abusing its power? Exceeding its authority? Say it ain't so.
The court's "May 17 ruling was the first-ever substantial defeat for the government on a surveillance issue, and its unprecedented, declassified public opinion issued in August documented abuses of surveillance warrants in 75 instances [my emphasis] during both the Bush and Clinton administrations," Reuters reported.
It's bad enough when legitimate federal courts fail to protect Americans' basic constitutional rights, but how bad has it become when an aberrant federal court tries to do its judicial duty and is overruled by a legitimate federal court?
Where's the oversight? It isn't in the legislative branch – Congress passed the Patriot Act and the legislation creating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. It isn't in the executive branch – presidents have signed off on these abuses of authority. It should, therefore, have been the courts which preserved our rights.
Ignoring the Constitution in the 21st century is being excused in the same way it was in the 20th century – under euphemisms like "national security" and "crisis." Then, as now, courts that are supposed to be a check on such abuses of power are missing in action or, worse, acting in concert with the powerbrokers.
Americans are being given fewer and fewer choices for redress of grievances. The last time that happened, 680,000 of our predecessors killed each other. If none of the three branches of government care about the Constitution, should we?
Jon E. Dougherty is a staff reporter and columnist for WorldNetDaily, and author of the special report, "Election 2000: How the Military Vote Was Suppressed."
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