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The Patriot Act

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Dissecting the proposed 2004 Anti-Patriot Act Ballot Question

The W.C.E.S. lead by Councilor Susan Falkoff, have lead an effort to place an anti-Patriot Act ballot question on the 2004 ballot here in our town.

The Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government are in favor of letting the people vote on this issue. However we would prefer that the question be placed on the 2005 municipal ballot. As a truly local issue it should be on a ballot reflective of local sentiment as it pertains to our town and our cooperation or non-cooperation with federal and state authorities. The enemies of the USA Patriot Act would rather hide this and neatly fold it into a presidential election. Thereby shielding some from the political fallout that would certainly ensue if Watertown were looking at this through a truly municipal ‘lens’. Also, having the question before voters in 2005 would have the side benefit of increasing voter turn out for the council and school committee races. Nonetheless we do not oppose the question being on the 2004 ballot in principle.

However, the proposed resolution is problematic and could well be defective on points of law. The second article calls for

“legislation barring the use of state resources or institutions to carry out actions that violate constitutional rights, such as racial and religious profiling, conducting secret investigations without reasonable grounds, and maintaining files on individuals and organizations without reasonable suspicion of criminal conduct”.

On the surface, this sounds great. It’s something we would support as well. No one wants constitutional liberties eroded. But, the resolution is based on the supposition that the USA Patriot Act does in fact do these things. Does anyone have an idea of how many cases have been brought before the courts in 200 years of American history that were problems of constitutionality and the interpretation thereof? I didn't notice anyone at W.C.E.S. wearing black robes. The second article asks our legislature to bar state resources and institutions (which are there to keep us safe) based on our own individual assessment of the constitution. Why do we pay judges if all we need is the W.C.E.S.?

This brings us back to the issue proper forum. This resolution instructs our state representative to do two things, neither of which is within their purview.

  1. They are expected to don judicial robes and render a constitutional opinion (on a federal matter no less).
  2. Once having done that, they should then pass legislation which conflicts with federal law.

This creates all kinds of jurisdictional and constitutional problems. Such legislation would be no less egregious than southern states refusing to comply with the Civil Rights Act. Even the most liberal interpretation of the 10 th Amendment would have to strike down any such legislation passed in Massachusetts.

Furthermore, we have received several complaints about the manner in which the signatures were gathered. Specifically, proponents were soliciting signatures in municipal buildings, like the Town Hall and the Middle School. THIS IS AGAINST THE LAW!

We have a couple of suggestions for Councilor Falkoff and our friends at the W.C.E.S. First you can’t defend the Constitution while at the same time violating the law. Teach your volunteers to obey the election laws! Secondly; learn how to write a resolution that is not defective on matters of jurisdiction and points of law. You’re asking Watertown voters to trust your constitutional assessment of the Patriot Act, when you can’t write a resolution that will stand up to the scrutiny of an informed layman.

Allan Gillis, Chairman
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government


The Bill of Rights is not a Suicide Pact

Benjamin Franklin warned our young nation not to "…give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety…”

Today however, organizations have emerged that would compromise essential safety to maintain a little temporary liberty. Ironically, their position could lead to the loss of all freedom. In that regard, we would all be well served to heed former Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson's caution: the “Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact”.

The same Constitution that recognizes our civil liberties charges the Federal Government to provide for the common defense. It was ordained to SECURE the blessings of liberty, not just for ourselves, but also for our posterity.

Thus, there exists an inherent tension between individual rights and public interest. Today, that tension manifests itself in a real paradox. On the one hand, “We the People” empower the Government to defend the nation. Ultimately, we do so to guarantee our precious freedoms endure. On the other hand, the current crisis demands we tolerate possible encroachments on the very liberties we seek to defend.

Like most of us that watched the Twin Towers fall, my mind was flooded with emotions. After the horror and rage subsided, I pondered how this infamous day would change our way of life. I remember thinking; they took advantage of the very freedoms which make us strong. I also feared compromising our open society, would give those savages a victory.

When the Anti-Patriot Act resolution was introduced before the council sub-committee, I was ambivalent. I opposed the measure simply because this issue was above municipal pay grade. Nevertheless, my attitude towards this new law was healthy suspicion, not wholehearted support.

But a funny thing happened once I decided to research the rhetoric.

“Falsehood”, Mark Twains declared, “gets halfway around the world before the truth even gets its shoes on”.

Much to my consternation, falsehood is exactly what I discovered when I investigated the claims being made. The opponents of the Patriot Act had been waging a campaign of myths, distortions and half-truths.

This campaign goes on today aided by slick T. V. Ads. These ads claim the Patriot Act now allows law enforcement to search your home without your knowledge.

What the ads don’t tell you is that this is nothing new.

The Courts have upheld “sneak and peek warrants” since the 1970’s. The Patriot Act simply allows authorities to apply the identical standards to terror suspects that apply to drug dealers and the mob. These standards require cause be shown to obtain such a warrant. Further, authorities must eventually inform the suspect of the search. A judge monitors this entire process to ensure there is no abuse.

Senator Joseph Biden put it this way: “… What’s good for the mob should be good for terrorists.”

Another widely promulgated myth is that the Patriot Act gives the Government “new” powers to monitor library records. The truth is; this provision deals with business transactions that “could” include libraries records. Further, the power is not new. Prior to the Patriot Act, law enforcement could obtain the very same records through a cumbersome Grand Jury procedure. The only thing that is “new” is that now a Federal judge can issue the subpoena. Faced with a time sensitive threat, this only makes sense. Once again, the whole process is subject to judicial supervision.

These distortions are just the icing on a poison cake. Virtually all their claims are based on half-truths. They never mention the built in safeguards such as Congressional and Judicial oversight.

Janet Reno told the 9/11 Commission, “Generally, everything that's been done in the Patriot Act has been helpful while at the same time maintaining the balance with respect to civil liberties." But they ignore this reasoned conclusion.

To my astonishment, even their supporters in the Senate condemn their tactics. I recently watched C-SPAN's coverage of the Judiciary Committee hearings. I heard Senators who agree with them in principal; use terms like hysteria to describe the Anti-Patriot Act crusade. Senator Russ Feingold, the one Senator who voted against the Patriot Act, agreed that this campaign is ‘over the top’.

Senator Feingold is correct. It is so ‘over the top’ that it takes 30 pages, 10,224 words and 295 paragraphs to describe.

Why are these organizations being so disingenuous?

Why did local lobbies EXCLUDE parts of Watertown from this vote?

These are legitimate questions we should all be asking as we continue to evaluate the veracity of these groups.

But for now, we have a more important question to tackle.

It’s time to look beyond the slick and contrived images birthed in Madison Avenue suites. This issue can’t be reduced to deceptive slogans or restricted to “cherry picked” precincts. Those of you, who can vote should investigate the facts. Visit www.lifeandliberty.gov. Read the 30 pages that expose the baseless fear-mongering. Then decide if Question 1 will keep us “Safe and Free”.

Our civil rights are sacred; we compromise them with fear and trepidation. But let us not enter into a “suicide pact” with those who have distorted the truth.

John DiMascio

Communications Director
Watertown Citizens for Common Sense Government


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