Part of the PATRIOT Act ruled to be unconstitutional

Yesterday, a federal judge found two parts of the USA PATRIOT Act, a law that was passed in the wake of 9/11, to be an unconstitutional infringement on the Bill of Rights, specifically the Fourth Amendment:

Two provisions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional because they allow search warrants to be issued without a showing of probable cause, a federal judge ruled Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken ruled that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, as amended by the Patriot Act, “now permits the executive branch of government to conduct surveillance and searches of American citizens without satisfying the probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment.”

Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield sought the ruling in a lawsuit against the federal government after he was mistakenly linked by the FBI to the Madrid train bombings that killed 191 people in 2004.

The federal government apologized and settled part of the lawsuit for $2 million after admitting a fingerprint was misread. But as part of the settlement, Mayfield retained the right to challenge parts of the Patriot Act, which greatly expanded the authority of law enforcers to investigate suspected acts of terrorism.

Mayfield claimed that secret searches of his house and office under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act violated the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure. Aiken agreed with Mayfield, repeatedly criticizing the government.

“For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law — with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised,” she wrote.

By asking her to dismiss Mayfield’s lawsuit, the judge said, the U.S. attorney general’s office was “asking this court to, in essence, amend the Bill of Rights, by giving it an interpretation that would deprive it of any real meaning. This court declines to do so.”

The PATRIOT Act was renewed earlier this year, though there was only a very vocal minority — most notably Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) — that seemed concerned about the glaring constitutional issues with the law, which could have been reasonably dealt with through reform. Despite the rhetoric that opponents of the law were siding with terrorists, the PATRIOT Act — an item that had been on the FBI wishlist long before 9/11 — finds much more use in the war on drugs and instances of fraud than in instances of terrorism.

Like ObamaCare, this controversy with this law won’t be settled until it gets to the Supreme Court. Until then, we’re stuck with a Bill of Rights that effectively has no protection from illegal searches.

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