The focus in on the NSA controversy and ObamaCare got us thinking — what are the worst laws passed by Congress? So we did some thinking and came up with some of the most egregious laws to be passed by Congress. The list was so large that we had to cut it into two posts one on personal liberty and the other dealing with economic liberty, which will be posted next week.
The following list isn’t in any particular order, so don’t take one bad law being ahead of another as anything significant.
Espionage Act (1917)
The Espionage Act, passed nearly two months after the United States entered World War I, has had startling ramifications for free speech in the United States. Shortly after becoming law, Eugene Debs, a socialist and labor leader, was arrested and convicted for giving a speech that “interfered” with the recruitment of soldiers for the war effort. The law primarily used for prosecution of alleged spies and whistleblowers working in the government. For example, the government tried to prosecute Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame under the act, but the jury declared a mistrial. NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has also been charged under the Espionage Act. Both Ellsberg and Snownden’s disclosures were embarrassments for the government.
Indian Removal Act (1830)
I’m kind of a rare breed of libertarian. I actually believe in the concept of intellectual property. As such, some might be under the belief that folks like me would be in favor of something like the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA.
Of course, they would be horribly, horribly wrong.
Regardless of ones feelings on IP, the reality is that SOPA is nothing less than a NDAA or PATRIOT Act for the internet.
You see, the internet is the last bastion of freedom anywhere in the world. While it’s entirely possible to render something illegal in one country, it’s virtually impossible to stamp it out. Laws and regulations become meaningless as physical borders mean nothing on a cyberscape free from such lines.
The kick in the butt with this bill, as with many similar bills, is that it really won’t do a whole heck of a lot to combat piracy. Of course, there are some that will argue that what SOPA seeks to do is crush that freedom. That ideas breed in such freedom, and such ideas can not be allowed to incubate.
I don’t know if I would go that far, but what is clear is that SOPA is nothing more than a powergrab. Those that are supposed to support and defend the Constitution have instead decided to just ignore the document completely.
SOPA seeks to require your ISP to spy on you. It seeks to hurt companies like Mozilla that haven’t done what the powerful want it to do. It seeks to rewrite the current laws regarding the internet and remake it into a place where innovation no longer happens.
Now, SOPA may not be all bad. After all, plenty of companies will love to open up their nations to the off-shore dollars that are bound to flee the United States after a SOPA-like bill is passed. While I’m not an opponent of out sourcing per se, I’d prefer it not to be encouraged through idiotic legislation.
On the heels of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which effectively shredded the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment and Habeas Corpus, Congress will likely take up the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) at some point early next year.
Introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Tex.) and co-sponsored by representatives from both parties (the bill has a total of 31 co-sponsors!), the Stop Online Piracy Act purports to stop “foreign online criminals from stealing and selling America’s intellectual property and keeping the profits for themselves.”
According to Rep. Smith’s website, “IP theft costs the U.S. economy more than $100 billion annually and results in the loss of thousands of American jobs. The Stop Online Piracy Act specifically targets foreign websites primarily dedicated to illegal activity or foreign websites that market themselves as such. The bill ensures that profits from America’s innovations go to American innovators.”
That sounds relatively harmless, but there has been a lot of concern among tech-advocates that SOPA would would lead to censorship and deter innovation on the Internet.
[UPDATE - 7:23pm] The United States Senate passed the NDAA this evening by a vote of 86 to 13. It will now head to President Obama’s desk for approval.
As noted yesterday, House and Senate conferees were moving the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) forward to the final action in both chambers with compromise legislation that kept in controversial language that would allow for the indefinite detention of American citizens and legal residents of the United States.
Unfortunately, the House of Representatives passed the NDAA overwhelmingly last night by a vote of 283 to 136. You can see how your representative and the members of your state’s delegation voted here. It now heads to the Senate for final passage.
For those of you that are just now catching up on this, the House basically voted last night to suspend the right to due process, the right to a trial by a jury of an accuser’s peers, and the right to habeas corpus. And now that the so-called “war on terror” has been expanded to include not only al-Qaeda but also the Taliban and other “associated forces.” Given the war on terrorism has become an open-ended war with civil liberties being offered by Congress on the alter of the “national security,” this provision will be no doubt be abused; if not by this administration than the next.
It was also noted that the White House asked for the language, at least according to Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI). So it should come as no surprise that the White House has backed off veto threats of the NDAA:
This evening, I spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives against Section 1021 — the indefinite detention language — of the National Defense Authorization Act, which passed this evening. You can read my comments on this provision below the video:
I rise in opposition to Section 1021 of the underlying Conference Report (H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act).
This section specifically affirms that the President has the authority to deny due process to any American it charges with “substantially supporting al Qaeda, the Taliban or any ‘associated forces’” – whatever that means.
Would “substantial support” of an “associated force,” mean linking a web-site to a web-site that links to a web-site affiliated with al-Qaeda? We don’t know. The question is, “do we really want to find out?”
We’re told not to worry – that the bill explicitly states that nothing in it shall alter existing law.
The matter of torture has been discussed over the past several years in connection with its use as a “tool” in the “Global War on Terror” or the “Overseas Contingency Operation” as it has now been called. Dick Cheney has been recently making rounds in an attempt to salvage some credibility and to fuel the partisan fire.
In August of 2007, several Ron Paul supporters attended a straw poll in Tuscaloosa, AL. One of the supporters carried a home-made sign that said, “Got Habeas Corpus?”. An older gentleman there questioned me about the sign, wanting to know why she was carrying it. As I began to explain the Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act, he became increasingly angry and beligerant, claiming that those acts were only to be used for military combatants, and that we believed in “aiding and abetting the enemy” if we didn’t agree with those acts. He refused to even listen to the fact that the acts were not limited as he believed and that US citizens were just as vulnerable.
Well, I hate to say, “I told you so”, but if he was here, I’d say, “I told you so.”
In a recent column in this month’s issue of National Review (which I still read, due to a complimentary subscribtion, despite my anger with the tossing aside of Christopher Buckley for his audacious Obama endorsement) the eloquent Mark Steyn argues for citizens who give little more than “stilted cheers” for their political leadership. He illustrates the Soviet-style cult following that Barack Obama has benefited greatly from as being counter to the ideals America was founded on.
One of my duties as Music Associate at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, Birmingham, AL, is to play the organ for the annual Veterans Day service. The first of these for me was one year ago. The one part of the service that really struck me was the reading of the names of all U.S. military personnel who had died in all wars during the past year. A staggering 336 names were printed in the program and read, amidst the background of a snare drum roll, with the ominous boom of a bass drum after each name. With each boom of that drum, a penetrating, sinking feeling came over me as I thought of how the loss of that one life impacted so many loved ones. It was the longest part of the service, and it went on and on, for some 45 or 50 minutes.
As noted this morning, a conference committee is expected to remove language passed via the Feinstein-Lee Amendment, protecting Americans against indefinite detention by military without trail.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), who voted for the amendment and has been pushing for great protection of civil liberties, just released the following statement. As you can see, Paul does not hide who he blames for the removal of the language protecting the due process rights of Americans:
The decision by the McCain led conference committee to strip the National Defense Authorization Act of the amendment that protects American citizens against indefinite detention now renders the entire NDAA unconstitutional.
The Feinstein-Lee amendment that passed with a 67-29 vote last month was designed to guarantee citizens the right to due process and a jury trial. These are basic and core American legal privileges enshrined in our Bill of Rights and that have been observed since our nation’s founding. Removing these indefinite detention protections now means that NDAA is in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
I voted against NDAA in 2011 because it did not contain the proper constitutional protections. When my senate colleagues voted to include those protections in the 2012 NDAA through the Feinstein-Lee Amendment last month, I supported this act.
But removing those protections now takes us back to square one and does as much violence to the Constitution as last year’s NDAA. When government can arrest suspects without a warrant, hold them without trial, deny them access to counsel or admission of bail, we have shorn the Bill of Rights of its sanctity.