It Was Nice While It Lasted

17 05 2011

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.

I regret to announce the untimely demise of the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution (1791-2011), at the hands of the United States Supreme Court (like a regular Court, but with tomatoes and sour cream). The Fourth Amendment fought the good fight for more than two centuries, but was eventually eaten away, bit by liberty-guaranteeing bit, over the last few decades while few people noticed. It finally succumbed to terminal frustration yesterday, May 16th, 2011, when the Supremes voted 8-1 that the police basically no longer needed a warrant to break down your door and search your house.

Many of us saw the end coming for the Fourth when the Supremes decided that we (the People) had no recourse if the police wanted to set up roadblocks and check to see if anyone was driving under the influence of alcohol. Apparently, the needs of the many to be free from the possibility of encountering a drunk driver outweighed the desire to be free from unreasonable searches. Not long thereafter, it was decided that- in the interest of the War on Drugs- we no longer had the right to be free from searches and seizures in our own homes if the police were afraid that evidence might be destroyed. Thus began a long period of increasing use of paramilitary raids on private homes using “no-knock” warrants.

This last, fatal injury came when the Supreme Court ruled that the police no longer even need to bother with a “no-knock” warrant if they claim to hear something which may or may not be someone possibly making noises which could possibly be the sounds of maybe destroying evidence- whether or not a crime had been previously suspected in the residence. The police can now claim “exigent circumstances” on almost any pretext and break in the door of any home if they think evidence of a crime may be in danger of being destroyed.

We are no longer citizens- we are serfs. Our rights against unreasonable search and seizure have been stripped from us in the interest of police convenience. What few rights remain to us are getting nibbled to death by ducks, and the majority of people in this country stand up and cheer because it is in the interests of “being tough on crime”. They are willingly trading liberty for security, blind to the historical truism that they will most likely fail to achieve either one.

It is especially depressing to note that the demise of liberties in the United States is accelerating at a time when oppressed people all over the world are just now beginning to realize the possibility of liberty for the first time. The people of Egypt and Tunisia have thrown off the yoke of their oppressors and are even now working out for themselves the rules for how their countries will be run. In Libya and Syria, people are standing up to the autocrats and dictators who rule them and many pay the ultimate price for their courage. The people of Yemen are very close to driving out their president under similar conditions, and at similar costs in lives. In China, people speak out against the excesses and failures of their police state in spite of the risk they might end up in prison- or simply disappear. Here in America … the Supreme Court of Indiana just ruled that citizens have no right to resist an illegal search of one’s home by police.

Some might say that these rulings are not such a big deal. Surely we can trust the police to use their new powers sparingly and only at great need. Sadly, we cannot. An Indiana Sheriff has already stated publicly that police can now conduct house-to-house searches if they feel the need to do so as a direct result of these recent rulings by the US and Indiana Supreme Courts. He even opined to the media that most citizens would welcome such exercises of byzantine power.

A perusal of English Common Law- upon which much of US law is based- shows that we have been cheerfully relinquishing our liberties to near duplicates of the same conditions which led to their creation. “King’s Messengers” and similar agents of the Crown once raided and searched the homes of Englishmen who spoke out against the government. Victims of those transgressions sought relief in the courts, eventually winning the same guarantees of liberty which we Americans have so recently abandoned. The similarities are rather startling- to me, at any rate.

Still worse are the attitudes of the people to whom I speak about these infringements of our liberties. Far too many people are willing to put up with violations of their inherent rights in the interest of convenience. They would rather allow warrantless searches of their homes, vehicles, and persons than face the possible delay while the police get a warrant. This exaltation of convenience over liberty is the final step from being citizens to becoming subjects.

An author named Mike McQuay wrote a series of dark novels about a dystopian future America where the police were blatantly agents of control for the political and corporate elites, and the wealthy few in their fortified mansions and villas were protected by gaudily-uniformed security thugs referred to as “fancy dans”. Ordinary people were treated harshly by these uniformed servitors for the benefit of the privileged few, with little to no recourse. I used to enjoy those stories. Today, they seem a little too close to reality for comfort.

Requiescat en pace, American liberty. I, at least, will miss you.

Bugler, taps.

Current status: Locked, loaded, and liquored up.

Current music: The World I Know by Collective Soul

Last Chance

4 11 2009

Argh! The stupid, it burns!

I’ve spoken at length about the Four Boxes to be used in defense of Liberty. Those are Soap, Ballot, Jury, and Ammo, and should be used in that order. The purpose of that saying is to discourage people from resorting to violence when peaceful methods are available- and more likely to produce positive results without a lot of unnecessary collateral damage to society. Implicit in that description is the idea that, at some point, the destruction of liberty becomes so onerous that nothing less than a total write-off and re-build is in order. If the justice system (Box #3) in this country stops actually providing justice, there will be little recourse but to wipe the slate clean and start over.

There is a case being heard before the Nine Worthies right now that has the potential to push the country over that particular precipice. Here is the story from NPR– just take care your blood pressure does not reach dangerous levels while reading it.

Worse than the initial criminal actions by the prosecutors and police in the original case is a single quote from the prosecutors- backed up by the Attorney General of the United States, no less: “There is no free-standing Constitutional right not to be framed

Pop quiz time: Can anyone point to any part of the US Constitution which might give lie to this assertion by trained legal professionals? Anyone? Buehler?

Let us take a look at the Fifth Amendment, shall we?

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

That seems to pretty definitively send the prosecutors’ argument into the shitcan where it belongs. The two men in question did not receive due process. They were maliciously framed by the police and prosecutor. Due process of law wasn’t even allowed in the courtroom.

The main issue seems to be Prosecutorial Immunity. Long-standing legal precedent holds that prosecutors cannot be held civilly liable when a case goes south on them. This is largely in place to protect prosecutors from civil penalty if they inadvertently convict the innocent. The prosecutors (who still claim that Terry Harrison and Curtis McGhee committed the crime in the face of really impressive evidence to the contrary) are trying to convince the Supreme Court that the Public Interest would be harmed by allowing any variation from the doctrine of Prosecutorial Immunity.

That’s as may be, and I could not care less. Two completely innocent men were framed by a Prosecutor and the police, and spent twenty-five years in prison as a result. I submit that the Public Interest is harmed far more by allowing prosecutors to withhold evidence and suborn perjury. The evidence for this assertion is simple and clear: If prosecutors can commit felonies with impunity against the very public they allegedly serve, our justice system (and the Republic on which it is based) is no more. The Supreme Court is the last resort for those who have worked their way through the first three Boxes. If the final appeal from the Third Box rules against the innocent victims, what choice do we (the People) have left?

The Supremes will probably issue a ruling on this early next year. I hope that they will rule in the interests of Justice over the interests of the rules and procedures. Reading past rulings lends a certain degree of hope that they will, but another chilling quote from a sitting Justice makes me fear the worst (“Mere factual innocence is no reason not to carry out a death sentence properly reached.” – Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia). If the Court rules in favor of the prosecutors, that’s it- game over. Such a ruling would mean that we are no longer free citizens, but serfs. Slaves to the Government, to be imprisoned at the whim of Government functionaries. If the Government fails to “establish Justice”, and “secure the blessings of Liberty”, it will be time to vote from the rooftops.

And that would be the end of the United States of America.

Current status: Disturbed

Current music: Play the Game by Queen


19 03 2008

For those of you who may not live in the US, the Nine Worthies heard arguments on the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution yesterday. Here is the Amendment in its entirety:

“A well-regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the People to own and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

There are some minor disputes about random capitalization of certain words and the appearance of an additional comma after the word “Militia” in various copies of the original Bill of Rights, but the actual text is simple and direct.

Sadly, Americans can’t seem to handle simple and direct. A great many heated words have been exchanged over the 2nd Amendment. Politicians have used the various disputes over this or that interpretation of the Amendment to curry favor with one or another faction of the electorate.

A great many people- for whatever reason- take the position that the first part of the Amendment (the bit about a “well-regulated Militia”) is the predominant clause in the sentence. For those people, I have a question: Why do you believe this? Is there any historical evidence which shows that your interpretation of the Amendment is most in line with the intent of the authors? I have asked variations of this question many times, and no one has ever provided a response. I don’t mean that no one has provided a satisfactory response. I mean that no one has ever responded.

For other people, the second part of the Amendment (the bit about “the right of the People to own and bear arms”) is the dominant clause. When I have asked those people the same question, I have received many responses, most of which identify as source material public statements, letters, and journals from the authors and their contemporaries. These arguments have a great deal of weight in my opinion, but that may be from a lack of counter-argument.

Back to the Supremes. I listened to the proceedings on CSPAN last night, and I was impressed with the clarity of vision and opinion on both sides of the argument. This is to be expected, because morons are rarely permitted to perform before the Nine Worthies. What really blew my tiny little mind were the cogent questions asked by the Justices themselves.

In place of the senile old nannies-in-drag I had subconsciously expected, all of the Justices were well-versed in the briefs filed for and against the defendant. They were also very familiar with the history behind the cases cited in those briefs. I learned more abou the history behind the arguments while listening to the Justices quiz the attorneys than in years of High School, College, and personal research. I actually found myself feeling less pessimistic about the future of the country after listening to the Justices.

For those unfamiliar with the issues, the case in question was a lawsuit against the city of Washington DC seeking to overturn the blanket proscription against handguns. The plaintiff- a security guard named Dick Heller- wanted a handgun for self-defense at his residence. The City told him it was against the law, so he filed a lawsuit citing the 2nd Amendment. The DC Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, so the City appealed to the SCOTUS.

People on both sides of this issue have been wanting and fearing a case like this for a long time. At the extreme ends of both groups are those who want a ruling granting sweeping authority to get rid of all firearms (and knives, bb guns, slingshots, and anything else more dangerous than a crayon) and those who want no restrictions on any citizen’s right to own and bear nuclear weapons.

You just wish I was joking.

Afterwards, the interested parties ran the gauntlet of the media Hell-Hounds outside the Court. I claim no ability to guess how the Justices will rule (in June or July), but the body language of the people around attorneys was telling. The attorney for the City was smiling and waving to the reporters, but everyone around him was frowning and seemed to be slumping. By contrast, the attorney for Mr. Heller had a friendly smile and spoke lightly, but he (and everyone on his team) seemed to be fighting hard to hold back broad grins of satisfaction.

Note that I did not mention the substance of their statements to the Press. With only a minor variation or two, the statements by both attorneys were identical. Practically word-for-word. One of the reporters even called them on it.

The only person whose statement I actually paid attention to was Heller. One of the reporters asked him why he had pushed this fight for so long. For a moment, he seemed honestly baffled on the best way to answer that. To me, his expression was that of a man trying hard to explain a concept so basic that words do not properly express it. He finally misquoted Robert Heinlein and then said that his job required him to carry a handgun to protect important officials, but he wasn’t permitted the same privilege for his own defense.

Unlike many people on both sides of the argument, I do not demonize those with whom I disagree. I thought that the City made a good case for their side- despite my disagreement with their interpretation of the Amendment and the relevant case law. In contrast, I profoundly disagreed with the Mayor and Polic Chief, both of whom cited incomplete statistics to justify their side. I understand their position, but I do not like it or approve of their tactics.

Far too many people on the anti-gun side have stated- in so many words- that they are afraid of what might happen if their fellow citizens had guns. Guess what? There are more than 80 million legal gun owners in the US, with an estimated total of 270 million guns. You read that right- there are nearly as many guns in this country as citizens. If you are one of those people terrified that your neighbor might have a gun, your worst fears are realized. A lot of your neighbors (roughly one in four, statistically) do have guns.

One person commented that most people would never need to fire a gun. The quick retort from another particpant in the discussion was that most people would never need to have gay sex either, but they should have a right to do so.

I wish I was the person who’d said that. I don’t even know the guy’s name. One of the funniest and most cogent arguments I’ve ever heard, and it happened in passing. By the time I stopped laughting, both parties were gone.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a quote on the subject of Gun Control:

Gun Control: The idea that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her own pantyhose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.”

By the way, here is a very good article on this subject from Reason magazine.

Current status: Surprisingly positive

Current music: Velvet Green by Jethro Tull