When Congress Voted Down The 4th Amendment -
Earlier this month, President Obama nominated North Carolina Rep. Mel Watt to head up the Federal Housing Finance Authority. Here’s a fun little nugget about Watt that has little relevance to the job he’s seeking, but has lots of relevance to the current debates over leaks, press investigations, wiretapping, and such:
Back in early 1995, the new Republican majority set out on its “limited government” agenda with a bill tochip away at the Exclusionary Rule, the policy that says evidence found in the course of an illegal search can’t be used against the suspect at trial. (Though there are some exceptions.) During the debate, Watt introduced the following amendment to the bill:
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.
That of course is the exact language of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The House killed Watt’s amendment by nearly a 3-1 margin.
There have been a number of public opinion polls over the years showing majorities of American opposed to the Bill of Rights when they aren’t told the language they’re being polled about is actually from the Bill of Rights. Probably the most famous example came in an April 1969 segment of 60 Minutes focusing on a poll commissioned by the show which asked respondents questions like should the government be able to ban peaceful demonstrations?, and should the government be allowed to censor news stories?, and should the government be able to try someone again after they’ve been acquitted were already prohibited by the Constitution?. In each case, a majority sided in opposition to the Bill of Rights.
Ten years later, a Gallup poll found that 80 percent of Americans couldn’t identify the freedoms protected by the First Amendment, and nearly 40 percent thought the press had too much freedom.
During the height of the drug war, a September 1989 poll by the Washington Post and ABC News found that 62 percent of Americans said they would “be willing to give up a few of the freedoms we have in this country if it meant we could greatly reduce the amount of illegal drug use.” Another 52 percent agreed that police should be allowed “to search without a court order the houses of people suspected of selling drugs, even if houses of people like you are sometimes searched by mistake.” Another poll showed 70 percent support for warrantless drug raids on public housing tenants, a policy later adopted by the Clinton administration before it was shot down in federal court. Other polls taken in the late 1980s and early 1990s showed majority support of government-mandated drug testing for a wide variety of professions, including hotel employees, lawyers, professional athletes, and entertainers. A 2002 Gallup poll found 7 in 10 Americans thought public schools should be permitted to randomly drug test all students.
In 1991, the American Bar Association commissioned a poll that found that only “one-third of adult Americans can correctly identify the Bill of Rights and fewer than 1 in 10 know it was adopted to protect them against abuses by the Federal Government.” That was about the time that the right was making a big to-do about the Supreme Court decision holding that laws against desecration of the American flag were unconstitutional. Polls taken from the era consistently found that Americans opposed the ruling by about a 3-1 margin. Amusingly — or perhaps horrifyingly — while these polls consistently show that startlingly high percentages of Americans oppose basic civil rights protections from government abuse, this particular poll found that 3 and 4 respondents thought the Constitution should guarantee everyone free health care.
Most recently, a HuffPost poll taken just last month found that a third of Americans — and 55 percent of Republicans — support making Christianity the official state religion. Oddly,at the same time, six in 10 Republicans also concede that doing so would be unconstitutional.
All of which is a good reminder of why we have a core set of basic rights that we don’t put up for a vote. (Hell, you might even call them inalienable!) It’s worth remembering the next time you hear a politician cite public opinion polls in defense of some new law that will give the government more power, and the rest of us less freedom. As the old saying goes, democracy is three wolves and two lambs deciding what’s for dinner.
This explains exactly why I don’t give two silly shits if the majority of people agree with gun bans or with anything, actually. In fact, the moment I find out that the majority agree with something, I do what Mark Twain recommends: I pause and reflect.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement.
In short, countries would have to abandon any efforts to learn from the mistakes of the US and its experience with the DMCA (Digital Milenium Copyright Act) over the last 12 years, and adopt many of the most controversial aspects of US copyright law in their entirety. At the same time, the US IP chapter does not export the limitations and exceptions in the US copyright regime like fair use, which have enabled freedom of expression and technological innovation to flourish in the US.
The TPP will affect countries beyond the 11 that are currently involved in negotiations. Like ACTA, the TPP Agreement is a plurilateral agreement that will be used to create new heightened global IP enforcement norms. Countries that are not parties to the negotiation will likely be asked to accede to the TPP as a condition of bilateral trade agreements with the US and other TPP members.
And the U.S. is the biggest driver of this agreement. Our corporate masters want to control the internet and every form of media. Stop the TPP.
The Yes Men, with my help and with many others, staged a press conference in Dallas Texas last year. It was a success and I think many people there finally understood what they were signing onto and donating toward. Their fundraiser was crashed and ruined and exposed for the fraud that it is.