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Opinion: Bill of Rights and NDAA/SOPA by Josh Learn

Friends, I’d like to talk to you about our Constitution. Most especially, I would like to talk to those of you who still identify yourselves as either a Democrat or Republican, and think that either half of our permanent two-party duopoly are interested in protecting your legal and civil rights. I know I’ve been a one track record of late, and you’re probably sick of hearing me ramble on about the NDAA and SOPA. Perhaps some of you think I’m being hyperbolic in suggesting that this legislation spells the end of our constitutional, democratic republic in the United States of America- or at least the beginning of the end.  Let us, therefore, evaluate the status of our guaranteed legal rights one by one, in a calm and methodical manner, and if you believe my concerns on any given point to be unfounded, then I positively entreat you to convince me so, for it would do me a great deal of good, in easing the weight of an already somber and laden spirit.

While I believe there is also much to be said about some of the Reconstruction and Progressive Era Amendments as well, let us for brevity’s sake (I can sense many of you hastily scrolling to the “back” button already) begin with the most fundamental provisions that we all know best: the Bill of Rights.

1st Amendment: There’s so much to be said here that this amendment could be an essay unto itself, but I’ll try to be brief- journalists are being detained with no basis to prevent them from covering lawful protests and civil disobedience, the TSA is in the middle of expanding it’s authority into train stations and bus terminals, and random screenings on the interstate in some places. Our phone records, emails, library records, medical records, and internet usage can be monitored by the NSA or other agencies at a whim, with no cause given. Law makers from both parties continually seek to wed church and state through “faith-based initiatives”, tax exemptions, and decrees about which religious ceremonies will be treated as a binding legal contract by the federal government, and which will not. Law enforcement and intelligence agencies continue to infiltrate any church, mosque, or other grouping which they consider to be seditious, based upon no concrete evidence. If SOPA is ratified, then say goodbye to the free-flow of information and ideas, and the ability to communicate freely. We will be forced, like the citizens of China, to use special (and probably illegal) software modifications in order to access a free and open internet.

2nd Amendment: Well, so far so good, and then some… >_>

3rd Amendment: Obviously, nobody is trying to garrison any soldiers at your house any time soon, but with the ratification of the NDAA, the military HAS, contrary to a century and a half of precedent, been given authority over aspects of civilian law enforcement on  American soil, so one could easily argue that the spirit and principle behind this seldom-mentioned amendment has indeed been undermined.

4th, 5th, 6th, and 8th Amendments: Do I even need to say anything? The right to be secure in your home, your person, and your possession until clear cause is given against you in the form of a warrant? The right to a speedy trial and a jury of your peers? The right to confront your accusers and their evidence in an open, public proceeding? The right not to be TORTURED into incriminating yourself? GONE. GONE. GONE. The “PATRIOT” Act and the Military Commissions Act of 2006 left these amendments slashed to ribbons and bleeding out in a gutter, and now with the NDAA President Obama and his enablers in both parties in Congress have come with a baseball bat and blow torch to finish the job. And I know what you’re saying- “But Josh, that’s only for the –terrorists-“! That’s what they said in England when they started installing cameras EVERYWHERE- that it was only to catch terrorists- now they’re used to fine people for putting the wrong kind of garbage in the wrong bin. Who gets to decide who’s a “terrorist”? That’s what we used to have these nifty things called COURTS for, not an imperial Presidency.

7th Amendment: Well, when it comes to our access to court to sue the shit out of each other for everything, so far so good. Unless you file a civil suit against the government to try to protect your other rights, of course. See reference: ACLU wiretapping class-action suit- “Sorry, we’d love to hear your complaints that the government is secretly infringing on your privacy, but unfortunately, it’s a secret, so you have no standing in court. After all, we wouldn’t want you violating the –government’s- privacy, now would we?”

9th Amendment: This one can be a little confusing, but basically it just says that the rights spelled out in the Constitution should not be construed to be your ONLY rights. In other words- just ‘cus  something isn’t guaranteed in the Constitution doesn’t give state or federal government on automatic right to trample on it. But uh…. If our federal government and many state governments are already flagrantly disregarding the rights which ARE enumerated, then just how the hell should we expect them to treat the ones that AREN’T? I think this one is toast.

10th Amendment: Same as above, this one is rather a moot point. Not only do we have many state governments which are either enacting their own curtailing of civil liberties, but many of them are just outright outsourcing to the federal government anyway. See reference, Tennessee + TSA.  It’s always been difficult to square this amendment with the supremacy clause of Article I anyway, and if you look at the case law this one has more or less been defunct for a long time, anyway. Although I know “conservatives” (sure you are) love to bring it up all the time: STATES’ RIGHTS, WHOO!. Unless it’s the right of a state to enforce marriage equality, or decriminalize drug use, or assisted suicide, or enact stricter gun regulations, or ensure sexual liberty and reproductive freedom, then of course we will crush you and your feeble delusions of personal and political autonomy.

Well then, so far, I count two out of ten of the original Amendments unscathed.  Sure, we’ve done away with all that mamby pamby free expression and association and all that tedious due process and obnoxious personal privacy, but hey, if you’re interested in suing or shooting somebody, go for it! USA #1!!!

Or have I erred in my arithmetic? Because I would so, so like to believe that I have… Otherwise, part II will be forthcoming.


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