Pubdate: Mon, 19 Jun 2000
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2000 News World Communications, Inc.
Author: Doug Bandow
Note: Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.


By all accounts, President Clinton worries constantly about his legacy. He 
need not: His assault on constitutional values, as well as conventional 
morals, is unmatched. Indeed, he has gutted the Democratic Party's 
commitment to civil liberties.

Democrats like Jimmy Carter, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis all 
represented a humane liberalism with a commitment to civil liberties. No 
one would make that claim about Bill Clinton, who represents a new 
political philosophy: jackboot liberalism.

Record numbers of wiretaps, repressive "anti-terrorism" legislation, 
support for mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses, suspicious 
Internal Revenue Service audits of political opponents, White House 
interference with banking investigations, attacks on anti-abortion 
protesters, threats against critics of federal housing projects, media 
intimidation, bureaucratic witch hunts, brutal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco 
and Firearms and FBI raids, interference with state laws relaxing use of 
marijuana for medical purposes, purloined FBI files. It is a record that 
puts Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to shame. And it continues today.

With administration support, Congress is pursuing legislation to enhance 
penalties for methamphetamine production. The Methamphetamine 
Anti-Proliferation Act would also impose a dangerously sweeping ban on 
information pertaining to drugs and drug paraphernalia. No good is likely 
to come from the measure, since it will be no more effective than past laws 
in stopping drug use. Even worse, though, buried within the legislation are 
provisions gutting Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable 
searches and seizures. The federal government would be allowed to carry out 
secret searches  now allowed only in special circumstances  with notice 
given three or more months later, if ever (the 90-day requirement could be 
extended indefinitely).

Moreover, the government would not need to provide an inventory of any 
intangible property, most importantly computer files or document copies, 
that were seized. Basic to the operation of the Fourth Amendment is knowing 
what the government has done. Asks David Kopel, research director of the 
Independence Institute, "how can a person challenge a warrant if they never 
find out about it until after the harm has been done?"

An invisible search is inherently unreasonable. Those who dislike being 
constrained by the Fourth Amendment hid their handiwork in the meth bill 
for a reason: it wouldn't pass otherwise. So, according to a Senate 
Judiciary Staffer quoted by the Asheville Tribune, Senate Judiciary 
Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, and the Justice Department 
buried the change "deep in the bill, and nobody noticed until the thing had 
already passed."

No notice, no hearings. Committee spokeswoman Jeanne Lapatto even 
disclaimed any knowledge of the provision. The Senate approved the 
legislation, S. 486, last fall with little debate. The companion measure, 
H.R. 2987, now is coming before the House Judiciary Committee, where Rep. 
Bob Barr, Georgia Republican, a former federal prosecutor, is leading the 
opposition. Mr. Barr opines that "It's unconscionable that someone would 
try to sneak these provisions into an unrelated bill."

He has gained the support of bill sponsor Rep. Christopher Cannon, Utah 
Republican, as well as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, 
Illinois Republican. But proponents were not content to stick the measure 
in the meth bill. The same provisions are also buried in Senate bankruptcy 
legislation, now in conference with the House. Conference committee reports 
are ill-read and notoriously difficult to defeat. Which is why the 
administration used this tactic to gain authorization for warrantless 
"roving" wiretaps (of phones used by or near particular individuals): a 
measure previously defeated on its merits was snuck into a conference 
committee bill after both houses had voted on the original measures.

The potential deception does not stop there. An aide to Mr. Barr worries 
that even if the provisions are stripped from both the meth and bankruptcy 
bills, "I think we'll see it again, later in the appropriations process. 
Justice has decided to do whatever it can" to pass the measure. That is, if 
the amendment fails in its current form, proponents are likely to try to 
stuff it into one or more omnibus spending bills, which are often approved 
in a rush at the end of the budget year.

Especially after the disastrous 1995 government shutdown, legislators 
hesitate rejecting any appropriations measure, irrespective of the poison 
pills attached. At least in the republic's early days, legislators 
occasionally read the measures on which they were voting. Today it is a 
rare lawmaker who knows the substance of the bills before him, let alone 
the details. Congressional inattentiveness is bad enough at any time. But 
when the executive is ever willing to sacrifice individual liberties and 
the judiciary is ever willing to ratify state aggrandizement, legislative 
abdication usually allows evil to triumph.

Come next Jan. 20, the public career of America's premier jackboot liberal 
will end. But liberty will remain at risk unless Congress and the people 
remain vigilant.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D