The long fight against the hastily introduced Patriot Act has won its first victory. Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Audrey B. Collins released a ruling stating that parts of the Patriot Act were in direct violation of the First and Fifth Amendments due to their “vague wording” and were therefore unconstitutional.
The Patriot Act, passed after the Sept. 11 attacks, has long been criticized for its unconstitutional stances. Members of both parties, admittedly more vocal on the Democratic side, have repeatedly said the act is counter to the ideas our nations’ founding fathers had when writing both the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
The act, bearing the Orwellian-sounding acronym PATRIOT that stands for Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism, is so vaguely worded and littered with often cryptic references to other documents that even lawyers and politicians have admitted it is almost unreadable. Civilians, who are, after all, the ones this act supposedly sets out to protect, can hardly be expected to understand it.
Collins ruled that particularly the sections stating that “expert advice or assistance” is not allowed to be rendered to known terrorist groups are unconstitutional. A particular case brought forth under representation of Georgetown University constitutional law professor David Cole, the lawyer USF students might remember representing Sami Al-Arian’s brother-in-law Mazen Al Najjar, is cited. In the case, a group that had tried to bring a peaceful solution to the situation Kurds face in the Middle East,sued the government because the Patriot Act stopped them from dispatching expert advice, even though their intentions were peaceful.
President George W. Bush did not only call for a renewal of the Patriot Act in his State of the Union speech Tuesday, he also signed even more laws extending the Act the same day the nation was busy following the news of Saddam Hussein’s arrest on Dec. 14.
During the ’50s, the United States went through an era of McCarthyism. U.S. citizens had to appear in front of tribunals to prove their status as a “patriot” (at least these hearings were conducted in public, unlike the investigations done under the Patriot Act). One would have expected politicians, as well as citizens, to have learned something from this dark era of American history, yet it seems the same errors are being made again.
To stop a group from trying to bring stability to an unstable region can hardly be in the interest of national security. Judge Collins was right to rule the sections unconstitutional.
But the discussion should not stop here. The upcoming election will give an adequate arena for the act to be reevaluated. Such a discussion is needed to ensure that America continues to be known as “the land of the free.”