“My View” from the May 21, 2012 edition of “Viewpoint with Eliot Spitzer.”
Freedom is a precious commodity that must be guarded, often in dire circumstances and at unpopular times. Thankfully, our judiciary has found the courage to do so during some critical moments in our history.
One such moment came last week.
A federal judge prevented enforcement of a statute that gave government almost unlimited power to arrest anybody who “supported” a terrorist group, and to detain them indefinitely, without charges.
Well-respected journalists sought this injunction. After all, they have contact with representatives of terrorist groups in the course of their reporting work. Without guidance about what the statute meant, they could not know if they were in violation of it.
But the lawyer for the Department of Justice would provide no such guidance, refusing over and over to explain what would count as support or to put any limitations on the phrase.
Would repeating the claims and objectives of a terrorist group violate the law? The Department of Justice lawyer would not say.
To the shock of the government, the federal judge said the statute ran afoul of basic due process protections in the Constitution.
Concerns about the abuse of civil liberties are not merely the domain of those who see conspiracy behind every shadow. Here in New York, a federal judge said police showed blatant disregard for the Fourth Amendment when they stopped and frisked hundreds of thousands of mostly minority youths on the street.
And just weeks ago on this show, we hosted three absolutely credible NSA veterans describing violations of our civil rights on a monumental scale. Billions of phone calls and emails from innocent people were intercepted in blatant disregard of our laws and Constitution.
This is hard to comprehend.
Protecting ourselves from terrorism is, of course, a critical and primary obligation of our government. But it’s equally important not to run roughshod over our civil rights and the Constitution.
As we fight terrorism, we can’t lose sight of what makes our nation different — due process of law and the freedom to disagree.
That’s “My View.”