This blog post by Michael Maharrey was originally published by the Tenth Amendment Center.
You won’t often find organizations as dissimilar as the Tenth Amendment Center (TAC), Demand Progress, and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), along with Tea Party Republicans, liberal Democrats and libertarians, playing nicely together on the same playground.
Even more unusual—finding them all pulling together on the same team.
But detention provisions without due process written into sections 1021 and 1022 of the National Defense Authorization Act served as a shot across America’s bow, raising concern to an amazingly high level, bringing groups and individuals across the political spectrum together to battle what they view as an unconstitutional and dangerous federal power grab.
“We are a 1 million member progressive civil liberties organization, which means that our perspective is very much grounded in the left of center portion of the political spectrum, but this fight for due process, civil liberties and to extend habeas corpus in America has really brought us in close coalition with members all across the spectrum, from the Tea Party to the liberty community to progressive Democrats to Republicans,” Demand Progress program director David Moon said.
On Tuesday, TAC, BORDC and Demand Progress partnered to host a media conference call featuring state and local legislators from both sides of the political aisle. These lawmakers come from vastly different backgrounds and political perspective, but they have all joined the fight at the state and local level, seeking ways to block federal detention under the NDAA.
The Fairfax, Calif. town council recently passed a resolution condemning NDAA detention. Larry Bragman (G) represents a district in the small San Francisco Bay area community of 7,500 people. He says the council passed the resolution unanimously. And he seemed to channel James Madison opposing the Alien and Sedition Acts back in 1798 when he demanded action.
“I think anybody who takes the oath of office in this country as an elected official has got to do what they can do to reverse, oppose and resist this bill, and that’s what we’re doing in Fairfax,” he said.
Missouri Rep. Paul Curtman (R) shared his experience coming home after serving in the Marines for 10 years, realizing that under the definition of “potential terrorist” provided by Missouri state law enforcement officials and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he qualified simply by virtue of his status as a combat vet and his right-leaning political views. He said the vague language in the NDAA could conceivably spell trouble for dissenters of all stripes in the United States.
“The bill doesn’t say who gets to make these decisions, there’s a lot of definitions that are lacking, meanwhile the definition of terrorist continues to get vaguer, and vaguer, and vaguer. It’s kind of a dangerous time for people in America who might wind up disagreeing with the government,” he said.
In response, Curtman plans to sponsor the House version of SB819, which would prohibit the state of Missouri from cooperating with federal officials attempting to enforce NDAA sections 1021 or 1022.
Fellow Marine and Rhode Island State Rep. Dan Gordon (R) expressed similar uneasiness about language in the NDAA.
“When I first heard about this, it gave me great pause. I had to read those sections of the bill numerous times to ensure that I wasn’t mistaken in what I was seeing. And what it came down to was – I was correct,” he said. “There is no definition of the term belligerent and who gets to make that determination. That is a problem. It’s standard procedure to put those terms and definitions in there. It was not done in this case.”
In January, Gordon began drafting H7916, and he introduced the bill in March with 43 cosponsors. A pretty amazing feat considering that the Rhode Island House has just 10 Republicans, with the “opposition party” holding 65 seats.
Gordon said the bipartisan support really makes sense when taking an objective look at the danger posed by allowing the federal government to wield such undefined and expansive powers given in the NDAA.
“This is an issue that is of concern and should be terrifying to each and every single American, regardless of ideological, political stripe,” he said. “Once one of us loses our voice to speak, we’re all in jeopardy.”
Gordon said it ultimately came down to fidelity to his oath of office.
“When I took the oath of office, I swore, as I did when I served in the Marine Corps, that I would support the Constitutions, in this case of Rhode Island and the United States. And before one single constituent of mine is snatched up in the dead of night, without due process, under our laws, they’ll have to pry those documents from my cold dead hands.”
Bragman said the city of Fairfax prides itself on its self-sufficiency and local control. He pointed out that the NDAA continues a trend of federalizing local law enforcement, and he expressed concern about the potential threat to civil liberties and community autonomy. In fact, he says it’s already happening.
Bragman illustrated the danger, pointing out that regional law enforcement, organized by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, cracked down on the Occupy movement in Oakland. He also noted the uptick in federal raids on medical marijuana clinics operating in the Bay Area for years.
“That’s very disturbing to us, because Fairfax, for example, just had to pass a sales tax to support our local services, and certainly for the federal government to come in and now direct local law enforcement towards these sorts of non-specific goals under the National Defense Authorization Act is truly, truly chilling,” he said.
Bragman also noted that language in the NDAA doubles down on some of the worst civil liberty violations of the Bush years.
“It’s brought a lot of the most unsavory aspects of the Bush administration’s shredding of the Constitution out of the shadows and into enshrinement of law, because not only does it allow the designation of certain types of activity as being exempt from the Constitution, it also enshrines extraordinary rendition into law,” he said. “We must resist. We must oppose. We must reverse.”
Berkeley, Calif. city councilor Kriss Worthington said he feels like the detention provisions in the NDAA tarnish the image of the U.S.
“We who believe in liberty and justice for all, we really do believe in liberty and justice, and these drastic restrictions on liberty are not only legally unconstitutional, but they are morally reprehensible and against the spirit and the nature of what the United States of America is supposed to be about.”
He pointed out that Americans typically pride themselves on upholding human rights.
“How will people take us seriously if we have repressive legislation on the books that allows some of those same kinds of unreasonable restrictions on our own people’s liberty?”
State and local opposition to NDAA detention without due process continues to spread across the United States. Including Rhode Island and Missouri, lawmakers in 11 states are considering legislation to condemn or block sections 1021 and 1022. And 10 local governments have already passed anti-NDAA resolutions.
Rhode Island Liberty Coalition director Blake Filippi represented the Tenth Amendment Center on the call. He spelled out the urgency involved.
In 1850, when Congress passed what was known as the “Fugitive Slave Act,” the federal law compelled people of all states to assist federal agents with the apprehension of suspected runaway slaves and brought all trials involving alleged fugitive slaves under federal jurisdiction. It included large fines for anyone who aided a slave in their escape, even by simply giving them food or shelter. The act also suspended habeas corpus and the right to a trial by jury for suspected slaves, and made their testimony non-admissible in court.
This was an atrocity.
But the people of the states didn’t just stand there and take it. In the ensuing years, states all over the North began passing what were known as “Personal Liberty Laws” – rejecting such claims of federal power and reasserting the state’s role in protecting the rights of people. Massachusetts went so far as to consider such federal acts to be the crime of kidnapping – and after passing their Personal Liberty Law, not one single escaped slave was returned to the South under the Fugitive Slave Act.
While that horrible part of American history is gladly long gone, due process is still under attack by the Federal Government today. And in the spirit of the heroic abolitionists in states like Wisconsin, Maine, and many others – today, we call upon states across the nation to pass the Liberty Preservation Act – to reject the so-called “indefinite detention” powers of the NDAA.
In partnership with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Demand Progress, we hope to expand this effort beyond the 10 local communities which have already passed such legislation – and the 11 states moving to consider it already – and blanket the entire country with a defense of liberty until “indefinite detention” is thrown to the dustbin of history.
Michael Maharrey is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He proudly resides in the original home of the Principles of '98 - Kentucky. See his blog archive and his article archive. He also maintains the blog Tenther Gleanings.