Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The US Constitution: It Was A Great Idea, Now Sullied

How Our Constitution Has "Evolved" Over the Last 221 Years
Two hundred and twenty-one years ago today, thirty-nine brave men signed the Constitution of the United States of America and changed the course of history.
Conventions in each state later ratified this newly signed Constitution in the name of "the people," but only after a national debate called for a new Bill of Rights, which was later adopted as the first Ten Amendments. The Bill of Rights sets out our basic rights as citizens and the limits of government power over us.
From that point on, the Constitution provided the blueprint for our government's organization. The document defines the three main branches of the government: the legislative branch comprised of Congress, an executive branch led by the President, and a judicial branch headed by the Supreme Court.
In addition to the organization of these branches, the Constitution outlines each branch's powers. It also reserves numerous rights to the individual States and to the people, thereby establishing the federal system of government.
Yet, if you have ever watched Jay Leno's "Man on the Street" TV interviews, on questions regarding the Constitution and American history, far too many Americans are ignorant of both.
But Constitution Day is a time for us to review and consider the legacy of the Founding Fathers of America, to better understand the Constitution, and to promote good citizenship in new generations of Americans.
One of the most important protections for individuals in the Bill of Rights is contained in the Fourth Amendment.
Amendment IV guards against unreasonable official searches, arrests, and seizures of property without a specific warrant based on a "probable cause" to believe a crime has been committed. Up until the adoption of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, only a judge or official magistrate could issue such search warrants.
It is therefore highly ironic that a few days before Constitution Day, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced new rules governing FBI agents which, in my opinion as an attorney, effectively abolishes the Fourth Amendment.
The new rules will do away with Amendment IV's requirement of probable cause. The new rules will allow the FBI's more than 12,000 agents to conduct physical surveillance, solicit informants and interview friends of suspects without the approval of a bureau supervisor and certainly without a judge's approval or even a search warrant.
And this new investigative power will allow FBI agents to pursue leads not just on national security or foreign intelligence as in the past, but will allow them to even go after ordinary criminal cases.
For more than two centuries, scores of U.S. Supreme Court cases have defined the constitutional rights embodied in the Fourth Amendment.
The truth is that the government really doesn't need these greatly expanded police powers. It already has authority to prosecute anyone it has probable cause to believe has committed, or is planning to commit, a crime. In my opinion, while destroying our liberty and privacy, these broad police powers have not measurably increased our national security or safety.
Perhaps the Justice Department and the FBI should be forced to observe Constitution Day by reading that once sacred document. Or maybe Congress should repeal the Amendment and allow general writs of assistance to be issued by the latest King George.
I wonder how many Americans would even care?

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