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Whittling away the Constitution

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

My great-great-great-grandfather died, along with thousands of his countrymen, so that the document that contains these words, the Constitution of the United States, could be created and become the fundamental law of the land. In the 217 years that have passed since then, millions more have given their lives to preserve and protect the freedoms thereby enshrined.

And although the world has greatly changed in the last two centuries, most of us agree with the founders' conception of America.

It is -- or should be -- a place of evenhanded justice, of freedom and equality, a place where government is neither intrusive nor controlling, a place where we're secure. It is -- or should be -- a place where governments of every nature respect not only the letter, but also the spirit, of the Constitution.

That's why it's so important that, every so often, we reread the Constitution, and particularly the Bill of Rights. Remember the song a few years back? "You gotta fight/for your right/to party!" Forget the party -- we've gotta fight for our rights.

The First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, the press and assembly) has lots of friends -- newspapers, moviemakers, churches, porn magnates -- whose debates and disagreements serve to strengthen it, not weaken it.

The Second Amendment's not going anywhere, either -- that's what the NRA's for. And even if you believe that the free ownership of firearms causes thousands of otherwise avoidable deaths in this country every year, that amendment nevertheless expresses a crucial part of the founders' vision: of an America whose citizens are responsible and empowered. That's why local gunnies fought so long for local ordinances affirming the right to carry a concealed weapon -- they believed, with reason, that the Second Amendment unequivocally guaranteed that right.

But the Fourth Amendment, quoted above, is friendless. Governments at every level hate it. Cops and district attorneys think it's just a "get out of jail free" card for criminals of all kinds, while the feds see it as providing refuge for terrorists, drug kingpins, organized crime. That's why the multiple bureaucracies of command and control have spent decades trying to weaken the Fourth Amendment.

It took them 217 years, but, thanks to the Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment has been judicially nullified. Last week the court ruled that, in the case of a routine traffic stop, drugs that were incidentally discovered by a drug-sniffing dog were discovered lawfully, and not as a result of an illegal search. That may sound fairly benign, but think about it for a minute.

If I call the cops, and tell 'em that I don't like your looks, and that they ought to search your car for drugs, they'll tell me to get lost -- no probable cause there, just my own malice. But let's suppose that I'm a cop, and I've got a dog, and the dog tells me you've got some dope: bingo! And maybe I'll just train the dog to react as if there are drugs around, even if there aren't: double bingo! No search is unreasonable, no cause is improbable, since the Supremes have just said that dogs, like the Pope, are infallible and therefore above the law.

And that's not all. Justice John Paul Stevens' majority opinion stated that "official conduct that does not compromise any legitimate interest in privacy is not a search subject to the Fourth Amendment." That's pretty scary. Who decides what's legitimate and what's not? That's why we have the Fourth Amendment in the first place -- to disempower government, and empower us.

A few years ago, some of the same folks who fought for concealed carry loudly opposed the installation of traffic control cameras around town. They said the cameras could just as easily be used for surveillance and control, and they didn't want Big Brother watching 'em 24/7. I was on City Council at the time, and I thought they were nuts -- right-wing loonies full of Orwellian fantasies. And now ...

We need a whole country full of Fourth Amendment fundamentalist right-wing loonies.

--johnhazlehurst@earthlink.net

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