What's Happening to the Left?
During the 1960s, many of the people I knew were deeply involved in actions for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. Some of us, me included, committed civil disobedience, marched on Washington, and blocked the streets leading to the induction center in New York.
I now hear some of these allies joining a cause that is entirely alien to me. They gather to accuse those working to remove the president of staging a coup d'état that is driven by "sexual McCarthyism" and a consuming hatred of this president.
Their honest, passionate concern ignores the fact that everyone's constitutional liberties are being increasingly eviscerated by the very president they are defending.
I will return to the two specific articles of impeachment in the next column, but I want to focus here on what the next two years of this president will do to continue to weaken the Bill of Rights based on his clear record of violating these fundamental liberties.
Under his lead with the active collaboration of congressional Republicans and the passivity of most Democrats the right of habeas corpus has been so greatly cut down that innocent people on death row will be executed for years to come. Clinton ardently pushed for the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, which reduces to one year the time that death-row prisoners have to find a federal court to review the capital sentences imposed on them by a state court.
From 1976 until now, more than 70 men on death row for four, eight, 10, 12 years have been set free. They were released after investigators or DNA finally proved them innocent.
Also, Clinton has pushed successfully for legislation to deport aliens many of whom have lived here for years without them or their lawyers being able to see the evidence against them, let alone the names of the dubious informers who have charged them with supporting "terrorism."
And Clinton exerted great pressure on the Justice Department to convince the Supreme Court to affirm the Communications Decency Act, which would have censored everything on the Internet that was insufficiently "decent" for children. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected Clinton's attack on the First Amendment.
Also, Clinton has urged random police "sweeps" of apartments in public housing projects as well as the abolition of the exclusionary rule that prohibits evidence unconstitutionally obtained by the police from being used in a trial.
As former ACLU official Robyn Blumner has noted in her syndicated column, "One would be hard pressed to find a fundamental constitutional right that Clinton has not attacked legislatively or in the courts . . . including a law stripping the courts of jurisdiction to hear claims of rights violations by the government against prisoners a marginal population with virtually no political power."
E. L. Doctorow, Eli Wiesel, Toni Morrison, Sean Wilentz, Paul Berman, Michael Tomasky, David Denby, Gloria Steinem, Todd Gitlin, and other protectors of this president have mentioned none of the Clinton subversion of the Constitution as they cry coup d'état. And where were these former antiVietnam War protesters when Clinton killed innocent civilians in Iraq as he tried to delay impeachment?
Lest you think Bill Clinton has been too preoccupied lately to continue his assaults on the Constitution, he signed a bill into law on October 8 of this year that has been fervently desired by the FBI and the president himself.
In the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1999, there is a provision for roving wiretaps. This abolition of much of the Fourth Amendment in the Bill of Rights was slipped into a conference report without public hearings or debate in the Congress. No objections to this coup d'état by Clinton's liberal defenders.
As Justice William Brennan once told me, one of the most outrageous, continuing abuses by British troops, which ignited the American Revolution, was the general search warrant, which empowered them to barge into any homes or businesses and randomly search the people and everything else on the premises.
We have the Fourth Amendment because it insists that we and our belongings must be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures." To insure that protection from governments, the Fourth Amendment mandates that a warrant must be obtained on probable cause that criminal activity exists or is likely to exist in a particular place.
The warrant from a judge must "particularly describe the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
Clinton's roving wiretaps law is, in effect, a return to the general search warrant used and abused by the British troops in the American colonies. A wiretap is a search of communications on the tapped phone and is therefore a violation of the constitutional right to privacy.
Under the new Clinton law, a warrant for one phone will now cover any and all phones that the person under suspicion is using.
If the target of a roving wiretap who might be your cousin or friend comes to a private home, that home's phone will be tapped if the suspect is "reasonably proximate" to it. And so your own calls will be tapped. In 1997, each time a single federal or state electronic surveillance intercept was used, it was left in place for an average of 45 days. And an average of 2081 conversations by 197 persons were intercepted on that single wiretap. (That citation comes from the Administrative Office of the United States Courts.)
The Framers, being unable to anticipate wiretaps or the Internet or that anyone would attack habeas corpus, did not list Clinton's subversions of the Constitution as high crimes. So they are not impeachable offenses.
But the Left, which has sometimes in the past fought to protect the Bill of Rights, is now gathering around this serial violator of our liberties.
Next week: Clinton's high crimes before the Senate
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you’ll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.