Pro-Civil Liberties Local Government Resolutions Now Top 200, Milestone Vote Comes on Eve of PATRIOT Act Second Anniversary

October 24, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON -The American Civil Liberties Union today hailed passage of the 200th pro-civil liberties local government resolution urging a narrowing of the USA PATRIOT Act and affirming support for the Constitution in the post-9/11 era. Tuesday’s city council vote in Bisbee, Arizona brings the tally of Americans living in communities that have passed local resolutions close to 26 million.

Notably, the Bisbee vote came just five days before the second anniversary of the PATRIOT Act’s passage.

“A sizeable bloc of Americans of all political stripes and from all across the country are demanding that our freedoms be upheld,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Americans of all ideological and geographic persuasions, from conservative to liberal and from the rustbelt to the sunbelt, have made it clear that America must remain both safe and free.”

On Tuesday, the local governments of Urbana, New York; Robbinsdale, Minnesota, and Bisbee all passed pro-civil liberties resolutions, making them respectively the 198, 199 and 200th communities to agree to such measures. The ACLU noted that the resolutions were passed hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee conducted key oversight hearings on the USA PATRIOT Act and other federal anti-terrorism powers, which were likely scheduled in part because of the meteoric growth of the resolutions movement in the past year.

The resolution movement has its roots in the passage of the PATRIOT Act, the sweeping anti-terrorism legislation steamrolled through Congress in October of 2001, and other similar post-9/11 security measures. Such measures share several anti-civil liberties characteristics, including provisions that erode checks and balances on federal law enforcement and surveillance powers and threaten the American political system’s separation of powers.

Two hundred communities — including the states of Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont — encompassing approximately 26 million people in 34 states, have passed similar resolutions, some of which contain strong legal language directing local law enforcement to refrain from, for instance, engaging in racial profiling or enforcing federal immigration laws. Participating communities include places as geographically and politically diverse as North Pole, AK, Carrboro, NC, to Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, and San Francisco.

Several senators at Tuesday’s Senate Judiciary Committee Oversight hearing on possible abuses of post-9/11 security measures cited the resolutions campaign as proof positive of Americans’ desire to narrow the PATRIOT Act in line with the Constitution. During the hearing, questions were raised about the need for some of the PATRIOT Act’s sweeping surveillance powers, especially in light of recent disclosures by the Justice Department that it has yet to put them to use. A number of bipartisan measures have been introduced in Congress that would roll back some of these provisions and restore a system of adequate checks and balances.

Sens. Larry Craig (R-ID) and Richard Durbin (D-IL) recently introduced the Security and Freedom Enhanced (SAFE) Act of 2003, which would narrow key parts of the PATRIOT Act and enjoys strong bipartisan support. The SAFE Act limits “sneak and peek” delayed-notification searches and the monitoring of library and other personal records, restores key privacy protections for so-called roving wiretaps and expands the PATRIOT Act’s sunset provisions. Senator Craig, who sits on the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees, vowed to pass the SAFE Act this year.

As further evidence of the need for the SAFE Act, the ACLU noted recent reports that many of the PATRIOT Act’s extraordinary powers are being used in run-of-the-mill criminal investigations, even though Justice Department officials assured lawmakers before the bill’s passage that it would only be used to combat terrorism.

“Passage of the latest resolutions came just days before the PATRIOT Act’s second anniversary,” Murphy said. “Americans are showing true patriotism by speaking out against the PATRIOT Act, which went too far, too fast, and demanding that our civil liberties not fall by the wayside.”

For more on the local resolutions campaign, go to:

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