This week brought opposite outcomes for basic American civil liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, according to Congressman Tim Walz. The 2nd Amendment was the winner and the 4th was the loser.
The good news on Thursday, in Walz’s view, was the Supreme Court decision upholding a lower court ruling that the unusually restrictive gun laws in the District of Columbia were unconstitutional. The 5-4 decision was heralded by gun-rights advocates as an historic confirmation that the 2nd Amendment is about individuals — not just militias.
“Gun ownership is a basic right in America, not to be infringed upon by anyone or any government entity,” Walz said in a written statement. “... It is a victory that gun-owners, hunters, sportsmen and everyday Americans waited too long for.”
But Walz was disturbed by the willingness of Congress to allow warrantees government eavesdropping conducted by the Bush administration in the years following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Critics have said White House officials, with the help of telecommunications companies, violated the 4th Amendment — which requires court approval for intrusive government searches into people’s private affairs.
“We could have stood for a better bill that would have done a better job of balancing liberty and security,” Walz said Thursday.
The former Mankato West High School teacher said the bill — which the House passed last week and the Senate is set to approve after the July 4 recess — will cause lawsuits against the telecoms to be tossed out. That will prevent a thorough examination into how much Americans privacy rights were violated.
And it essentially accepts that the president could tell a person or a company to do anything — legal or not — by proclaiming it to be legal without the oversight of the judicial branch, according to the first-term Democrat.
“I think when the rule of law is circumvented, you weaken the republic,” Walz said.
Brian Davis, the Republican Party’s endorsed candidate against Walz, said he would have voted for the bill.
“If we opened them up to lawsuits, we’d all be paying for it,” Davis said of the telephone companies’ customers. “... If there was some violation of civil liberties, I have no problem with finding out what happened.”
Walz, however, says that’s not likely to happen without the trials that the lawsuits would have prompted. He said he believes most members of Congress supported the law simply because of nervousness about being attacked in future election campaigns for taking away tools to fight terrorism.
That’s a false charge because a secret federal court — created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act three decades ago — allows wiretaps virtually every time it’s asked, according to Walz. The Bush administration simply chose to circumvent the law.
“The FISA as it was written was working just fine,” he said.
Walz and Davis, who is facing a primary election challenge from Republican state Sen. Dick Day of Owatonna, were in agreement on the 2nd Amendment news.
“The right to bear arms should not be violated,” Davis said. “I agree completely in their interpretation.”
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