Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who asked me why I felt inclined to stage a pro-constitution demonstration at the Inaugural Parade, “spoiling the special moment” of the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I started out my response by noting that the right of the people to petition the government for redress of grievances took priority over the desire for a “special moment,” but he looked irritated and walked away. Perhaps I need to change my approach.
Look, friend. Barack Obama has been asked upfront how he would deal with constitutional issues, and his response is incomplete:
Question: “What will you do as President to restore the Constitutional protections that have been subverted by the Bush Administration and how will you ensure that our system of checks and balances is renewed?”
Transition Team Answer: “President-elect Obama is deeply committed to restoring the rule of law and respecting constitutional checks and balances. That is why he has pledged to review Bush Administration executive orders. President-elect Obama will also end the abuse of signing statements, and put an end to the politicization that has taken place within the Department of Justice and return that agency to its historic and apolitical mission of fair and impartial administration of justice.”
In that response, the transition team limits Barack Obama’s agenda to the important but incomplete area of checks and balances between the branches of government. The issues of signing statements and hiring prosecutors for political loyalty have to do with internal government process, not civil liberty. Most of the central threats to constitutional civil liberty protections under American jurisdiction have been implemented in law, not through executive order: the USA Patriot Act, the Military Commissions Act, and the FISA Amendments Act. Plans to deal with or propose revisions to these pieces of legislation are not mentioned in the Obama administration response. A further search of change.gov for “FISA” or “Patriot Act” or “Military Commissions Act” produces no documents written by Obama or his transition team.
The new Obama administration does not appear to be placing a significant priority on the restoration of civil liberty in America. That’s why we’re holding open a space on the parade route for people who want to bring the matter up. It’s a petition for the redress of grievance, and yes, my friend, that more than the specialness of a parade is what America is all about.