In this week’s congressional debate over whether to extend the most abusive provisions of the Patriot Act, the law that has enabled the creation of a massive government apparatus for spying against American citizens, it was Representative David Dreier who led the side in favor of keeping the infamous law just as it is.
Dreier admitted that the extraordinary search and seizure provisions of the Patriot Act are not what people might wish to see in a free and open society. But, he said, concerns about the threats to liberty created by the Patriot Act need to be put aside, because in government, one thing is more important than everything else: Security – or as Dreier put it, “what, I think, are the five most important words in the middle of the preamble of the U.S. Constitution, which are ‘providing for the common defense.’”
The central premise in David Dreier’s argument was that the spying powers of the Patriot Act do indeed provide for the common defense. That is a very questionable premise in itself, given that investigations of the Patriot Act have found that its most controversial, unconstitutional powers are used in cases alleged to have some connection to terrorism only 0.4 percent of the time.
Even putting aside that rather substantial hole in David Dreier’s justification for the Patriot Act’s Big Brother surveillance system against Americans, there’s a simple problem of values. David Dreier says that the five most important words in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America are “providing for the common defense”. Take a look at what else is in that Preamble:
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
- We the People
- Domestic tranquility
- General Welfare
David Dreier tells us that all these things must only be provided by the government of the United States of America to the extent that they do not interfere with security, because the “common defense” is the most important thing.
That’s not what the Constitution tells us. The Constitution tells us that liberty under a government by the people comes before security.
There is no constitutional right to security. There is not, anywhere in the Constitution, a guaranteed right to defense. There is no constitutional right to national military power. There is no right of the government to spy on its citizens.
There is, on the other hand, a specific right to protection against the kind of unreasonable search and seizure that takes place quite commonly under the Patriot Act. It’s provided for in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads:
“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.”
The Patriot Act is in clear violation of this part of the Constitution. The Patriot Act therefore represents a threat to the common defense, rather than a means to provide for the common defense. By undermining American liberty, the Patriot Act weakens the true source of our security.
What is the point of defending the United States of America, if the USA does not have liberty and justice, if it is not a government of the people, and the government is not working in a way that is in accordance the tranquility and welfare of the American people? Why should we bother having a common defense, if the nation being defended is not free?
The Constitution is constructed in order to put individual liberty first, and matters like the common defense second. There is in the Constitution an entire Bill of Rights, ten amendments which guarantee that liberty will be maintained, regardless of other political agendas.
David Dreier does not understand this fundamental truth of American democracy. That’s why it’s time for David Dreier to retire from the United States Congress.