The Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution say that when people can’t be thrown into detention by the government for as long as the government wants, not without charges and a public trial by a jury of their peers.
H.R. 1540 is a piece of congressional legislation that says something entirely different. According to H.R. 1540, people can be thrown into detention by the government for as long as the government, even if they’re never charged with a crime. H.R. 1540 says that a person in America no longer has the right to a public trial by a jury of one’s peers. The House passed it, then the Senate passed it, and President Obama is about to sign it.
The Constitution is supposed to be the “supreme law of the land” (see Article VI), and all other laws must follow it, at least if lawmakers respect the Constitution. If lawmakers in Congress respected constitutional limits, they ought to have voted NO, against the passage of H.R. 1540.
It turns out that there are three House caucuses (that is, three organized groups in the House of Representatives) that declare their purpose is to ensure legislation abides by the U.S. Constitution. One of them is the Tea Party Caucus (track vote here), introduced by Representative Michele Bachmann with explicit and prominent reference to the U.S. Constitution:
“I formed the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives in July 2010 because Congress had strayed from the fundamental principles of the Constitution…. Sadly, it seems today that the Constitution is no longer at the forefront guiding Congress.”
Another is the Constitution Caucus (track vote here), describing its mission in the following manner:
““The Constitution is the guide I will never abandon.” — George Washington….
Recognizing that the Constitution can only be preserved if it lives in the hearts and minds of the American people, the Constitution Caucus will provide an effective forum for education on founding principles and the appropriate limitations of congressional action.
A third is the Progressive Caucus (track vote here), which has this commitment as one of its four policy columns:
Protecting and Preserving Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
» To sunset expiring provisions of the Patriot Act and bring remaining provisions into line with the U. S. Constitution.
» To protect the personal privacy of all Americans from unbridled police powers and unchecked government intrusion.
How do the actions of these three caucuses’ members match up with their words? The graph below reveals patterns in caucus members’ votes on H.R. 1540 this December. A NO vote is a vote to defend the rights of people under the 5th and 6th Amendments.
Tea Party Caucus: 56 YES, 10 NO
Constitution Caucus: 46 YES, 12 NO
Progressive Caucus: 10 YES, 60 NO
If you’re angered by the conversion of the United States government into a gulag archipelago and you’re looking for a congressional caucus that stands with you in opposition, don’t look to the Tea Party Caucus or the Constitution Caucus. Those caucuses’ actions overwhelmingly belied their lofty words. Overwhelmingly, it was the Congressional Progressive Caucus that defended your constitutional liberties in action.