ACLU president gives William Douglas lecture

by Andrea Miller

In an address fit for the lecture series’ namesake, William O. Douglas, Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union, brought the Maxey Auditorium audience to its feet with her concerns for the discrepancies between the Constitution and the Bush administration.

Strossen is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Law School, is a professor of law at New York Law School and has served as the president of the ACLU since 1991. She has twice been named by the “National Law Journal” as one of the “100 Most Influential Lawyers in America,” and “Vanity Fair Magazine” has called her one of “America’s 200 Most Influential Women.” In his introduction to the lecture, Timothy Kaufman-Osborn, Dean of Faculty and acclaimed professor of Politics at Whitman, insisted there was “no one who better represents the spirit of William O. Douglas” than Strossen.

William O. Douglas was the touchstone of Strossen’s lecture “Abuse of Power: The Assault on Civil Liberties after 9/11.” Justice Douglas, and his predecessor Justice Louis D. Brandeis, were both known for being “dissenters,” particularly towards violations of civil liberties in their time of office—Brandeis during World War I and the Red Scare, and Douglas during McCarthyism. Justice Douglas’s involvement in the preservation of civil liberties served as the main themes for the lecture. Firstly, according to Strossen, Douglas insisted that “scapegoating freedom” would not resolve possible dangers, and secondly, “abuses of power” would not protect the nation.

Strossen cautioned the audience about the government’s “demand for insatiable powers.” Soon after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush authorized an NSA program that monitored millions of Americans’ phone calls and e-mails. The Bush administration pushed legislation of the program through Congress, but in August it was thrown out under a ruling saying it violated the First and Fourth Amendments and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The Supreme Court, which Strossen described as comprised mostly of conservatives notable for having “rebuffed the administration,” said that a “state of war is not a blank check for the President to compromise the rights of the citizens.”

Counter-intelligence experts who have worked with the FBI have come out against NSA spying and privacy violations. Because so many people are infringed upon, there is a very large a mount of information to sort through—too large of an amount. It is difficult to “hone in on” relevant problems. The FBI has described recent efforts as “huge [wastes] of time and resources.”

Last week, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act, which suspends the right to habeas corpus and ignores Geneva Conventions, among other things. In the past, only in cases of rebellion or when public safety requires it could habeas corpus be ignored. President Bush has been pushing for the new Act without respect to habeas corpus and its regulations.

In order for citizens and their rights to prevail, Strossen asserts that Congress must not assent to “one omnipotent executive.” Strossen’s last thought was that the “9/11 cannot be the day liberty perished in this country.”


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