The lock-up-your-opponents bills of 2009?

posted at 11:08 am on July 10, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Would Congress ever pass legislation that would allow the executive to determine at its own discretion whether political opponents had crossed the line into domestic terrorists and build camps in which to keep them?  Sounds like something out of 20th-century totalitarian systems or dystopian fiction.  Mark Tapscott says it’s not fiction, and he warns readers about an effort by Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) to do just that:

Rep. Alcee Hastings – the impeached Florida judge Nancy Pelosi tried to install as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee until her own party members rebelled – introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill that gives Attorney General Eric Holder sole discretion to label groups that oppose government policy on guns, abortion, immigration, states’ rights, or a host of other issues. In a June 25 speech on the House floor, Rep. Trent Franks, R-AZ, blasted the idea: “This sounds an alarm for many of us because of the recent shocking and offensive report released by the Department of Homeland Security which labeled, arguably, a majority of Americans as ‘extremists.’”

Another Hastings bill (HR 645) authorizes $360 million in 2009 and 2010 to set up “not fewer than six national emergency centers on military installations” capable of housing “a large number of individuals affected by an emergency or major disaster.” But Section 2 (b) 4 allows the Secretary of Homeland Security to use the camps “to meet other appropriate needs” – none of which are specified. This is the kind of blank check that Congress should never, ever sign.

It’s not paranoid to be extremely wary of legislation that would give two unelected government officials power to legally declare someone a “domestic terrorist” and send them to a government-run camp.

To be fair on the second point, most legislation includes phrases similar to the “meet other appropriate needs” as a means of allowing flexibility in using facilities commissioned by Congress.  Under unforeseen circumstances even apart from creating concentration camps for abortion opponents, the six national emergency centers might need to get some use other than housing military personnel or civilians evacuated from a disaster area.  That language allows the Pentagon and Homeland Security leeway to adapt for other issues without having to worry that lawyers will descend upon them like locusts for not strictly limiting use to the statutes.

However, the designation of domestic terrorist groups — a necessary and critical process for keeping the peace — should not fall into the hands of just one person.  That process needs oversight and consensus to be credible and fair.  Congress should have some involvement, especially in oversight.  Holder could be the greatest AG in the history of the US but still should not have the absolute authority to make that designation, especially after the track record of the DHS in using vague parameters and broad-based smears of legitimate political protest earlier this year.

Mark may also want to look at HR 1966, introduced by Rep. Linda Sanchez last April in reaction to the suburban mother who drove one of her daughter’s acquaintances — a 13-year-old girl — to suicide.  Bas cases make bad law, and that’s doubly true here.  Look at this language and imagine how this could be used:

Sec. 881. Cyberbullying

‘(a) Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication, with the intent to coerce, intimidate, harass, or cause substantial emotional distress to a person, using electronic means to support severe, repeated, and hostile behavior, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Who decides what constitutes “substantial emotional distress”?  What is the definition of “severe” and “hostile”?  What kinds of persons can claim victimhood under this bill?  This purports to be a bill to prevent cyberbullying — which is hardly a crime wave in America anyway — but could easily be perverted to shut down “mean” bloggers.

This Congress has taken a strange and dangerous turn away from the principles of free speech and towards … something else entirely.

Update: Apparently, the Irish are also having trouble with this concept.

Update II: I think I was a little too subtle in my post.  I don’t think Hastings is passing a “concentration camp” bill, but just a badly worded piece of pork.  Irishspy in the comments sums it up better than I did above:

I read the original text of these bills a few days ago and, while I have strong concerns about the lack of due process in allowing the AG to simply designate someone a dangerous person just because of his beliefs or (IIRC) tattoos, Hastings’ amendment about the regional command centers looks more like a bunch of pork for areas affected by base closures than anything else.

That was my point.  The language that Mark points out is pretty much legislative boilerplate, probably meaningless in the sense Mark takes it.  I’m much more concerned about the cyberbullying bill and the authority Hastings wants to grant to the AG.

Update II: Radio Vice Online has been looking at the cyberbullying bill, too.


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