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.
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The above comes from an old document, written over two centuries ago, that until very recently had legal force in this country. To a large extent it still does, but the actions of Wisconsin’s state government in reaction to a political reform effort — and for that matter, property confiscations in the war on drugs — indicate that the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution have become passé. In its place, we have law-enforcement raids that not only seize property while threatening violence against its owners, the targets are denied counsel and forbidden to speak of the seizures publicly.
Welcome to the terror of Wisconsin’s “John Doe” raids. David French details them in a new report for National Review:
She got the dogs safely out of the house, just as multiple armed agents rushed inside. Some even barged into the bathroom, where her partner was in the shower. The officer or agent in charge demanded that Cindy sit on the couch, but she wanted to get up and get a cup of coffee.
“I told him this was my house and I could do what I wanted.” Wrong thing to say. “This made the agent in charge furious. He towered over me with his finger in my face and yelled like a drill sergeant that I either do it his way or he would handcuff me.”
They wouldn’t let her speak to a lawyer. She looked outside and saw a person who appeared to be a reporter. Someone had tipped him off.
What did Cindy Archer do to attract this kind of attention? Smuggle drugs? Take part in a terrorist plot? Nothing of the sort. Archer participated in the efforts to reform public-employee unions in Wisconsin with the Act 10 proposal. Others noted by French also participated in conservative politics and policy development, all of whom got raided in exactly the same manner — warned not to talk about it, warned not to get a lawyer, all while the government confiscated their papers and computers.
Just how is this legal? This is the reality of the John Doe law, which the Supreme Court and Wisconsin’s own high court will shortly address:
The John Doe investigations are a form of domestic lawfare, and our constitutional system is ill equipped to handle it. Federal courts rarely intervene in state judicial proceedings, state officials rarely lose their array of official immunities for the consequences of their misconduct, and violations of First Amendment freedoms rarely result in meaningful monetary damages for the victims. …
Yes, Wisconsin, the cradle of the progressive movement and home of the “Wisconsin idea” — the marriage of state governments and state universities to govern through technocratic reform — was giving birth to a new progressive idea, the use of law enforcement as a political instrument, as a weapon to attempt to undo election results, shame opponents, and ruin lives.
Most Americans have never heard of these raids, or of the lengthy criminal investigations of Wisconsin conservatives. For good reason. Bound by comprehensive secrecy orders, conservatives were left to suffer in silence as leaks ruined their reputations, as neighbors, looking through windows and dismayed at the massive police presence, the lights shining down on targets’ homes, wondered, no doubt, What on earth did that family do?
This was the on-the-ground reality of the so-called John Doe investigations, expansive and secret criminal proceedings that directly targeted Wisconsin residents because of their relationship to Scott Walker, their support for Act 10, and their advocacy of conservative reform.
The basis for this was the campaign-finance reform movement, which sees money in politics as a greater evil than a government empowered to shut down political speech. The John Doe law in Wisconsin shows exactly why government intervention in political speech is worse than any corruption it attempts to prevent. The use of force in Wisconsin got applied to one side exclusively, and intended to shut down conservatives before they could exercise their legitimate political power. It’s even more egregious than the IRS targeting of conservatives between 2009-2013, but it’s the same kind of abuse of power, and it leverages the same kind of campaign-finance reform statutes that give government at state and federal levels entrée to control political speech.
It’s an affront to liberty, and an affront to the Constitution. French demands that the courts deal with the malefactors in this case, but the rest of us would be better advised to strip government of its ability to interject itself in political speech in the first place. Repeal the campaign finance laws, and replace them with requirements for full and immediate disclosure of funding, along with ending tax exemptions for PACs. That will channel money back to the candidates and political parties and make them accountable for the messaging it produces and the ties that they have.