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Civil Liberties Not Part of the Republican Plan for America

Jeff Sessions, R-AL

This is no surprise to liberals, of course. We’ve known it for some time. Repression and authoritarianism has been in the air for some time – it was not invented by George W. Bush – it merely coalesced under his administration. The result was a crushing blow to Americans’ civil liberties, including suspension of habeas corpus on October 17, 2006. Bush’s actions were, in Sarah Palin’s words, a “refudiation” of the Constitution and all it stands for.

Article I, Section 9, clause 2 of the Constitution states,

“The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”

Obviously, the United States had not been invaded, and there was no rebellion. But when you treat the Constitution like a loose set of guidelines you can fudge a little.

But habeas corpus is only a single example, There are many ways in which the Republican Party has chipped away at our civil liberties.

You can search the news and speeches and press releases but you won’t see much being said about civil liberties by Republican politicians or pundits. What you will see are efforts to discourage voting, to disenfranchise voters, especially minorities, but now also by wishing to restrict the franchise to property owners; the restriction of constitutionally-guaranteed rights to gays and lesbians, racial equality, women’s reproductive rights, and the destruction of the wall of separation between church and state.

Still, it is surprising when the Republicans themselves admit their abhorrence of civil liberties, as did Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III (R-AL)  of the Senate Judiciary Committee (in fact, its ranking Republican) who denounced the American Civil Liberties Union on the Senate floor this week.

He was concerned, he said, about Obama judicial appointees who have what he termed “ACLU DNA.” It might help here to know that Senator Sessions was the National Journal’s fifth-most conservative U.S. Senator in their March 2007 Conservative/Liberal Rankings, just below DeMint, SC, Bunning, KY, Cornyn, TX and Kyl, AZ. “August” company indeed.

“[T]he administration,” he ranted, “needs to understand that this is going to be a more contentious matter if we keep seeing the ACLU chromosome as part of this process.”

For the record, the ACLU defends the civil liberties of ALL Americans. That includes, despite right-wing propaganda, the civil liberties of Christians – including defending the right of Christian students to protest against the ACLU at school and the wearing of anti-Islam t-shirts at school. And it also of course, defends Republicans when their civil liberties are challenged.

Some Christians seem to recognize that the ALCU is not evil – that is the title of an article in an evangelical magazine, Christianity Today. But Republicans seem not to recognize this.

It is not a matter of the ACLU taking sides; they did not put themselves against the Republican Party. It is the Republican Party that has put itself against the civil liberties of all Americans.

Civil liberties, you see, are non-denominational. They apply to everyone. And everyone has them; we are all equal before the law according to the Constitution.

And yet, according to Senator Sessions, support of those civil liberties is now as disqualifying as such things as paganism, atheism or Islam or homosexuality, some other notable right-wing shibboleths.

As the ACLU asks, what would the existence of such a thing as ACLU DNA indicate?

A predisposition to defend the rights enshrined in the Constitution for everyone, regardless of their political beliefs? A tendency to think that indefinite detention, religious bigotry and racial profiling are unprincipled and un-American?

An inclination to protect the Constitution and defend the rule of law without exception?

The anti-ACLU atmosphere engendered by Republican rhetoric is reminiscent of the anti-Communist hysteria of the ‘50s. All of us who are old enough remember the old “card-carrying member of the Communist party” rhetoric. As the ACLU says, “We’ve been down this road before. We’ve seen attacks on ‘card-carrying members of the ACLU.’ We can never yield to this kind of intimidation.”

As the ACLU says, “freedom can’t protect itself” and the Republicans have proven they won’t protect it. Apparently it’s not enough to oppose civil liberties and the Constitution, or to be ignorant of them; now you’ve got to denounce them publicly too. That, my friends, is Republican Purity.

Note: The ACLU’s official response to Sessions can be found here.

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