Friday, May 27, 2011
"...many laws are now "secret" - known only to a handful of people, and oftentimes hidden even from the part of our government which is supposed to make laws in the first place: Congress."
Preface: Some defendants are no longer allowed to see the "secret evidence" which the government is using against them. See this and this.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that judges can throw out cases because they don't like or believe the plaintiff ... even before anyone has had the chance to conduct discovery to prove their case. In other words, judges' secret biases can be the basis for denying people their day in court, without even having to examine the facts.
Claims of national security are being used to keep the shenanigans of the biggest banks an corporations secret, and to crush dissent.
But this essay focuses on something else: the fact that the laws themselves are now being kept secret.
America is supposed to be a nation of laws which apply to everyone equally, regardless of wealth or power.
Founded on the Constitution and based upon the separation of powers, we escaped from the British monarchy - a "nation of men" where the law is whatever the king says it is.
However, many laws are now "secret" - known only to a handful of people, and oftentimes hidden even from the part of our government which is supposed to make laws in the first place: Congress.
The Patriot Act
Congress just re-authorized the Patriot Act for another 3 years.
However, Senator Wyden notes that the government is using a secret interpretation of the Patriot Act different from what Congress and the public believe. Senator Wyden's press release yesterday states:
Speaking on the floor of the U.S Senate during the truncated debate on the reauthorization of the PATRIOT ACT for another four years, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) – a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence -- warned his colleagues that a vote to extend the bill without amendments that would ban any Administration’s ability to keep internal interpretations of the Patriot Act classified will eventually cause public outrage.
Known as Secret Law, the official interpretation of the Patriot Act could dramatically differ from what the public believes the law allows. This could create severe violations of the Constitutional and Civil Rights of American Citizens.
I have served on the Senate Intelligence Committee for ten years, and I don’t take a backseat to anybody when it comes to the importance of protecting genuinely sensitive sources and collection methods. But the law itself should never be secret – voters have a need and a right to know what the law says, and what their government thinks the text of the law means, so that they can decide whether the law is appropriately written and ratify or reject decisions that their elected officials make on their behalf.