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Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I believe that, among other things, what makes America great are the freedoms and liberties our Founding Fathers correctly recognized as part of the natural law and incorporated into our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The oath I took as your congressman was to support and defend that very Constitution.
Revelations that the National Security Agency has been using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records of American citizens who have not been suspected of doing anything wrong troubles me and others from across the political spectrum.
Beginning on June 25, I have been requesting access to legal opinions and briefs that are part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court record. Each document I have requested has been discussed directly or indirectly in the media. These documents are held by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which is the House committee assigned to provide oversight of the NSA surveillance programs. I have yet to be granted permission to review these documents.
Based on the information to which I do have access, I believe these programs violate our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search or seizure of people, houses, papers and effects.
To understand the Fourth Amendment, one must look at it in a historical setting.
As is the case with many areas of law in the U.S., the roots lay both in an English and an American context.
Infuriated by anti-government publications coming out of east London, King George III of England had issued a general warrant allowing government officials to search house-to-house and seize papers, property and people to determine the author or publisher of the derogatory pamphlets. The subsequent arrest of more than 50 people and the seizure of much property ultimately led to an English constitutional crisis and brought to notoriety the publisher of those derogatory papers — a fellow named John Wilkes. John Wilkes was famous on both sides of the Atlantic, and was in correspondence with Sam Adams and his Sons of Liberty. The English courts later would use cases arising out of the “Wilkesite rebellion” to put restraints on general warrants and establish the principle of the freedom of the press.
Similarly, in American history, the Excise Act of 1754 gave tax collectors a writ of assistance allowing them to search building-to-building and seize prohibited goods. In 1761, James Otis Jr., an attorney, led the legal fight in court against general warrants and writs of assistance. After stirring arguments, the court ruled against Otis. However, a young John Adams was in the courtroom as Otis spoke. He later would say the ruling in the case on writs of assistance was “the spark in which originated the American revolution.”
The Virginia Declaration of Rights later prohibited the use of general warrants, and ultimately led our Founding Fathers to develop the Fourth Amendment. They did so without predicting the invention of the telephone or the Internet, but with an understanding of what it meant for the federal government to take a person’s papers or effects when that citizen had not done anything wrong.
I intend to defend our Constitution, but upholding my oath is hard when even getting access to the FISA court’s legal opinions and other legal documents is difficult.
I believe that if we are going to sacrifice the natural law and our God-given rights recognized by the Constitution out of fear of terrorists, we have allowed the terrorists to win. They will have fundamentally changed American society in a negative way.
I believe that it is possible to protect our civil liberties while working to safeguard our nation from terrorists and other bad actors. Without the FISA court’s legal reasoning, I cannot look for the appropriate balance.
I will continue fighting for information on these programs. It may not be easy, but it is what I swore to do on behalf of Virginia’s Ninth District and the people of the United States. I encourage all Americans to stay informed on this issue as it continues developing.
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