Justice Department’s History Not Worth Celebrating

Statement on H. Res. 1422, made June 24, 2010.

Madam Speaker, the House of Representatives recently considered H. Res. 1422, honoring the 140th anniversary of the Department of Justice. I voted against this resolution because of the Justice Department’s history of violating individual rights.

It is the Justice Department that leads the ongoing violations of the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth, and Tenth Amendments in the name of the “war on drugs.” It is Justice Department agents who perform warrantless wiretaps and “sneak-and-peak” searches under the misnamed PATRIOT Act. It is the Justice Department that prosecutes American citizens for violating unconstitutional federal regulations even in cases where no reasonable person could have known their actions violated federal law.

Some like to pretend that the Justice Department’s assault on liberties is a modern phenomenon, or that abuses of liberties are only carried out by one political party. However, history shows that the unconstitutional usurpations of power and abuse of rights goes back at least almost a hundred years to the “Progressive” era and that Justice Departments of both parties have disregard the Constitution and violated individual liberties.

During World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s Justice Department imprisoned people who dared to speak out against the war. Following the war, the progressive assault on the First Amendment continued with the infamous “Palmer raids,” named for Wilson’s Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer. Just as President Wilson’s policies of foreign interventionism and domestic welfare served as a model for future presidents, Attorney General Palmer’s assaults on civil liberties served as a model for future attorney generals of both parties. Think of Robert Kennedy authorizing the wiretapping of Martin Luther King Jr.; John Mitchell’s role in the abuses of civil liberties by Nixon administration; Ed Meese’s assault on the First Amendment with his “pornography commission”; Janet Reno’s role in the murder of innocent men, women, and children at Waco; and the steady erosion of our rights over the past decade. In addition, it is the attorney general and the Justice Department that defend and justify violations of constitutional liberties by the president and the other federal bureaucracies.

Many civil libertarians were hopeful the new administration would be more sympathetic to civil liberties than was the prior administration. But the current administration has disregarded campaign promises to restore respect for civil liberates and has continued, and in many cases expanded, the anti-freedom policies of its predecessors. For instance, the current administration is supporting renewal of the policies of warrantless wiretapping and other PATRIOT Act provisions. The administration, despite promising to be more open and transparent, is also continuing to use the claim of “state secrets” to shield potentially embarrassing information from Americans. According to the New York Times, the current administration is even outdoing its predecessors in the prosecution of government whistleblowers. It is little wonder that the head of the American Civil Liberties Union recently said he is disgusted with the administration’s record on civil liberties.

Of course, Madam Speaker, Congress bears ultimate responsibility for the Justice Department’s actions, as it is Congress that passes the unconstitutional laws the Justice Department enforces. Congress also fails to perform effective oversight of the Justice Department. Instead of honoring the Justice Department, Congress should begin to repeal unconstitutional laws and start exercising congressional oversight of executive branch agencies that menace our freedoms.

Author: Ron Paul

Ron PaulRon Paul is a former Republican congressman from Texas. He was the 1988 Libertarian Party candidate for president.