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To varying degrees throughout its history, this nation has viewed itself as practicing the most honorable of governmental forms. We've proudly noted that people of other lands looked to us with envy, wishing they, too, could enjoy a national fabric threaded with fairness and respect for the rule of law.
One recent development soiled that fabric. Another reinforced it.
The first was the House of Representatives' support of legislation rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. In giving telecommunications companies retroactive immunity against charges they violated our privacy, the House thumbed their collective noses at our right to keep our private conversations private. We will lose our right to petition the government for a redress of grievances on that issue when the Senate adds its rubber stamp to the fait accompli.
The Supreme Court's recent reaffirmation of the right of habeus corpus, even for those labeled "enemy combatants," strengthened our national fabric.
Writing in U.S. News and World Report June 19, Jack M. Balkin, a professor of constitutional law and the First Amendment at Yale Law School, said, "Habeas corpus may be the most basic principle of liberty in the Anglo-American tradition. It requires kings and presidents who want to imprison people to explain themselves before a judge, and it lets judges test the legality of the detention."
Congress and the president can suspend the right in extreme circumstances, Balkin noted, but "even with the twin towers still smoldering in the fall of 2001, neither the White House nor the Republican majority in Congress had the stomach for that."
The president didn't care to overtly deny the right, but instead made several efforts to achieve the end through subterfuge, Balkin wrote, and "the Supreme Court has repeatedly pushed back at this strategy."
The right to take into courtrooms claims of privacy intrusion, false imprisonment or any other wrong is among the most fundamental threads of our system of government. It's the opportunity to shine daylight onto the actions of any public or private agency, and to get the opinions of judges and juries about their rightness.
The developments described here are examples of the ongoing give-and-take that sets our form of government apart from others. We are disappointed whenever someone in government tries to violate the principles on which this nation was founded, but take heart in the occasional examples that show us those principles are valued by many.
We encourage our readers to continue urging our elected representatives to remain true to the tenets that can continue to make America's government a shining example for others to emulate.
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