The law and civil liberties

Cal Thomas's picture

I bet you didn’t know that federal law enforcement officers representing the Department of Education (DOE) can break down your front door if you are suspected of violating the law.

I was not aware of this until I heard what happened to Kenneth Wright of Stockton, Calif. On June 7, at 6 a.m., Wright was awakened by a knock on his door. According to his account, he came downstairs in his boxer shorts, but before he could reach the door, federal police officers stormed in. They were looking for his estranged wife, who was not in the house. Wright has no criminal record.

Wright told local TV station “News 10” he was grabbed by the neck and taken outside to his front lawn. He says officers then awakened his children, ages 3, 7 and 11, and put them in a Stockton patrol car while his house was searched. “They put me in handcuffs in that hot patrol car for six hours, traumatizing my kids,” he said.

DOE spokesman Justin Hamilton told the TV station that federal agents with the Office of Inspector General (OIG) served the search warrant. Hamilton would not say why the raid took place, but he said it was not because someone had defaulted on student loans, as some local media initially reported.

A statement from the OIG said: “The reasons for our search warrant are currently under seal by the court and cannot be discussed publicly.” The statement added: “OIG ... is responsible for the detection and prevention of waste, fraud, abuse and criminal activity involving Department of Education funds, programs and operations.”

If they were consistent, they’d be breaking down the doors of many failing public schools that are wasting taxpayer funds and allow especially poor and minority children out so they can choose better schools and have a brighter future.

Constitutional attorney John Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute in Charlottesville, Va. (Rutherford.org), says the Stockton incident is one of a growing number of examples threatening the Fourth Amendment, which guarantees “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures ...”

Whitehead says the passage of the U.S. Patriot Act “opened the door to other kinds of invasions” beyond the search for terrorist suspects. Worse, the courts are increasingly approving this cozy association between government and the police. “The problems inherent in these situations,” he says, “are further compounded by the fact that SWAT teams are granted ‘no-knock’ warrants at high rates, such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.”

Two recent cases demonstrate the threat. In an 8-1 Supreme Court ruling last month (Kentucky v. King), Whitehead says the court “effectively decimated the Fourth Amendment by giving police more leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant when in search of illegal drugs which they suspect might be destroyed if notice were given.”

In the other ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court (Barnes v. State) said people do not have the right to resist police officers entering their homes illegally. Resistance, notes Whitehead, can be as simple as saying, “Wait, this is my home. What’s this about?”

If governments are permitted to slowly erode the Fourth Amendment and the public won’t resist, then not only that amendment, but others protecting speech, religion, the right to keep and bear arms and who knows what else could be in jeopardy.

Incidents like the one in Stockton should cause conservatives and liberals to be more vigilant about the encroaching power of government. If a gang of cops, acting on behalf of the Department of Education, can break down your door in possible violation of the Fourth Amendment, then none of us is safe.

The New York Times reports the FBI’s approximately 14,000 agents are being given “significant new powers” that will allow them more freedom to search databases, examine your trash and use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who attract their attention.

Worried now?

[Cal Thomas is America’s most widely syndicated op-ed columnist, appearing in more than 600 national newspapers. He is the author of more than 10 books and is a FOX News political contributor since 1997. Email Cal Thomas at tmseditors@tribune.com.] ©2011 TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.

JeffC
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We told you over and over Cal

Yes, we're worried now. We were worried during the whole last decade while you were constantly promoting the Patriot Act.

You supported shredding the Constitution. Now, 10 years later, you're shocked and complaining about the damage you did?

roundabout
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Jeff

Are you under the impression that Cal Citizen sends these comments to these pandering columnists on here?
Not even the local columnists have anything to say about our comments -- which is just as well since they really have little interest in anything except their personal agendas!

Davids mom
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Individual freedom

Where is the outrage of proponents of individual freedom and the government infringement on this 'right'? Ahhh - I forgot, many of them were supporters of the Patriot Act. Interesting 'principles' .

PTC Observer
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The Patroit Acts

One of the many "Acts" that infringe our Constitution, the list is quite long.

I don't see Congress rushing to change it any time soon.

Joe Kawfi
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Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension

Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension

"It's an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat," Obama said Friday after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Note the lack of outrage from the left over Obama's signing of the Patriot Act. Nothing but a bunch of leftist hypocrites.

NUK_1
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DM: They are MIA and will be for quite a while

Repubs and even the TP crowd LOVE the Patriot Act. Anything that gives up civil liberties to the govt is A-OK in the name of "national security." Dems are hardly any different on the issue and neither are you for that matter.

Davids mom
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NUK_1

Ah - so you and Kawfi agree on this one. Great! Birds of a feather?

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