NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Conservative-Liberal Coalitions Support Civil Liberties

October 30, 2001

The Clinton administration was no friend of civil liberties, according to writers in the liberal American Prospect magazine, whereas some Republicans have been allies of civil libertarians on certain issues. In particular, coalitions of liberals and conservatives fought against expanded powers for federal investigators, prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and the U.S. military.

Though the situation has changed since September 11, 2001, some provisions of the new anti-terrorism bill concern long-fought issues.

  • After the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, President Clinton proposed an antiterrorism bill that included funding for a thousand more federal agents, new wiretapping powers and the establishment of a secret court in which prosecutors could introduce classified evidence.
  • It also loosened the reins of the Posse Comitatus Act -- which bars domestic use of the military for law enforcement -- and instituted the most sweeping restrictions on habeas corpus since the Civil War.
  • A coalition that included the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Rifle Association got the bill stripped of expanded wiretapping authority and almost succeeded in stripping the habeas corpus restrictions, too.

There are other issues on which President Clinton was no civil libertarian, say critics:

  • Clinton signed the Communications Decency Act (CDA), an Internet-smut law the Supreme Court struck down unanimously.
  • He also signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, which expanded the use of secret evidence and virtually ended judicial review of deportation proceedings.

Meanwhile, both liberals and conservatives worked to block restrictions on encryption software, to prevent domestic surveillance using Carnivore (a powerful FBI computer system) and to reform draconian asset-forfeiture laws produced by the war on drugs.

Source: Nicholas Confessore, "In Bed with Bob Barr: How Conservatives Became the ACLU's Best Friends," and Robert Dreyfuss, "The Home Front: The Military Mind and Civil Defense," both American Prospect, November 5, 2001.


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