Friday, September 04, 2009

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals speaks


All seizures of criminal suspects require probable cause of criminal activity. To use a material witness statute pretextually, in order to investigate or preemptively detain suspects without probable cause, is to violate the Fourth Amendment.



Almost two and a half centuries ago, William Blackstone, considered by many to be the preeminent pre-Revolutionary War authority on the common law, wrote:

To bereave a man of life, or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole kingdom. But confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to gaol, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten; is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.


The Fourth Amendment was written and ratified, in part, to deny the government of our then-new nation such an engine of potential tyranny. And yet, if the facts alleged in al-Kidd’s complaint are actually true, the government has recently exercised such a “dangerous engine of arbitrary government” against a significant number of its citizens, and given good reason for disfavored minorities (whoever they may be from time to time) to fear the application of such arbitrary power to them.

We are confident that, in light of the experience of the American colonists with the abuses of the British Crown, the Framers of our Constitution would have disapproved of the arrest, detention, and harsh confinement of a United States citizen as a “material witness” under the ircumstances, and for the immediate purpose alleged, in al-Kidd’s complaint. Sadly, however, even now, more than 217 years after the ratification of the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, some confidently assert that the government has the power to arrest and detain or restrict American citizens for months on end, in sometimes primitive conditions, not because there is evidence
that they have committed a crime, but merely because the government wishes to investigate them for possible wrongdoing, or to prevent them from having contact with others in the outside world. We find this to be repugnant to the Constitution, and a painful reminder of some of the most ignominious chapters of our national history.
I commend these portions of the decision to your attention. The author of this decision is a George W. Bush appointee confirmed in 2006. As Jay Elias, who brought this to my attention at Daily Kos, comments:
This is what honest evaluation of the legality of the methods of the Bush administration looks like.

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