It seems that our increasingly unpopular Congress is becoming ever more emboldened to undertake constitutionally specious legislation. Perhaps their 11% approval rating gives them the perception that they have little to lose anyway? Or maybe this comes to show just how out of touch our political elites really are from the people they purportedly represent – and the founding document they claim to abide by as if it were sacred. RT reports:
The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.
Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.
Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.
The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”
I understand the need for safety, given the times we live in. But these provisions seem both vague and excessive, and there haven’t been any recent incidents to suggest that we need this sort of tight security against routine protests. The fact that this bill has emerged during the aftermath of a spate of OWS demonstrations makes me question its motivation. To make matters worse, it’s far more applicable than it may initially seem:
In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.
In matters of law, this kind of openness to interpretation can be very troubling. We’ve seen so many attempts to reign in on our civil liberties – SOPA, PIPA, the NDAA, to name the most recent examples – that’s becoming frighteningly routine. What’s worse is that few Congressman of either party took issue with this bill, and the fact that even the stridently pro-Constitution GOP was overwhelmingly behind it smacks of both cruel irony and hypocrisy (not that Democrats are any less guilty).
Even if this bill doesn’t make it into law, given the remaining procedural channels that remain, the fact that we keep seeing these attempts is reason enough to worry – and be vigilant, given the notable lack of media attention on this so far. Clearly, people need to be made more aware of these things on their own accord, and show our politicians that we’re paying attention.