Posted by Guest on September 14, 2017 in Blog

by Hanna Saba

On the 230th anniversary of the signing of the US Constitution, two of the document’s fundamental values, privacy and political expression, are under assault across the nation. The Constitution establishes the foundation of our government and outlines our fundamental rights. It also limits the power of the government by establishing a system of checks and balances. 

Constitution Day isn’t the sort of occasion that gets attention like Independence Day or Thanksgiving, but it’s critical to understanding the importance of the Constitution. The document has survived international and civil wars, protests, and legal battles, but the last few decades have tested the foundations on which this document was created. Those foundations have been called into question on issues such as freedom of speech and privacy.

The Washington Post points out, since the election of President Trump, Republican lawmakers in at least 18 states have introduced or voted on legislation to curb mass protests in what civil liberty experts are calling “an attack on protest rights throughout the states.” Legislators have introduced bills that would increase punishments for blocking highways, ban the use of masks during protests, and even protect drivers who strike protesters with their cars. The proposals come after a string of mass protest movements opposing police shootings of unarmed black men, the Muslim ban, and white supremacy.

The movements above reflect a success of our democracy in people coming together, voicing their dissent, and creating change. Sadly, in many instances, these protestors have been met with criticism from legislators and representatives aimed at silencing and criminalizing them. That goes against the fundamental values of our constitutional democracy, and is a clear infringement of our first amendment rights.

Moreover, Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) is a program meant to target non-U.S. persons to acquire foreign intelligence. If that were all that Section 702 involved, it would likely not be controversial. However, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the Supreme Court to review and overturn Section 702 allowing U.S. intelligence agencies to intercept, collect, and store – without a warrant – emails, texts, phone calls, and online chats of millions of Americans. The warrantless surveillance of Americans is unconstitutional and should be struck down.

By the end of this year Section 702 is set to expire. Consequentially, a bipartisan group of House lawmakers struck a deal on the controversial spy law extending it to 2023, but including limits and warrants. Unfortunately, the Trump administration and our intelligence agencies are preparing to oppose the recommendations proposed. Section 702 has proven useful for obtaining necessary information abroad on terrorist activities, but it must be restrained 

The Constitution protects majority rule with rights and maintains a democratic order. It is important for placing the power in the hands of the people and not a just few powerful actors. Practicing our constitutional rights makes us a democracy. With another year passing over Constitution Day we must remember the foundation our Framers gave us and not comprise our rights and lose sight of freedom and equality for all. It’s difficult to predict what the future will hold, but we must continue to endure for ourselves and future generations to come.

Hanna Saba is a 2017 fall intern at the Arab American Institute.