Friday, May 14, 2010

Lieberman, Beck, and Inalienable Rights

Sandy Levinson's post at Balkinization brings to light the need for a national debate on the meaning of Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights in the wake of the "Times Square Bomber." It brings up two very interesting questions:

1. Should the rights of citizens be stripped for joining enemy forces?
2. Do only U.S. citizens accused of acts of terror have a right to a fair trial?

Levinson cites of the opposing positions of Glen Beck and Joe Lieberman. Lieberman says yes to number 1. Beck says no to number 1 and yes to number 2. This is where the Declaration and Bill of Rights come into play. The Declaration says that the rights to life, liberty, and property are God given and thus inalienable. In other words, they cannot be taken away. To some the Bill of Rights only pertains to "We the People" and thus only to citizens. Lieberman and Beck are involved in an interesting debate. Nonetheless, I think something important is being overlooked in this post. 

Here is Lieberman:

“It’s time for us to look at whether we want to amend that law [depriving citizenship of those who enlist in foreign militaries against the US] to apply it to American citizens who choose to become affiliated with foreign terrorist organizations,” he said, “whether they should not also be deprived automatically of their citizenship, and therefore be deprived of rights that come with that citizenship when they are apprehended and charged with a terrorist act.”

Here is Beck:

"He’s a citizen of the United States, so I say we uphold the laws and the Constitution on citizens,” Mr. Beck said. “He has all the rights under the Constitution. We don’t shred the Constitution when it’s popular. We do the right thing.”
I cannot go along with Lieberman in wanting to strip citizens of their rights under the Constitution based on a mere accusation. Nor do I advocate depriving citizens of other nations the same rights we enjoy here unlike Beck. If we all have the right to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness then how can one justify taking away the most helpful tool in protecting against aribtrary abuses of this right by those in power?: The right to a trial by jury. This is the question that Levinson overlooks. I guess it comes down to whether one believes that God or the state grants rights. I think the Declaration of Independence makes it clear where our founders stood on the principle of inalienable rights.

Though, perhaps it is not the simple considering the John Adams was responsible for both defending the British soilders who were involved in the Boston Massacre and the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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