ACLU History: Upsetting Checks and Balances: Abuses of Power by Republicans and Democrats Alike

The need for a check on presidential abuses of power has been evident throughout every Administration – both Republican and Democrat – including that of Bill Clinton, who led an assault on habeas corpus, the ancient right to challenge one's detention before a court of law. Once again, national security was invoked as a justification for the rollback of this most essential of rights: in the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (limiting the rights of convicted persons facing the death penalty) and in the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act (restricting prisoners' right of access to the courts in ways that apply to no other category of people in the U.S.). A common theme of both laws was the unprecedented constraint of the federal courts to enforce the Constitution. The passage of these laws, which came in response to the Oklahoma City bombing of 1993, laid the groundwork for even greater rollbacks of essential freedoms following the tragic events of September 11, 2001.


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