On Independence Day, ACLU Notes Cause for Celebration and Concern

July 3, 2006 12:00 am

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Statement of Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director

WASHINGTON – On the Fourth of July 230 years ago, a group of brave Americans launched a bold experiment in freedom – the United States of America. Among the reasons they cited for their unprecedented break with the British Empire was a king who had ‘obstructed the Administration of Justice’ and ‘refused his Assent to Laws’ the American colonies had freely passed to assure their safety and prosperity.

These days, we in America face a presidential administration that insists on its right to engage in unprecedented and widespread abuses of power. The Bush White House has consistently ignored the rule of law — authorizing surveillance programs that fly in the face of the Constitution and our laws; permitting the illegal kidnapping of individuals; holding prisoners without trial; allowing and engineering the torture of detainees; and repeatedly ignoring its duty to enforce laws passed by Congress.

Despite this disturbing record, America on this Independence Day has reasons to cheer. In the past month:

  • The Supreme Court decisively repudiated the administration’s claim that it can try the Guantánamo detainees in military tribunals that have no basis in law and that deny defendants due process of law. As the court’s majority opinion stated, ‘The executive is bound to comply with the rule of law.’
  • The Senate, by the narrowest possible margin, rejected a proposed constitutional amendment on flag desecration that would for the first time ever have narrowed the scope of the First Amendment.
  • The House rejected a move to undermine the Voting Rights Act, the landmark civil rights law.
  • The Senate stopped a constitutional amendment on marriage that would have written discrimination into the Constitution.

Overall, June was a good month for civil liberties and civil rights. There is no doubt that the growing voices of concern expressed by members of the ACLU and our allies helped engender these victories.

That doesn’t mean we in the ACLU can rest – not for a moment. We urge our fellow Americans to demand that our government investigate all of these abuses of power and stop them. We urge Congress this summer to pass the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act to guarantee that all Americans can exercise that most basic of rights – the right to vote. Americans deserve better from their president and their Congress.

But, as we celebrate the Fourth here at home, we also take a moment to give thanks to our members, allies and supporters, and to savor our recent victories. The spirit of American freedom and independence is burning again Nothing could be a greater tribute to the founding of this great nation.

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