May the Fourth (Amendment) be with you

It isn’t often you’ll find me agreeing with Utah’s Republican delegation, but their vote this week to reduce the National Security Agency’s overly broad domestic surveillance program was the right thing to do. As for Matheson–the only member of Utah’s delegation who voted in support of keeping the program–well, add this to the list of reasons for civil liberty-minded, progressives to be disappointed with him.*

The issue is complicated, but the truth is that the 4th Amendment really ought to be protecting us from the sort of unreasonable seizure of information that the NSA engages in everyday.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

Tons of ink has already been spilled on this, but I’ll note, as many others have, that there is a key opportunity here for progressives in Utah. Just as conservatives rally around the Second Amendment, progressives should have for their standard-bearer the First and Fourth Amendments. It is both morally correct and politically useful to express outrage over the trampling of the Fourth Amendment.

This attention to civil liberties has worked well for progressive movements in the past. For example, recourse to the First Amendment was a very effective tactic for the Wobblies – or members of the International Workers of the World. Their overall strategy of improving workers’ rights was tactically accomplished by framing their fight as one of free speech. Obviously, workers who were free to speak their minds would be a workforce that was free to organize for fairer labor practices like a 40-hour work week.


The Occupy Movement saw similar strength in their attention to civil liberties, even if the movement saw no significant gains. A review article in the New Yorker by Kalefa Sanneh notes that while the Occupy Movement was about economic inequalities, that isn’t what they argued about; rather, they argued about the right to peacefully assemble. The Occupy Movement was as much about the First Amendment as it was the creation of some sort of classless society.

If conservatives are going to argue for a right to violence with their near-exclusive focus on the Second Amendment, progressives should be arguing for a right to peace, focusing on the First and Fourth Amendments. Quite frankly, following the outcome of the Zimmerman Trial, to frame the debate so starkly (violence vs. peace) is not an unreasonable proposition.


*The Salt Lake Tribune’s Editorial board opined on the issue this morning.

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