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Trading Liberty for Security

Attacks on constitutional liberties, including the erosion of due-process protections for the rights to life, liberty, and property, tend to soar in wartime.  The most egregious assaults have occurred during the Civil War, the two world wars, and, most recently, in the so-called War on Terror.  Courageous individuals spoke out against the abuses during and after the earlier episodes, and we are finally beginning to see a similar pattern emerge regarding the latest one.  But in every instance there also have been equally outspoken individuals who defended nearly every exercise of governmental power in the name of national security, regardless of the dubious constitutionality of the measures taken.  Unfortunately, the advocates of repression seem to have grown stronger in the more recent crises, while the protectors of crucial liberties have become less effective.  And the federal courts, the supposed guardians of those freedoms, have provided inconsistent and increasingly inadequate protection.

Since the September 11 attacks, developments in the arena of civil liberties, especially regarding due-process rights, are especially worrisome.  Not only has the resistance to government excesses been more anemic, but there is little prospect that the current crisis will end.  It is hard to imagine any president proclaiming that the Great Terrorist Threat is over, only to...

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