Friday, October 07, 2005

Debating the PATRIOT Act

Courtesy of Instapundit, here is a really good online debate on the PATRIOT Act featuring University of Chicago legal scholars Geoffrey Stone and Richard Posner. Section 215 (the so-called "library act") is one of the major topics of discussion.

In this debate, I am definitely on the side of Judge Posner, who makes a valuable point about the need to balance civil liberties with protecting the safety of the public:

Whether section 215 of the act is justifiable depends not only, as you imply, on the consequences for civil liberties but also on the magnitude of the terrorist threat and on the contribution that the provision is likely to make to reducing that threat. I do not find in your posting or in your other writings an effort to assess the current terrorist threat and evaluate countermeasures. (I would be very interested in your assessment.) Civil liberties represent an effort to strike a balance between liberty and safety, and so vary in scope as the balance shifts. The balance at any given moment cannot be struck unless due weight is given to both values at stake; to ignore one of the competing values is the equivalent of a bird's trying to fly with only wing. I am sure that at some level you agree that civil liberties are ultimately a matter of balancing liberty and safety—you agree for example that a measure of censorship may be justified in wartime that would not be justified in peacetime. Do you consider the trial and execution of the German saboteurs who landed by submarine on Long Island in 1942 an overreaction to war fears? What makes you think that the current terrorist threat is not great enough to justify a reexamination of the expansive scope of civil liberties that is a legacy of the extraordinary judicial activism of the years in which Earl Warren was Chief Justice of the United States?


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