Good things do come out of the Virginia state legislature. That normally reprehensible body has just stood up to the federal outrage that has come to be known as the NDAA. The letters stand for the National Defense Authorization Act, but at issue here is not the bulk of that bill. Virginia's state government has no objection to dumping our grandchildren's unearned pay into the pockets of war profiteers while our schools lack funding. At issue is the presidential power to lock people up without a trial, which was slipped into the latest military funding bill late last year and signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve. In fact, Virginia's legislature does not object to that abuse except in one particular circumstance, namely when the victim of it is a U.S. citizen. But in that circumstance, Virginia says Hell No.
Locally in Charlottesville, we rallied at Republican Congressman Robert Hurt's office.
We urged him to vote No, and he did so, saying:
"After studying the controversial provisions and after hearing from
many in the Fifth District, I concluded that the detainee provisions in
the bill did not provide clear and unambiguous protection of the
constitutional rights of American citizens. For this reason, I opposed
the bill on final passage."
Groups from across the political spectrum, including the Bill of
Rights Defense Committee, urged passage of a bill in Virginia's state
legislature to nullify the new provisions.
Both houses have now passed the bill by veto-proof margins.
Here's what the bill (House bill 1160) says:
Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:
1. - 1. Notwithstanding any contrary provision of law, no agency of the Commonwealth as defined in - 8.01-385 of the Code of Virginia, political subdivision of the Commonwealth as defined in - 8.01-385
of the Code of Virginia, employee of either acting in his official
capacity, or member of the Virginia National Guard or Virginia Defense
Force, when such a member is serving in the Virginia National Guard or
the Virginia Defense Force on official state duty, shall aid an agency
of the armed forces of the United States in the conduct of the
investigation, prosecution, or detention of any citizen pursuant to 50
U.S.C. - 1541 as provided by the National Defense Authorization Act for
Fiscal Year 2012 (P.L. 112-18,
- 1021) if such aid would place any state agency, political
subdivision, employee of such state agency or political subdivision, or
aforementioned member of the Virginia National Guard or the Virginia
Defense Force in violation of the United States Constitution, the
Constitution of Virginia, and provision of the Code of Virginia, any act
of the General Assembly, or any regulation of the Virginia
The bill's primary sponsor, Delegate Bob Marshall, said:
"During World War II, the federal government incarcerated tens of
thousands of loyal Japanese Americans in the name of national security.
By this bill, Virginia declares that it will not participate in similar
modern-day efforts. Even President Obama had questions about the bill,
when he promised the American people that he would not use the
unrestrained powers it granted him -- but why should we trust any
President with such powers? There are moments in our history when our
liberties hang in the balance. This is one of those moments. I urge the
Senate"to lead the way in the nation to ensure that Virginia will not
cooperate when the Federal Government strays off the reservation with
laws that take away the civil liberties of our citizens."
Presumably the phrase "strays off the reservation" was used with intended irony. In any event, Delegate Marshall got this one right. Obama had insisted on being given these powers and then bizarrely promised not to use them, or at least not to use them in certain ways. According to Obama's promise in his signing statement, he will choose not to imprison us through the military. Our lawless imprisonments, if non-military, will comply with his promise and his law, but not with the U.S. Constitution. And Virginia will not assist. I can't recall the last time a state or federal government claiming to represent me did something that made me feel more, rather than less, safe. Predictably, this surprise came from Virginia's normally medieval legislature before anything of the sort has emerged from war-warped Washington.
Here's some background on where this issue came from, last December:
These were among the complaints registered the last time this nation had a king:
"He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
"He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
"He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
"He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
"He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
"He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
"He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
"For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
"For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
"For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
"For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
"He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation."
To prevent the U.S. government from behaving like a king, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution empowered an elected legislature to write every law, to declare every war, and to remove its executive from office. To further prevent the abuse of individuals' rights, those authors wrote into the Constitution, even prior to the Bill of Rights, the right to habeas corpus and the right never to be punished for treason unless convicted in an open court on the testimony of at least two witnesses to an overt act of war or assistance of an enemy.