I’m seeing a lot of cheerleading for U.S. Attorney William Barr because he’s putting the screws on state governors and pressuring them to open up their states. Barr has even threatened to sue states that he determines are infringing on their residents’ rights.
“I am directing each of our United States Attorneys to also be on the lookout for state and local directives that could be violating the constitutional rights and civil liberties of individual citizens,” Barr wrote in a memo.
Never-mind the fact that the federal government was never intended to serve as a liberty enforcement squad and police state governments. Barr’s proposed actions would obliterate the separation of powers inherent in the Constitution and break the Tenth Amendment.
But, “That’s OK!” according to a lot of conservatives and libertarians. “Barr is doing what’s best for liberty! We’ can’t let archaic constitutional scruples get in the way of freedom!”
In other words, we trust William Barr to protect our liberty better than the limits on federal power inherent in the constitutional system.
You might want to pause for a moment and consider just who you’re trusting with all of this power to protect you from petty tyrants in a few state capitols.
A lot of people may not remember that this is Barr’s second go-round as AG. He also served under George H.W. Bush from November 1991 through January 1993.
During his tenure, Barr set the foundation for the modern federal surveillance state. A dedicated drug warrior, Barr directed the Drug Enforcement Administration to collect bulk phone data on millions of people. The DoJ ordered telephone companies to secretly hand over the records of all phone calls from the U.S. to countries the feds suspected drug traffickers were operating. The program eventually included over 100 countries. USA Today reported that the program “was the government’s first known effort to gather data on Americans in bulk, sweeping up records of telephone calls made by millions of U.S. citizens regardless of whether they were suspected of a crime.”
This NSA ultimately used this blueprint to develop its mass, warrantless bulk phone surveillance program.
Unsurprisingly, Barr was a vocal supporter of the Patriot Act and argued that it didn’t go far enough. During congressional testimony in 2003, he called the bill a “major step forward.” and argued that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act “remains too restrictive” because it “still requires that the government establish probable cause that an individual is either a ‘foreign power’ or an ‘agent of a foreign power.’” In other words, Barr argued that the government should be able to ignore the pesky warrant requirement in the Fourth Amendment.
Barr’s disdain for the limits imposed by the Fourth Amendment doesn’t stop there. He favors weakening encryption for electronic devices so cops can easily access them. He once sent an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg urging him not to include end-to-end encryption on Facebook messaging platforms.
“Companies should not deliberately design their systems to preclude any form of access to content, even for preventing or investigating the most serious crimes,” Barr wrote, adding that this kind of privacy protection “puts our citizens and societies at risk.”
Barr is also a big fan of civil asset forfeiture. During Barr’s most recent confirmation hearing, he told Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) that civil forfeiture is “a valuable tool” for state and local law enforcement. In reality, it’s legalized theft that allows police to take people’s property even when they haven’t been charged for a crime.
During his confirmation hearings in 1991, Barr described civil forfeiture as “such an important program,” while allowing that it might be appropriate to keep an eye on how law enforcement agencies spend the loot “to maintain the integrity of the program.”
The following year, Barr wrote “The Asset Forfeiture Program is a top priority of the Department of Justice and has my strong personal support.”
And while we’re on the subject of the police state, Barr was a devout defender of an FBI agent who gunned down an unarmed woman holding her baby in 1992. Barr spent several weeks organizing former attorneys general and others to support the federal agent’s defense against criminal charges related to the Ruby Ridge incident. Jim Bovard called it “one of the worst scandals during Barr’s time as attorney general.”
In the early 1990s, federal agencies targeted Randy Weaver, an outspoken white separatist living on a mountaintop in northern Idaho. After Weaver was entrapped by an undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agent, U.S. marshals trespassed on Weaver’s land and killed his 14-year-old son, Sammy. The following day, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi killed his wife as she was standing in the cabin doorway holding her 10-month-old baby. Horiuchi had previously shot Randy Weaver in the back after he stepped out of the cabin. The suspects were never given a warning or a chance to surrender and had taken no action against FBI agents.
FBI officials recognized that Mrs. Weaver had been killed but, during the subsequent siege, assured the media that they were “proceeding with extreme care, mindful that Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and three remaining children were also in the cabin,” Reuters reported. An internal FBI report completed shortly after the confrontation justified the killing of Mrs. Weaver by asserting that she had put herself in harm’s way, the New York Times reported in 1993. Yet Bo Gritz, the former Vietnam War hero who helped the feds negotiate Randy Weaver’s surrender after the death of his wife, declared that the government’s profile of the Weaver family recommended killing Weaver’s wife: “I believe Vicki was shot purposely by the sniper as a priority target…. The profile said, if you get a chance, take Vicki Weaver out.” As Mrs. Weaver’s corpse remained in the besieged cabin, “The FBI used microphones to taunt the family. ‘Good morning, Mrs. Weaver. We had pancakes for breakfast. What did you have?’ asked the agents in at least one exchange,” the Washington Times reported.
Barr defended this – not just in word, but int deed. He told a panel during his confirmation hearing that he “assisted in framing legal arguments advanced … in the district court and the subsequent appeal to the Ninth Circuit,”
This is the dude conservatives and libertarians want to entrust more power to in order to protect their liberty?
No, thanks. I’m going to take a hard pass. Barr has already proved he can’t be trusted with power. Giving him more is a fool’s errand.
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