By Susan N. Herman, president of the American Civil Liberties Union and Centennial Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School
The 10th anniversary of 9/11 may be over, but let’s not move on too fast. As students and fans of the Constitution, many of us have spent time deploring how the “War on Terror” has jeopardized our rights. Now it’s time to deepen that conversation and get serious about reversing the damage.
The news is not all bleak. The past decade offers some reassuring evidence of the power and resilience of our Constitution. My new book, Taking Liberties: The War on Terror and the Erosion of American Democracy, discusses a number of ways in which the Constitution’s multiple interlocking layers of self-protection have worked to limit the extent of the damage done.
For example, the right to trial by jury enabled an Idaho jury to honor the First Amendment by rejecting the federal government’s attempt to prosecute graduate student Sami al-Hussayen for posting links on a website.
Article III’s decision to insulate federal judges empowered some principled judges to test politically driven strategies against the Constitution. Judge Victor Marrero in the Southern District of New York, for instance, found that the absolute and permanent gag orders automatically attaching to National Security Letters violated the First Amendment, because they prevented recipients of these government demands from ever telling anyone – including Congress, a lawyer, or a court – anything about their own experiences.
Freedom of the press enabled reporters to tell the public things the government was trying to conceal – as in James Risen and Eric Lichtblau’s New York Times story revealing the long-secret and illegal NSA surveillance program, and Barton Gellman’s Washington Post exposé on the use of National Security Letters.