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Judge H. Lee Sarokin Headshot

The Need for Constitutional Lines in the Sand

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"I don't care if the NSA is listening in on my telephone calls. It is protecting us from terrorists and I have nothing to hide." This is the reaction that I have heard most often when discussing the NSA spying network. Of course, the NSA claims that it is just collecting phone numbers -- not listening in, but, in any event, people do not seem to care. They don't know what the fuss is all about.

The same reaction occurs in respect to challenges about "God" in the pledge of allegiance, religious displays during Christmas, the cross on Mt. Soledad in San Diego -- litigation which has been going on for decades. Except for those directly affected or actively participating in the dispute, the public is generally indifferent. The fights are ridiculed as both a waste of time and money. But let's thank that "god" -- who or whatever he or she may or may not be -- for those that draw the line.

Conservatives are critical of judges who are "soft on crime," "coddle criminals" and suppress evidence or overturn convictions or what we liberals like to call "upholding the Constitution." There is this general view many people hold -- that government spying, preferring religions or violating the rights of criminal defendants does not and will not affect them personally. Oliver North, a well-known and respected conservative, filed motions by the barrelful when he faced criminal charges. (Ironically, his conviction was overturned with the help of the ACLU.) For those showing disdain for the protections offered to criminal defendants, if indicted, what they formerly described as "technicalities" suddenly transform into essential "constitutional rights".

The tension between security and liberty will increase as the years go on with each new attack or attempt. The country may debate whether or not Edward Snowden is a traitor or a patriot, but he has done something invaluable for the nation. He has disclosed the existence of extensive government surveillance which, if left undisclosed and unrestricted, was bound to grow. Those who challenge and expose government abuses do us a great service, even though we may condemn how and where they do it. We need those among us who draw the line. If you don't care that the government is or may someday be listening in on your conversations, you should!