Saturday, January 12, 2013

The First Amendment

     The Bill of Rights was written by James Madison, who in turn was heavily influenced by George Mason, a man so disgruntled by the paucity of individual rights written into the Constitution that he withdrew from the Constitutional Convention, just when the United States government was being minted and we needed him most.
     George Mason was an interesting guy.  He rejected the Constitution because he could see that it didn't offer enough protections for individuals, like me, against the certainty of tyranny by the government.  He understood the inexorable ambition of people in power to garner even more power, and to exercise it ruthlessly against their underlings whom they would, in the process, cast in the public eye as enemies of the state:   criminals, treasonists, tax evaders, purveyors of fraud, you name it.
     Mason's big complaint was that the Constitution had "no declaration of rights."  He and his sympathizers remembered the unfairness and abuse they had experienced under British rule, and wanted to limit the power of a central government.   He put together his own document, the "Virginia Declaration of Rights," which influenced Thomas Jefferson when he penned the Declaration of Independence as well as Madison as he drafted our current Bill of Rights.
     Section 2 of Mason's Virginia document emphasizes the leverage and supremacy of the people over government officials:

          All power is divested in, and consequently derived from, the people;  
          magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times
         amenable to them.

Additionally, in Section 3:

          ...that form of government is best...which is most effectually secured
          against the danger of maladministration...and when any 
          government shall be found inadequate...a majority of the
          community has an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible
          right to reform, alter or abolish it in such manner as shall be
          judged most conducive to the common weal.

Mason must have been thinking of me when he wrote Section 10:

          General warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be 
          commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a
          fact committed, and to seize any person or persons not named
          or whose offense is not particularly described and supported
          by evidence, are grievous and offensive, and ought not to be

     George Mason's great fear was that without an official charter, according strong defenses against government authority, our nation would, in time, succumb to despotic rule.
     I used to assume that the United States government was okay, and didn't think too much about it until my clinic was raided and my bank accounts--and livelihood, essentially--were seized by "messengers" of the central government, whose warrants could not have been "supported by evidence."  If I had effective recourse against these unjust actions, including a "right to demand the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses," and a "speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of [my] vicinage, without whose unanimous consent [I] cannot be found guilty," (Mason's wording, and the basis for part of our current Bill of Rights), I would still think the Constitution protected me.
    Where is the evidence against me?  Where are my accusers and witnesses?  What about a speedy trial?  Is the government really so fortified against these demands, in my case--and in anyone's--that no one, not even the best lawyers in the land, can ramrod their way through the bulwark of this big ship called America to arrive at my "rights"--which must be hidden away somewhere in a cubbyhole of the galley?
     Which brings me to the First Amendment.  Here's the text:

          Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
          religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or 
          abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the
          right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to 
          petition the government for a redress of grievances.

While I'm grateful for the part about freedom of speech, which allows me to keep writing this blog, what most interests me is that last part, about being able to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
      What is the procedure for doing this?  How might I petition the government to look into its own agents' "maladministration"?
     What has gone wrong, thus far, in my case, concerning the enfranchisement the government has put into service against me, disinheriting me of my Constitutional rights, must be investigated.
     If the magistrate judge who signed off on a warrant for the raid on my office had insufficient grounds for doing so, shouldn't he be held accountable?  If he hadn't thought long and hard enough about how such an action, if indefensible, might offend me, my patients, my staff, the community--how it might, in fact, destroy me--and if he simply banked on his deputies' fervor, shouldn't he be made to answer?
     I would like to exercise my First Amendment right to "petition the government for a redress" of my grievances.
     Has our country become so complicated, politically and legislatively, that a guileless citizen can't figure out how to get an explanation (and compensation?) for illegitimate actions taken against him or her?  Are our government agents--trustees and servants, in Mason's words--so shielded by statutes and exceptions to the Bill of Rights, that no matter what they do, they need not worry about having to answer to me, or any law-abiding citizen?   

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