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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Where Have Our Civil Rights Gone?

“Justice is the end of Government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been, and ever will be pursued, until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” — James Madison, Federalist No. 51.

When our Founders issued the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 they not only stated:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

They also, in the same document, listed 28 of grievances against King George III. Here 6 of those grievances pertaining to what the government is doing today:

1. He has obstructed the administration of justice by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers.

2. He has made judges dependent on his will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

3. He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

4. He has abdicated government here by declaring us out of his protection, and waging war against us.

5. For imposing taxes on us without our consent;

6. For depriving us, in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury

(If you wish you can substitute the word “He” with “Obama” with absolute truthfulness.)

After the Washington’s victory over the British forces and the ultimate surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown on October 17, 1781 and the subsequent 1783 Treaty of Paris the 13 now free and independent colonies bound together by the Articles of Confederation believed that to create a new united nation they would need a Constitution. For this purpose 55 delegates representing the 13 confederated states gathered in Philadelphia on May 25, 1787 to draft a constitution that would unify as one people in a democratic republic. No nation in history had taken such a bold action for the purpose of self-government.

The one nagging issue that faced the Convention was the enumeration of our rights. While the new constitution was specific on the construction of government into three branches, what powers and duties each branch had, and the enumeration of powers delegated to Congress there was no such enumeration of the rights of the people.

Founders like Alexander Hamilton and James Madison did not believe such an enumeration was a good idea as if one right was left off the list it would be detrimental to the future. Men like George Mason strongly believed they needed to enumerate these rights for clarity and the courts. Finally a compromise was reach and after final ratification of the new constitution by New Hampshire on June 21, 1788 James Madison introduced 12 amendments based on the Virginia Declaration of Rights authored by George Mason.

The new congress, after much debate, adopted ten of Madison’s proposed twelve rights. In a compromise with the anti-federalists Madison put forth amendments numbers nine and ten that specifically stated that powers and rights not enumerated in the first eight amendments were delegated to the states and the people.

Delegates to the Philadelphia Convention on September 12, 1787, debated whether to include a Bill of Rights in the body of the U.S. Constitution, and an agreement to create the Bill of Rights helped to secure ratification of the Constitution itself. Ideological conflict between Federalists and anti-Federalists threatened the final ratification of the new national Constitution. Thus, the Bill addressed the concerns of some of the Constitution's influential opponents, including prominent Founding Fathers, who argued that the Constitution should not be ratified because it failed to protect the fundamental principles of human liberty.

The Constitution was then submitted to the states for ratification, pursuant to its own Article VII. Of the twelve articles proposed to the States only ten, corresponding to the First through Tenth Amendments, were ratified. The first Article, dealing with the number and apportionment of U.S. Representatives, has never been ratified, and the second, limiting the power of Congress to increase the salaries of its members, was ratified in 1992 as the 27th Amendment.

Presented in the United States House of Representatives by Representative James Madison of Virginia, this amendment was the second of the twelve Constitutional amendments originally submitted to the state legislatures for ratification by the 1st Congress on September 25, 1789, the last ten of which became the United States Bill of Rights on December 15, 1791.

Over the ensuing years there have been many overt and covert attacks on the Bill of Rights ranging from freedom of religion and expression to the Patriot Act and gun control. Numerous Supreme Courts have attempted to define the enumerated rights in the Bill of Rights. With the passage of the 14th Amendment the Court eventually ruled that the Bill of Rights pertained to the states under the doctrine of “incorporation.” This was the basis of the Court’s decisions in the Heller and McDonald cases regarding restrictive local gun control laws.

Now we fast forward to 2010 and Catherine Engelbrecht.

Many on the conservative side of the aisle have sat in wonder as they watched left-of-center media and politicos whip their base into a feeding frenzy over nonpartisan efforts to safeguard our nation’s election system.

How could so many people blindly believe and commit to their leaders’ narratives? How can so many Americans actually think a photo ID requirement is somehow akin to white-sheet wearing Klansmen lynching black Americans? How can nearly every single left-of-center media outlet make such unfounded and extravagant claims about True the Vote being an effort to put black people back in chains?

These questions can best be answered by pinpointing exactly when the Left’s war on True the Vote and the group’s founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, first began.

The Left establishment’s attack began in a full on assault; there was no warning shot over a bow and no effort to communicate or negotiate differences. The year was 2010. The Democratic Party of Texas and the ACORN front group, Houston Votes, filed lawsuits against True the Vote. Though the lawsuits were a direct response to True the Vote’s effort to call out apparent irregularities in their local Harris County/Houston election and voter registration processes, their lawsuits came as an assault on True the Vote’s nonprofit status. It was a collateral attack, using one pretext for lawsuits when their disagreement stemmed from another reason all together.

Though the lawsuits chose the indirect path, the left-of-center media outlets went straight for the target allegation -- they alleged True the Vote stemmed from the “racist” Tea party movement and was an effort to marginalize or otherwise prevent “communities of color” from having a voice. Al Sharpton and MSNBC, Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee with the help of the Houston Chronicle and local left-of-center news stations, and the Huffington Post were among the many who immediately attacked in a coordinated manner.

What had True the Vote done? What “crime” had they committed to receive such attention? They had simply pointed out the irregularities in voter registrations submitted by ACORN’s front group, Houston Votes, and irregularities in Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee’s district.

Like most Tea party movement inspired groups, Houston’s King Street Patriots began to actually get involved in the political system rather than simply gather and protest. The groups decided in 2009 to volunteer at polling places and participate in service.

Many of the group’s members began to realize that the polling places and election judges who depended on community volunteers weren’t receptive to all volunteers -- they wanted Democratic volunteers. The group soon learned why.

There were instances of election judges who told voters who they should and should not vote for, many voters were allowed to vote without any form of identification at all -- a clear violation of Texas law, etc. Engelbrecht and her King Street volunteers decided to do what the Left seems to hate; they decided to “snitch.”

Over 800 signed affidavits were submitted to the appropriate authorities detailing the ethical and legal violations the volunteers had encountered. Engelbrecht decided her volunteers needed to better understand the election and voter registration processes and see if such problems went deeper. Her volunteers decided to submit an open records request and look at the voter registrations from the previous 30 days. What they found was shocking. There were a high number of irregularities from the registrations submitted by one group — Houston Votes, the ACORN affiliated effort.

Engelbrecht’s group “snitched” yet again, submitting their findings to the appropriate local authorities. The local authority tasked with election matters was the Harris County Tax Assessor and Voter Registrar, Leo Vasquez.

Vasquez office investigated and presented his office’s findings to the public they served. Among the many concerns and findings, Vasquez announced in a press conference on August 24th 2010 that his investigation of only 24,000 registrations, the number of registrations from the previous month, only 7,000 were new voters. He stated that the other 17,000 were problematic. He stated that Houston Votes was the “registration arm of Texans Together Education Fund” and “served as the area’s new ACORN organization.”

This was True the Vote’s crime: They found irregularities in Democratic Representative Sheila Jackson Lee’s turf and an ACORN affiliated group — and told on them.

The Left establishment responded with all out war. The lawsuits filed against True the Vote did not address these issues. MSNBC’s Al Sharpton did not address these issues. Each and every left-of-center group and outlet from the Houston Chronicle to the Huffington Post did not address any of this data at all. They simply attacked True the Vote as “racist.”

Such clear efforts to deceive Americans and obscure truth are an ever present reminder that a group of liars can say something enough times and it becomes “truth” — if left unchallenged.

The left-of-center effort to hide the irregularities of our nation’s many “ACORNs” and “Sheila Jackson Lees” has grown into involving the US Department of Justice, Eric Holder, the Congressional Black Caucus’ Elijah Cummings, the NAACP, and now political ploys from the United Nations as they “monitor” our elections to ensure conservatives do not “marginalize” black voters.

Catherine Engelbrecht’s tale has all the markings of a classic conspiracy theory: She sayscatherine-engelbrecht she thinks that because of her peaceful political activity, she and her family was targeted for scrutiny by hostile federal agencies.

Yet as news emerges that the Internal Revenue Service wielded its power to obstruct conservative groups, Catherine’s story becomes credible — and chilling. It also raises questions about whether other federal agencies have used their executive powers to target those deemed political enemies.

Before the Engelbrecht family’s three-year ordeal began, Catherine says, “I had no real expectation or preparation for the blood sport that American politics is.” Sounding weary on the phone, she continues: “It’s all been a through-the-looking-glass experience.”

Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who specializes in representing conservative organizations, says that the Engelbrecht family’s experience is “just the tip of the iceberg. I think there’s definitely a Chicago-politics-style enemies list in this administration, and I think it permeates this branch of the federal government.”

The Engelbrechts were not, until recently, particularly political. They had been busy running a tiny manufacturing plant in Rosenberg, Texas. After years of working for others, Bryan, a trained machinist, wanted to open his own shop, so he saved his earnings, bought a computerized numerical-control machine, which does precision metal-cutting, and began operating out of his garage. “That was about 20 years ago,” he says. “Now, we’re up to about 30 employees.”

For two decades, Bryan and Catherine drove to work in their big truck. Engelbrecht Manufacturing Inc. now operates out of a 20,000-square-foot metal building on the prairie just outside of Houston, where a “semi-pet coyote lives in the field just behind us,” Bryan says. They went back to their country home each night. Stress was rare, and life was good.

But the 2008 elections left Catherine feeling frustrated about the debates, which seemed to be a string of superficial talking points. So she began attending tea-party meetings, enjoying the political discussion. A spunky woman known for her drive, Catherine soon wanted to do more than just talk. She joined other tea partiers and decided to volunteer at the ballot box. Working as an alternate judge at the polls in 2009 in Fort Bend County, Texas, Catherine says, she was appalled and dismayed to witness everything from administrative snafus to outright voter fraud.

These formative experiences prompted her to found two organizations: King Street Patriots, a local community group that hosts weekly discussions on personal and economic freedoms; and True the Vote, which seeks to prevent voter fraud and trains volunteers to work as election monitors. It also registers voters, attempts to validate voter-registration lists, and pursues fraud reports to push for prosecution if illegal activity has occurred.

Bryan says that when his wife began focusing on politics, working less often at the manufacturing shop, “I told her, ‘You have my undying support.’” He pauses, then adds in his thick Texan drawl: “Little did I know she’d take it this far!”

In July 2010, Catherine filed with the IRS seeking tax-exempt status for her organizations. Shortly after, the troubles began.

That winter, the Federal Bureau of Investigation came knocking with questions about a person who had attended a King Street Patriots event once. Based on sign-in sheets, the organization discovered that the individual in question had attended an event, but “it was a come-and-go thing,” and they had no further information on hand about him. Nevertheless, the FBI also made inquiries about the person to the office manager, who was a volunteer.

The King Street Patriots weren’t the only ones under scrutiny. On January 11, the IRS visited the Engelbrechts’ shop and conducted an on-site audit of both their business and their personal returns, Catherine says.

“What struck us as odd about that,” she adds, ”is the lengths to which the auditor went to try to — it seemed like — to try to find some error. She wanted to go out and see our farm, she wanted to count the cattle, she wanted to look at the fence line. It was a very curious three days. She was as kind as she could be, and she was doing her job. But it was strange.”

Bryan adds: “It was kind of funny to us. I mean, we weren’t laughing that much, but we knew we were squeaky clean. Our CPA’s a good guy. And who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor: I got a little bit of a refund.”

Two months later, the IRS initiated the first round of questions for True the Vote. Catherine painstakingly answered them, knowing that nonprofit status would help with the organization’s credibility, donors, and grant applications. In October, the IRS requested additional information. And whenever Catherine followed up with IRS agents about the status of True the Vote’s application, “there was always a delay that our application was going to be up next, and it was just around the corner,” she says,

As this was occurring, the FBI continued to phone King Street Patriots. In May 2011, agents phoned wondering “how they were doing.” The FBI made further inquiries in June, November, and December asking whether there was anything to report.

The situation escalated in 2012. That February, True the Vote received a third request for information from the IRS, which also sent its first questionnaire to King Street Patriots. Catherine says the IRS had “hundreds of questions — hundreds and hundreds of questions.” The IRS requested every Facebook post and Tweet she had ever written. She received questions about her family, whether she’d ever run for political office, and which organizations she had spoken to.

“It’s no great secret that the IRS is considered to be one of the more serious federal agencies,” Catherine says. “When you get a call from the IRS, you don’t take it lightly. So when you’re asked questions that seem to imply a sense of disapproval, it has a very chilling effect.”

On the same day they received the questions from the IRS, Catherine says, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) launched an unscheduled audit of their machine shop, forcing the Engelbrechts to drop everything planned for that day. Though the Engelbrechts have a Class 7 license, which allows them to make component parts for guns, they do not manufacture firearms. Catherine said that while the ATF had a right to conduct the audit, “it was odd that they did it completely unannounced, and they took five, six hours. It was so extensive. It just felt kind of weird.”

That was in February. In July, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration paid a visit to Engelbrecht Manufacturing while Bryan, Catherine, and their children were out of town. The OSHA inspector talked with the managerial staff and employees, inspecting the premises minutely. But Bryan says the agent found only “little Mickey Mouse stuff, like, ‘You have safety glasses on, but not the right kind; the forklift has a seatbelt, but not the right kind.’” Yet Catherine and Bryan said the OSHA inspector complimented them on their tightly run shop and said she didn’t know why she had been sent to examine it.

Not long after, the tab arrived. OSHA was imposing $25,000 in fines on Engelbrecht Manufacturing. They eventually worked it down to $17,500, and Bryan says they may have tried to contest the fines to drive them even lower, but “we didn’t want to make any more waves, because we don’t know how much further OSHA could reach.”

“Bottom line is, it hurt,” he says. Fifteen thousand dollars is “not an insignificant amount to this company. It might be to other companies, but we’re still considered small, and it came at a time when business was slow, so instead of giving an employee a raise or potentially hiring another employee, I’m writing a check to our government.”

A few months later, True the Vote became the subject of congressional scrutiny. In September, Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) wrote to Thomas Perez, then the assistant attorney general of the civil rights division at the Department of Justice (who has now been nominated for labor secretary). “As you know, an organization called ‘True the Vote,’ which is an offshoot of the Tea Party, is leading a voter suppression campaign in many states,” Boxer wrote, adding that “this type of intimidation must stop. I don’t believe this is ‘True the Vote.’ I believe it’s ‘Stop the Vote.’”

And in October, Representative Elijah Cummings (D., Md.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, attacked True the Vote in a letter. He wrote that “some have suggested that your true goal is not voter integrity, but voter suppression against thousands of legitimate voters who traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.” He added that: “If these efforts are intentional, politically motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights.” He also decried True the Vote on MSNBC and CNN.

Catherine now says that she “absolutely” thinks that because she worked against voter fraud, the Left was irked and decided to target her.

The next month, in November 2012, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, the state’s environmental agency, showed up for an unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing. Catherine says the inspector told her the agency had received a complaint but couldn’t provide any more details. After the inspection, the agency notified the Engelbrechts that they needed to pay for an additional mechanical permit, which cost about $2,000 per year.

Since then, the IRS has sent two further rounds of questions to Catherine for her organizations. And last month, the ATF conducted a second unscheduled audit at Engelbrecht Manufacturing.

Catherine says she still hasn’t received IRS approval for her nonprofits, though she filed nearly three years ago. And “the way all of these personal instances interweave with what was going on on the nonprofit side. it amounts to something. You can’t help but think that statistically, this has to be coordinated on some level.”

On behalf of the True the Vote and King Street Patriots, Representative Ted Poe (R., Texas) sent a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI, OSHA, and the ATF, inquiring whether the organizations were under criminal investigation. A statement on Poe’s website states that “the reply from these agencies was that none of these individuals were under criminal investigation. Well, if they’re not, why are they being treated like criminals? Just because they question government.”

Catherine says she knows of at least one other group that received government inquiries about its relationship with True the Vote, and she suspects more did, too. And other Tea Party groups decided not to form nonprofits at all after learning about her experience, she says. “They were scared,” she explains, “and you shouldn’t be scared of your government.”

Meanwhile, Catherine says the harassment has forced her to seriously reconsider whether her political activity is worth the government harassment she’s faced.

“I left a thriving family business with my husband that I loved, to do something I didn’t necessarily love, but [which] I thought had to be done,” she says. “But I really think if we don’t do this, if we don’t stand up and speak now, there might not always be that chance.”

Her husband offers an additional observation: “If you knew my wife, you’d know she doesn’t back down from anybody. They picked on the wrong person when they started picking on her.”

Yesterday True the Vote filed suit in federal court in Washington, D.C., against the IRS. True the Vote is asking the court to grant its long-awaited tax-exempt status and is seeking damages for delays in the processing of its application. According to court documents filed by True the Vote, True the Vote’s application for tax-exempt status was filed with the IRS on July 15, 2010 and has been in a pending state since then.

True the Vote President Catherine Engelbrecht said: “We’ve been waiting for three years to receive a decision from the IRS about our tax-exempt status.” Engelbrecht added: “After answering hundreds of questions and producing thousands of documents, we’re done waiting. The IRS does not have the power to pocket veto our application.”

According to Engelbrecht: “True the Vote is dedicated solely to promoting election integrity in our Republic.” “Our mission is to educate Americans on all of the rights they enjoy as voters. We do not pick winners and losers, but instead fortify the voting process so that it is fair and free.”

The lawsuit, True the Vote v. Internal Revenue Service, et al, was filed in United States District Court for the District of Columbia on May 21, 2013. True the Vote is represented by a team of attorneys from the ActRight Legal Foundation, a public-interest law firm providing services protecting freedom of speech and constitutional rights.

According to the Washington Post The suit — which names numerous defendants including former acting IRS commissioner Steven Miller, former commissioner Douglas Shulman, and Lois G. Lerner, head of the agency’s tax-exempt organizations division — seeks immediate recognition of True the Vote as a 501(c)(3) and damages of more than $85,000.

In an interview this morning on Fox and Friends Ms. Engelbrecht said she was looking forward to the discovery portion of the suit as this would bring out a great deal of information about the actions of the IRS for the past tree years and who was responsible for what.

Obama’s attitude toward disagreement is that he confuses dissenters with enemies, and tries to silence them.

That is the theme shared by the scandals roiling Washington — the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, the snooping on reporters by the Justice Department, and the administration’s big lies about Benghazi. All involved attempts to quash anything that could make Obama look bad.

Reports that the thuggish actions are sending a “chill” through media sources must be sending a thrill through the White House. Chilling whistleblowers was the point.

As noted with the opening quote in this post James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51:

“In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights. It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects. The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects; and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of country and number of people comprehended under the same government. This view of the subject must particularly recommend a proper federal system to all the sincere and considerate friends of republican government, since it shows that in exact proportion as the territory of the Union may be formed into more circumscribed Confederacies, or States oppressive combinations of a majority will be facilitated: the best security, under the republican forms, for the rights of every class of citizens, will be diminished: and consequently the stability and independence of some member of the government, the only other security, must be proportionately increased. Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the stronger individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive, to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.” (Emphasis added)

On one level, the scandals reflect an attack on the First Amendment rights of many Americans. More broadly, the scandals show a White House willing to abuse enforcement powers to quash dissent and hide facts that don’t fit its spin. The more we learn, the more it’s clear we know little about the extent of this malicious pattern.

On Monday, for example, we learned that the Justice Department didn’t stop at seizing the office and personal phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters. It also snooped on the phones and e-mails of three Fox News journalists. Are there others?

As with the AP case, prosecutors claimed they were investigating leaks, although they never notified the journalists of the subpoenas they had filed. In one Fox case, they came close to calling routine news-gathering a crime.

There is another troubling pattern, too. Just as the IRS gave tax-exempt status to liberal groups while denying or delaying the same benefit to conservative groups, leak prosecutions also follow the political curve. The Justice Department takes seriously only leaks that cast Obama in an unflattering light.

Put another way, if you dare to say the emperor has no clothes, expect a knock on the door and a spy on your phones and computer.

One of the main purposes of the Bill of Rights is to insure justice for all be they weak or powerful. It appears that only the government bureaucrats and supporters of Obama are entitled to the Bill of Rights while the dissenters are not.

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