- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2000

Capitol Hill politics is actually even more interesting than the Sunday morning talk shows would have you believe. One popinjay shrieking from the left and another from the right about last week's headlines is not the whole of Washington's political dramas.

Occasionally, American politics is more complicated and more momentous. The scheming and orating in Washington now going on over a little-known legislative monstrosity called the Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act (MAPA) would go down as an enormous bore on any Sunday morning talk show. Yet its outcome is of vital importance to our freedoms as citizens and its opponents demonstrate that sometimes our elected officials do more than feel our pain and kiss babies.

MAPA, if passed by Congress, would empower federal agents to search your home and take your property without immediately informing you possibly without ever informing you. Naturally it gives unscrupulous law enforcement officials opportunities to plant evidence or to spice it up pursuant to getting an easy conviction.

The diversity of the political forces that have come together to oppose MAPA constitute politics at its most interesting and most serious even more serious that the soap opera between Bill Clinton and his fabled "Clinton-haters." The American Civil Liberties Union's stalwart campaign against MAPA is being aided and abetted by the liberal Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, Texas Democrat, and the conservative Rep. Bob Barr, Georgia Republican.

According to the Justice Department, methamphetamine is a brain buzzer increasingly popular with young people. It is concocted in "meth labs" throughout the country, and Justice hopes its agents will suppress the production and trafficking in "meth" with MAPA. The bill increases criminal penalties selling meth and appropriates funds for hunting down and closing "meth labs." It also would appropriate funds for treatment of the meth monsters. Slipped into this potpourri of good deeds unfortunately are amendments that would allow agents to search homes, workplaces and vehicles without informing their owners. The agents would also be able to remove property without fully inventorying it. It could be months before the inventories were submitted to property owners.

Former federal prosecutor Mr. Barr argues these provisions "change present laws regarding search warrants, loosening up the need to provide notice and the requirement for inventories of property seized." He claims these insidious provisions would then be used by other law enforcement agents for a wider array of searches. "Agents without search warrants could enter unoccupied houses and offices and search, copy, or seize information, even on computer hard drives."

Whether the liberal Democrat Mrs. Jackson-Lee and the conservative Republican Mr. Barr succeed in thwarting MAPA, this particular struggle on behalf of civil liberties highlights a particularly menacing threat to civil liberties, Mr. Barr says, given the present balance of power in Washington between Republicans and Democrats.

Republicans are always strong law-and-order advocates. Despite the wide streak of libertarianism in their ranks, they are suckers for FBI claims that such instrumentalities as MAPA are necessary in the war against drugs and terrorism. Democrats, whether soft on law and order or libertarian regarding law enforcement, are easily manipulated by their guy in the White House.

The consequence is that Justice Department officials intent on making their job of apprehending criminals easier, are having an easier time passing laws that may make ordinary Americans' lives less easy. Your security from a rashly executed search warrant will be weakened by MAPA. If the feds secretly enter your home rather than the home of the guy next door, who will find out? If the guy next door is their target, lucky him. And whatever is taken from which home, only the feds will know.

Yet an alliance of Republicans and Democrats may make all this happen. The price of liberty is vigilance, as the Founding Fathers knew back in the good old days..

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. is the editor in chief of the American Spectator.

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