Protecting terrorists and trial lawyers

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Something very September 10 is happening to the September 11 commission bill. Thanks to behind-the-scenes maneuvers by congressional Democrats, people who dial 1-800 “REPORT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY” hotlines could soon be sued for racial and religious profiling. House Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, has been flipping and flopping all over on this issue, no doubt dodging trial lawyers here and an angry Council on American-Islamic Relations there. It’s time for Mr. Thompson and other Democratic leaders to pick a side. If they fail to get fully behind tipster immunity, they will richly deserve their “weak on security” label. Average citizens must be assured that their good-faith tips on suspicious activity will not land them in court. Anything less utterly undermines the efficacy of tip lines. We can’t think of a bigger disincentive to do the right thing.

The flopping has truly been egregious. In March, to audible boos on the House floor, Mr. Thompson called a tipster-immunity measure proposed by Rep. Peter King, New York Republican a path to profiling. When this newspaper criticized those remarks two months ago, Mr. Thompson seemed to change views. He wrote us a letter to the editor stating that he would support a similar tipster-immunity measure along the lines of a proposal made by Sens. Joe Lieberman, Susan Collins and Rep. Steve Pearce, New Mexico Republican, asserting that there were major differences between the King measure and this latest one. There weren’t, but no matter, we said at the time; we were simply pleased that the House Homeland-Security Committee chairman had finally seen the light. It seemed like great news.

We should have been more skeptical. This week and last, Mr. Thompson and friends have again been objecting to tipster immunity, once more characterizing it as “profiling.” But this time, it is the Lieberman-Collins-Pearce measure which they oppose. That’s the very same measure which Mr. Thompson credited in this newspaper on May 16 for not “run[ning] roughshod over legal remedies that are and should be in place,” encouraging his colleagues to get behind such legislation. But this week they want to create loopholes to permit suing at the state and local level and to require someone to be able to show that the suspicious behavior they reported is related to terrorism, not simply criminal activity. Mr. Thompson and Company also want to throw out retroactivity, which means that the November U.S. Airways “John Does” who reported the questionable behavior of a group of imams would not be protected from frivolous lawsuits.

This series of errors would be comical if the consequences were not potentially tragic. This is a sign of the Democratic Party’s subservience to the trial-lawyer lobby and the anti-antiterrorism left, consisting of groups like the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who are the only kind of people who could possibly support this terrible idea. These Democrats stand ready to gut the efficacy of tip lines so that trial lawyers can feast on the frightened U.S. Airways tipsters, and so that CAIR can prevail under a phony civil-liberties guise. This isn’t what voters asked for last November. No person who finds him or herself in the shoes of the heroic tipster who foiled May’s Fort Dix terror plot should risk a lawsuit for doing the right thing.

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