comments_image Comments

WHOFACTCHECK: New Bill A Protest Clampdown?

Share

By on Mar 8, 2012 Originally published on WhoWhatWhy.com

Is the president being asked to pound yet another nail into the coffin of democratic expression? So say alarmist scenarios concerning  HR 347 (the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011), now on the president’s desk.

The answer, in short, is…maybe. We certainly do have a reason to be concerned. But not necessarily for the reasons we are being given.

***

First, let’s eat some broccoli. Reading text is not like downing mashed potatoes, but it is good for you.

The bill, according to the official summary:

Amends the federal criminal code to revise the prohibition against entering restricted federal buildings or grounds to impose criminal penalties on anyone who knowingly enters any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority. Defines “restricted buildings or grounds” as a posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of: (1) the White House or its grounds or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds, (2) a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting, or (3) a building or grounds so restricted due to a special event of national significance.

A sampling of postings from recent days reflects the disquiet. One website published an article headlined “ US Congress passes authoritarian anti-protest law.” Another’s said “ H.R 347 could be making the First Amendment illegal.” Still another, a guest blogger on the website of constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley, was headlined “ Imprecise Language and the Risks of H.R. 347

The first site one cited above, the World Socialist Website, which clearly has a viewpoint, made some interesting points. But the WSW stokes fears unnecessarily by its framing:

The passage of H.R. 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the nature of the bill, which constitutes a significant attack on the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent. The media silence represents a conscious effort to keep the American population in the dark as to the government’s efforts to eviscerate the Bill of Rights.

The timing of the bill is significant. H.R. 347 was reported to the Senate floor by the Senate Judiciary Committee on November 17, 2011, amidst a massive nationwide crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street protests – and just two days after hundreds of New York City police conducted the infamous military-style raid on the demonstrators’ encampment in Zucotti Park, driving out the protesters and erecting barricades…..

That makes a bunch of assumptions that may or may not be correct—and some clearly are not. For example, the media silence does not necessarily represent “a conscious effort” to keep the American population in the dark.” The media, notwithstanding its predilection for authority, fails to cover the vast majority of legislation, including most of the important bills. Some of this is simply a matter of awareness, resources, style, and even a disinclination to examine legislation that has a technical side, or, as in this case, where the vote is almost unanimous in favor.

In addition, the assertion about “timing” seems to misrepresent the intent. The bill was actually introduced long before the Occupy protests—and so one would have to note that fact– and it’s not clear whether it finally got legs because of the protests.

***

Speaking of intent, it’s important with these things—with all matters of dispute—to study their origins.
WhoWhatWhy called the office of the author of HR 347, Rep. Thomas J. Rooney (R) of Florida. According to his communications director, Michael Mahaffey, the bill originated a year ago when the Secret Service approached members of the Judiciary Committee, on which his boss then served. Rooney, who has a background in the military justice system and has taught constitutional law at West Point, volunteered to sponsor the bill. It was co-sponsored by a fellow Floridian, Democrat Ted Deutch (who, it should be noted, also co-sponsored the highly controversial  Stop Online Piracy Act(SOPA.)