Wednesday, October 08, 2003

Can I declare speed limits illegal in my car, too?

I read an interesting article in today's Brown Daily Herald. It began like this:
Opposition to the Patriot Act brought together Republicans, concerned residents and students alike last night at a public hearing in city hall. The Civil Liberties Resolution, a motion supported by Ward One Councilman David Segal, proposes to outlaw the Patriot Act within the city of Providence.
I'm no expert on how the various levels of government interact with one another, but I'm pretty sure that somebody once wrote that a local or state government can't override a federal law. So what's going on? I can think of three possibilities:
  1. I'm confused about the Constitution of the United States.
  2. The author of the BDH article is confused about what the Providence City Council is trying to do.
  3. The Providence City Council is deliberately passing an unconstitutional law as a kind of protest.
I don't think that (1) is the explanation, although I hope that if it is, someone will clarify things for me. I do find some evidence for (2). At the end of the article, we're given a very different characterization of the resolution than we are at the beginning:
"This resolution says to the federal government we don't think this is a good law and we think you should change it," Secretary of the Rhode Island Green Party Greg Gerritt told The Herald. "People are not happy with the policy coming out of Washington."
Now this version sounds much more reasonable. I found what I think to be the text of the resolution at There's a lot of whereases and indirect language in there, but at least most of the actual "resolved" text seems not to fall into the category of "making the Patriot Act illegal". But there is one interesting paragraph:
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, That the City Council of Providence urges the city administration and its citizens during the course of their daily life to be guided by the collective responsibility and obligation of safeguarding the constitutional protections afforded all people of our city. The Council recognizes that this is the paramount responsibility of local law enforcement personnel, appointed and elected government offices that are ultimately responsible for upholding the solemn oath they have taken to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of Rhode Island...
Does this mean to be read as "we urge government officials and citizens not to obey the Patriot Act because we think it's unconstitutional?" It is certainly interesting language, anyway... it's fun to hear a government encourage me to break the law. But I still don't see the "making the Patriot Act illegal". I'm curious as to how successful a strategy (3) would be likely to be. In case anyone's wondering, I give a "thumbs down" to the Patriot Act because I give a "thumbs up" to civil rights. My other question is, why is the Brown Daily Herald published weekly?

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