RESOLUTION CONCERNING THE APPROPRIATE BALANCE
BETWEEN LIBERTY AND SECURITY
This Resolution was adopted by the Board of Directors of the New York County Lawyers’ Association at its regular meeting on December 10, 2001.
NYCLA is a Bar Association of 9,000 attorneys devoted to the advancement of the public interest. Indeed, the organized bar has a responsibility to the public to safeguard the rule of law and to preserve constitutional rights. As an institution whose historic Home of Law literally stood in the shadow of the majestic World Trade Center and now stands a stone’s throw from the wreckage of the calamitous attack of September 11, 2001, NYCLA understands the need for a national mobilization to eradicate terrorism. At the same time, we are an institution whose raison d’etre is to preserve the blessings of constitutional democracy and the liberties enshrined in our tradition for ourselves and our posterity.
Thus, NYCLA expresses profound concern with recent measures promulgated or proposed by the executive and legislative branches of the federal government in its effort to combat terrorism, with little explanation and scant opportunity for public debate regarding the appropriate balance between the heightened need for security and the preservation of the fundamental principles of democracy. NYCLA believes that this is a time to show the world our commitment to civil liberties, not to compromise them, and to prove to our enemies and the rest of the world the courage of our convictions. Experience teaches us that the foundation of our national strength is the same liberty that our Constitution protects. No adversary’s threat of attack should cause us to shrink from our responsibility to preserve that liberty, nor should fear cause us to allow the instruments of liberty to become devices for its undoing.
We are particularly concerned that the following proposals or actions and their consequences be thoroughly analyzed, debated and, where necessary, modified or reconsidered:
The Presidential Executive Order authorizing the use of secret Military Commissions to try suspected criminals, who are arrested within the territorial United States and elsewhere, bypassing the civil courts and employing practices that may deprive the accused of basic constitutional rights and may lessen respect for our institutions and the validity of our processes and decisions around the world.
Notwithstanding the dangers facing America, it is essential that we eschew measures that are so inconsistent with our democratic tradition as to constitute a de facto victory for the enemies of freedom who perpetrated the September 11th atrocities and that we identify those initiatives that are ill- considered, unnecessary or incompatible with our traditions and values. In many cases, the proposed and enacted legislation affords the Federal government greater authority to monitor private domestic and international communications without the oversight of court-issued warrants. Advocates of these proposals assert that they are necessary to detect and prevent terrorist activity. Others believe that these measures invite abusive intrusion into the privacy of all Americans without any meaningful redress or safeguard against abuse. We call for thoughtful – not rushed – analysis of these issues. With due regard for the good faith of those who propose these and other extraordinary measures, it is incumbent upon the legal community to analyze the consequence of these measures and to raise awareness among the public and bar as to the appropriate balance among civil liberties, preservation of our traditions and values, and the exigencies of circumstances in the fight against terrorism.
Accordingly, NYCLA’s Board directs the Justice Center to immediately undertake a study of any and all proposed anti-terrorist measures, giving particular consideration to such measures as may relate to the subject matter of the respective committee or section, and to report to the Executive Committee with a plan of action within 30 days.