January 29, 2003

Ithaca Officials to Denounce PATRIOT Act

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As President Bush delivered his State of the Union Address last night, some local officials began preparations to demonstrate their discontent. Tomorrow, a Resolution to Defend the Civil Rights and Liberties of the People of Ithaca is anticipated to denounce the PATRIOT Act of 2001. This will be on the agenda of the Common Council meeting.

“I was getting a lot of comments from constituents that Ithaca should draft a resolution like other cities were doing,” said Dan Cogan M.S ’95 (Dem.-5th Ward), the author of the resolution .

Cogan said much of the text came from various resolutions found on the website of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BRDC). Ithaca is not the first city to propose such a resolution, according to BRDC’s website, 27 cities and towns across the country have already passed such a resolution, most recently, in San Francisco, Calif. Others include college towns such as Amherst, Mass.; Cambridge, Mass.; New Haven, Conn.; and Ann Arbor, Mich.; as well as larger cities such as Oakland, Calif.; Detroit, Mich.; and Denver, Colo.


“I tried to take sort of the strongest wording from all of the different pieces,” Cogan said. “I thought it was important to lay out how it impacts the U.S. Constitution, and I think that’s important to not just the left but everyone.”

Cogan’s resolution protests how the PATRIOT Act threatens the civil liberties of American citizens, including such observations as “greatly expanding the government’s ability to secretly enter homes and offices to conduct searches without warrants.”

“Granting unchecked power to the U.S. Secretary of State to designate domestic groups, including religious and political organizations, as ‘terrorist organizations'” is included, as well as “creating a crime of ‘domestic terrorism’ that is so vaguely defined, it could be applied to political activists and could lead to the criminalization of legitimate political dissent.”

The resolution states that “to the greatest extent legally possible, no City of Ithaca employee or department, or employee of any City agency, shall be required to cooperate with investigations, interrogations, surveillance, or arrest procedures, public or clandestine, that are judged to be in violation of individuals’ civil rights or civil liberties as specified in the Bill of Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”


This statement proved to be a major point of contention during the drafting of the resolution.

“I might have problems with particular aspects of it, but in concept I support it,” Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 said. “We had a lot of internal discussion on the issue [of employee compli ance with the federal government]. I cannot comment on it without seeing the final rewrite. There have been a lot of separate rewrites about the part involving employees.”

Initially, the resolution forbid employees from assisting the authorities in any activity deemed unconstitutional, to the greatest extent legally possible. The language has since been softened, allowing the decision to be up to the individual employee.

The resolution goes on to state that law officials on the federal, state and local levels must “report publicly each month to the City of Ithaca Common Council and the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission on the extent and manner in which they have acted under the USA PATRIOT Act and new Executive Orders.”

The third part of the resolution implores the federal representatives of Ithaca: Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) to support the resolution.

Hinchey apologized for voting for the PATRIOT Act at a public forum last February.

“It was a mistake, a vote we were forced to make. There was no hearing or examination,” Hinchey said.

Much of the resolution will prove virtually impossible to enforce and some wonder if it will have any impact at all.

“Whenever I see anything that the Ithaca common council does, I view it with skepticism because they tend to make non-binding frivolous resolutions,” Ryan Horn, grad, president of Cornell College Republicans said.

“However, I do feel that it holds some merit, in that there are legitimate concerns that Americans should have about the USA PATRIOT Act,” Horn added, citing the way the act strongly favors the executive branch an violates the federalist system by strongly favoring the national government over state and local governments.

“I think the biggest impact will be the fact that the City of Ithaca took a stand on this resolution to the country and the rest of the world, that we are not all backing this resolution and the tactics the administration is involving,” Cogan said. “And until the time that this act is declared unconstitutional, I think it’s important that cities send that message.”

Cohen echoed these views. “The resolution is clearly more symbolic than sustainable, but it still is an important statement regarding the protection of civil rights,” he added. “It’s a timely issue that the City of Ithaca feels it should weigh in on.”

Both Cohen and Cogan expressed confidence that some form of the resolution would pass.

Archived article by David Hillis