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Monday, March 5, 2012

The Restricted Buildings Act: A New Affront To Our Freedoms?

The Restricted Buildings Act (sometimes called the Trespass Act) is intended to provide protection to the President, the Vice President, and other people protected by the Secret Service (such as presidential candidates).  It was first enacted in 1992 to keep the President and others protected by the Secret Service safe.  Some modifications were recently passed by Congress.  Some people believe these modifications are onerous, as though they are taking away your rights to protest.  More about those modifications below.

Photo from the ACLU blog






(Updates and links at the bottom of this article.)









What kind of protest does the First Amendment protect?  

First of all, the First Amendment has never granted anyone an unrestricted right to protest. The first amendment uses the word "peaceably": 
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people PEACEABLY to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Bill 347 and the bill that it modifies, Section 1752 of Title 18, use the words "obstruct" and outlaws people when they "knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engage(s) in disorderly or disruptive conduct".

Please note that the kinds of protest that this bill outlaws have never been "protected", please also know that, over the course of years, the freedoms guaranteed in the first amendment have never been considered absolute. 

Here's some wording to ponder:
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons—

(1) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting;

(2) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance;

(3) willfully, knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, to engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any building or grounds described in paragraph (1) or (2) when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;

(4) willfully and knowingly to obstruct or impede ingress or egress to or from any building, grounds, or area described in paragraph (1) or (2); or

(5) willfully and knowingly to engage in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any building, grounds, or area described in paragraph (1) or (2).


Now the law I just posted above is the OLD LAW.  It has been in effect since 1992.  If you feel that a law with such wording is an affront to the first amendment, be aware that it has been like that for twenty years.  


Here is the changed law-- Read through it yourself; it is not long.
‘§ 1752. Restricted building or grounds ‘‘(a) Whoever— ‘‘
(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; ‘‘ 
(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; 
(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or ‘‘ 
(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds; or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).  
‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is— ‘‘ 
(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if— ‘‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or ‘‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and ‘‘ 
(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case. ‘‘ 
(c) In this section— H. R. 347—2 ‘‘ 
(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area— ‘‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds; ‘‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or ‘‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and  
‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’’. 



And here's the law as it previously existed: 
(a) It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons—(1) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting;
(2) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance;
(3) willfully, knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, to engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any building or grounds described in paragraph (1) or (2) when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;
(4) willfully and knowingly to obstruct or impede ingress or egress to or from any building, grounds, or area described in paragraph (1) or (2); or
(5) willfully and knowingly to engage in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any building, grounds, or area described in paragraph (1) or (2).
(b) Violation of this section, and attempts or conspiracies to commit such violations, shall be punishable by—
(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if—
(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or
(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118 (e)(3); and
(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.
(c) Violation of this section, and attempts or conspiracies to commit such violations, shall be prosecuted by the United States attorney in the Federal district court having jurisdiction of the place where the offense occurred.
(d) None of the laws of the United States or of the several States and the District of Columbia shall be superseded by this section.
(e) As used in this section, the term “other person protected by the Secret Service” means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section3056 of this title when such person has not declined
http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/1752

(The following section was added 3/8/2012:)
"Willfully and knowingly" vs. just "Knowingly"


As you can see from the wording above, the big difference between the old and new laws is the deletion of the word "willfully".  "Knowingly" apparently is an easier legal standard to meet than "willfully and knowingly".  In other words, you can be found to "knowingly" be guilty of some kind of crime even if you have not "willfully" done something.

There is much discussion as to whether or not, however, this change is enough to make the new version of the bill much more onerous than the old version of the bill.

The wording of the revision uses the word "knowingly" repeatedly. It says (among other things) "Whoever (1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so" 


More on this tomorrow....


Other than that, compare the two bills side by side:

The only real change is that the White House and the Vice President's house are specifically listed as "restricted buildings or grounds". The prior wording of the bill was vague as to whether or not those buildings were protected when the President and Vice President were not in them at the time.  Also harsher penalties are imposed for people using a deadly weapon or a firearm or causing significant bodily injury.  The punishments were not specified or differentiated in the old bill.

Old law: 

(a) It shall be unlawful for any person or group of persons—(1) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting;
New Law:
‘‘(a) Whoever—
‘‘(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so;
Old Law:
(2) willfully and knowingly to enter or remain in any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance;
New Law: 

‘‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area—
‘‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;
‘‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or
‘‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; 
Old Law:
(3) willfully, knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, to engage in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any building or grounds described in paragraph (1) or (2) when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;

New Law:

(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions; 
Old Law:
(4) willfully and knowingly to obstruct or impede ingress or egress to or from any building, grounds, or area described in paragraph (1) or (2); or
New Law:  
‘‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds;

Old Law:  
 (c) Violation of this section, and attempts or conspiracies to commit such violations, shall be prosecuted by the United States attorney in the Federal district court having jurisdiction of the place where the offense occurred.
New Law:

‘‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is—
‘‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if—
‘‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm;
or
‘‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and
‘‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case. 
(The following was added 3/8/2012:)
 
Protests and Petitions about HR 347:

Many Petitions have been circulated about this amendment asking the President to veto it.  Here is one such petition:


This petition is a reaction to H.R.347, a bill passed by the House of Representatives that makes it a federal crime to protest in an area where someone who is being protected by the secret service is present. Doesn't the president only get secret service protection you may ask? No, just recently Rick Santorum was granted that same protection. This bill will make protesting against our government a FEDERAL crime and completely undermines our First Amendment. The right to freely assemble is one of the most important rights you have as a US citizen, don't let it slip away. 

Here are a few things to consider when looking at this law and the petition:

1.  It already IS a federal crime to protest in an area where someone who is being protected by the secret service is present.  The question now is whether or not the omission of the word "willingly" means that it will be more or less easy to be found guilty under this law.  However, review the wording of the current law.  If you think that makes protesting against the government a federal crime, please be aware that it has been so for 20 years. 

2.  Presidential candidates have been granted secret service protection for decades.  This is nothing new.

3.  There are no absolutes in the first amendment, and the first amendment makes it clear that "peaceable" assembly is protected.  This law is aimed at "obstruction", "intending to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of government".

4.  Remember again that the Constitution trumps all federal laws.  The Congress CANNOT pass a law the overturns the Constitution.  Any such law will be challenged in the courts, and, if found to be in violation of the Constitution, it will be overturned.  


The ACLU has published the best interpretation of this law, with this comment:
Any time the government lowers the intent requirement, it makes it easier for a prosecutor to prove her case, and it gives law enforcement more discretion when enforcing the law. To be sure, this is of concern to the ACLU. We will monitor the implementation of H.R. 347 for any abuse or misuse.Also, while H.R. 347, on its own, is only of incremental importance, it could be misused as part of a larger move by the Secret Service and others to suppress lawful protest by relegating it to particular locations at a public event. These "free speech zones" are frequently used to target certain viewpoints or to keep protesters away from the cameras. Although H.R. 347 doesn't directly address free speech zones, it is part of the set of laws that make this conduct possible, and should be seen in this context.
Rest assured we'll be keeping an eye on how this law will be interpreted and used by law enforcement — especially in light of the coming elections.
Update 4/27/2012:


Here's an update from the ACLU  in light of the Occupy season:
So, what does this mean for lawful protesters? The honest answer is we simply don't know yet. These zones will hopefully occupy (no pun intended) a very small footprint at the three types of locations covered by the law. Also, these areas must be clearly identified to prevent protesters from inadvertently violating the law (or else they can't form the required intent). That said, the provision covering disruptions in or near the secure zones is of concern and could be misused to stifle lawful protest; same with the entrance/exit provision. These were already in the law, but the "knowingly" change could make them easier to abuse.
So far, we haven't seen any evidence that H.R. 347 specifically is being ployed aggressively by the Secret Service to tamp down on protests by Occupy or anyone else. That said, with the coming of spring 2012 and the November election, protest activity is undoubtedly going to grow rapidly. We'll be vigilant at the ACLU for any abuse, misuse or overuse, and we urge anyone who knows of any arrests or prosecutions under the new law to let us know.

Update 10/21/2012:
Factcheck published an article in May which I just came across:  Obama criminalized free speech? 

3 comments:

  1. Well, so far it looks like another narcissistic addition by the Obama Administration, since you said the reference to the White House and Secret Service was added. And yes, it's HUGELY scary because it IS narcissistic and caters to the same Administration that just caused a big stink by catering to prostitution. Anything Obama and his cronies do, you can bet they do it for themselves, not for average citizens, nor for posterity's leaders. They want it now and they get it now, by hook or by crook, and always by bypassing the Constitution's mandate of power BY, FOR, and OF the PEOPLE.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Brenda, so you are a Romney supporter?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Notice that Brenda never came back to answer the question.

      Delete

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