In a packed meeting room Monday night, the Juneau Assembly approved a resolution that outlines the city's approach to investigations under federal anti-terrorism legislation and sends a message to Congress asking the Patriot and Homeland Security acts be reexamined.
"This is a very balanced resolution, and it's a positive approach. It states our support for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and respectfully asks Congress to revisit the Patriot Act," said Assembly member Mark Wheeler. "I believe that Congress didn't take its usual deliberative approach. I do think this reflects the majority of the citizens of the city and borough of Juneau."
The resolution originally was introduced by a local group called Juneau Committee for Defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The Assembly reworked the resolution in committee using recommendations from City Attorney John Corso, toned down the language and added provisions reaffirming the city's support for American troops abroad and government efforts to combat terrorism.
Juneau's resolution requires city employees to consult the city attorney's office if they have doubts when asked to hand over public records that normally are confidential. It also directs the city attorney's office to educate city employees about their rights under the U.S. Constitution.
Additionally, the resolution directs the Juneau Human Rights Commission to report complaints that it receives about local investigations under the anti-terrorism acts, and asks the U.S. attorney's office to provide statistics that reflect the number of investigations carried out under the acts in Juneau. The resolution also sends a message to Congress, asking the body to revisit and revise anti-terrorism laws.
Before the vote, all the chairs in the Assembly were full and audience members stood along the walls, listening to a procession of people who testified in favor of the resolution.
"Our democratic principles are being threatened and I submit the danger to our democracy is not from the terrorists, it is in our complacency and self doubt, it is in the bureaucracy," said Andrea Doll of the Juneau Committee for Defense of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
Sara Chambers, the vice chairwoman of the Juneau Libertarian Party, questioned the criteria for federal searches of library records under the acts.
"If your teenager wants to check out books on famous dissidents, will he be flagged as a potential terrorist for reading about Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Jesus Christ?" she asked. "It's a slippery slope."
Mayor Sally Smith asked for people in the room who supported the legislation to raise their hands and nearly every hand in the room shot up.
Local Attorney Paul Grant, who works with the Alaska Civil Liberties Union, said the organization was in communication with Rep. Don Young about legislation that might correct the Patriot Act to bring it in line with Bill of Rights.
"He has told us that these resolutions are very valuable to him in going back to his colleagues in Congress to support corrective legislation," Grant said.
Smith and members Wheeler, Jim Powell, Merrill Sanford, Stan Ridgeway and Jeannie Johnson voted in favor of the measure. Members Ken Koelsch and Dale Anderson were not present. Randy Wanamaker was the sole vote against the resolution.
"I do not think this resolution belongs before the Assembly," Wanamaker said. "(Sept. 11) and the ensuing war against terrorism calls for new tools and new procedures to be effective. I am willing to test those tools, because I believe our government and our system of checks and balances will protect our rights."
Powell spoke in favor of the resolution, arguing it is within the Assembly's bailiwick.
"We are very careful here to support resolutions that have implications outside of our rural boundaries," he said. "I think it is particularly important in this instance. We took an oath to uphold the charter, the state constitution and the U.S. Constitution."
When the resolution passed, the room erupted into applause.
The Homeland Security and Patriot Acts became law as part of a congressional attempt to broaden the investigative powers of law enforcement to help combat terrorism. Civil rights groups across the country, including in Juneau, have objected to many provisions of the acts, saying they trample civil liberties and invade privacy. City assemblies and councils in 93 communities across the United States, including Fairbanks, North Pole and Gustavus, have passed similar resolutions.
Julia O'Malley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.