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Individual liberties, a long-standing League Principle, have been central for the League during times of national tension.
The “witchhunt” period of the early 1950s led the League to undertake a two-year Freedom Agenda community education program on issues such as freedom of speech. Next, a focused study on the federal loyalty/security programs culminated in a position that emphasized protection of individual rights.
The 1976 Convention incorporated the League’s individual liberties Principle into the national Program, thus authorizing the League to act against major threats to basic constitutional rights. Subsequent Conventions reaffirmed that commitment, and in 1982 the LWVUS Board authorized a specific position statement on individual liberties.
In 2003, the League contacted members of both houses to express concern about several far-reaching provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed in October 2001, asking members of Congress to scale back some of them. The League lobbied on behalf of the bipartisan Security and Freedom Ensured (SAFE) Act in 2004, which addresses many of the PATRIOT Act’s problems, while still allowing law enforcement officials broad authority to combat terrorism.
Late in the 108th Congress, the League lobbied against the House version of legislation to overhaul the organization of U.S. intelligence operations because it went beyond the scope of the September 11th Commission’s recommendations, expanding the government’s investigative and prosecutorial powers, and infringing upon civil liberties. When the bill was passed, as the National Intelligence Reform Act, in December 2004, it had been amended and a number of the troubling provisions that the League opposed were eliminated.
At the 2004 Convention, League delegates voted to make civil liberties a top priority in the next biennium. The LWVUS appointed an Advisory Task Force and created an online discussion list to foster dialogue about the League’s course of action.
In 2005, the LWVUS also expressed concerns about reports of torture by the United States military and actively supported the “McCain amendment,” banning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment against
anyone under custody or control of the U.S. armed forces. The amendment passed as part of the Department of Defense appropriation.
During the 109th Congress, the League continued to lobby in support of the SAFE Act and in opposition to the pending reauthorization of specific provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act. While final reauthorization did not address many of our concerns, there was limited improvement in some critical provisions.
In 2005, the LWVEF sponsored a nationwide project, Local Voices: Citizen Conversations on Civil Liberties and Secure Communities, to foster public dialogue about the balance between civil liberties and homeland security. The League sponsored public discussions in ten ethnically, economically and geographically diverse cities. It released the findings of these discussions and public opinion research on the issue at the U.S. Capitol in September 2005.
In 2007-2008, the League fought legislation in both houses that continued allowing the Executive branch to conduct warrantless wiretapping without judicial review, and supported legislation that would protect personal information of citizens and limit the FBI’s authority to issue national security letters in lieu of judicial warrants to produce information and materials.
In 2009, the League joined other organizations in support of the JUSTICE (Judiciously Using Surveillance Tools In Counterterrorism Efforts) Act, legislation to amend expiring provisions of the US PATRIOT Act.
Statement of Position on Individual Liberties, as Announced by National Board, March 1982:
The League of Women Voters of the United States believes in the individual liberties guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States. The League is convinced that individual rights now protected by the Constitution should not be weakened or abridged.