Friday, March 21, 2008

Former Sen. Morgan: Who guards guardians?

Former U.S. Sen. Robert Morgan has had an interesting career – trial lawyer, Naval officer in World War II and Korea, Harnet County Clerk of Court, legislator, director of the State Bureau of Investigation, N.C. Attorney General and senator from 1974-1980.
Now 82 and living on the banks of the Cape Fear River in Lillington, he has lamented what he sees as the loss of freedoms in the name of preserving freedom. Our Bill of Rights, he said in the written text of remarks prepared for delivery Friday morning at Charlotte Law School, “is under attack and being torn asunder in the name of ‘national security.’ This is not a new thing. My concern is the pace at which our protections are being dissolved.”
His talk, prefaced on a question posed by a Roman poet named Juvenal, asked, “Who will guard the guardians?” He noted that the oaths of office for the presidency, members of Congress, Cabinet members, judges, state legislatures and even members of the armed forces focus on supporting the Constitution of the United States. They ask the office holder to swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic....”
In his written text, Morgan noted a subtle change in wording lately. A speaker told graduates of West Point last year that their job was “to defend the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Not the Constitution, as the oath requires, and the United States by extension, but skipping mention of the Constitution entirely.
That’s a small but telling change, Morgan wrote – a “seismic” change in words used. Defending the Constitution, he wrote, means “you must be particularly wary of attacks on it from within.”
Freedoms have eroded with passage of the Patriot Act enabling warrantless searches of phone calls, e-mails, bank accounts and other areas of routine life.
“I would say to you that if the powers being exercised by our ‘Guardians’ (Homeland Security, the FBI, the CIA and others exercising police powers) are not enumerated in the Constitution or Bill of Rights, if the powers are anathema to the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, then the blood of Americans spilled on every battlefield from Concord to Normandy is now in vain.”


David McKnight said...

The press must also bear some responsibility for the threats to the Bill of Rights enunciated by former Sen. Morgan. For some reason hitherto unexplained, newspapers in the 1960s and 1970s agreed to bring pressure upon writers to divert their work from independent publications and direct it instead to governmental offices, academic departments, political parties and political campaigns, all in the name of "furthering the cause of justice."

Independent journalism examines the operations and activities of government and of political campaigns regardless of how a particular news story may affect the fortunes of a political campaign or an elected official's "job rating." Meanwhile, no matter how diligently candidates for public office or incumbents seeking re-election may choose to discuss the merits of important issues, they inevitably must also make decisions about strategies and tactics for achieving a winning campaign at the polls.

Therefore, important North Carolina newspapers such as McClatchy's Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer must resolve to "just say no" to requests for journalism censorship by the elites of academia, the leadership of the major political parties, the management of the major news media and by all eleceted officials at the federal, state and local level. They should make clear that these newspapers, serving readers in the Carolinas from an ownership vantage point in California, simply cannot and must not participate in the intentional restriction of writers' and artists' employment in the independent distribution of their work, whether a part of other press institutions or arts organizations or as individual free-lance professionals merely for the sake of providing "heads-up" reports to political leaders on important issues.

If The Charlotte Observer, The News & Observer or The State of Columbia, S.C., wish to induce a writer or editor to "research" certain issues for their editorial or news-gathering needs, then the way to accomplish this without violating the U.S. or N.C. and S.C. constitutions is to legitimately "contract out" with those journalists or offer them employment on their newspaper payrolls.

Thomas Jefferson once mused that if he had to choose between a government without the press or a press without a government that he might choose the latter. James Madison, elected President 200 years ago in 1808, made extraordinary efforts to preserve civil liberties for the people even in the trying circumstances of the War of 1812 or, as some have called it, the Second War For Independence, when the rights and liberties gained through the American Revolution had to be re-secured in a second military conflict with England.

Madison, whose wife Dolley was born in Guilford County, N.C., was cosidered "the Father of the Constitution" at the 1787 constitutional convention at Philadelphia, but he also led the drive to enact the original Bill of Rights into law in his capacity as a member of the first Congress as a U.S. House representatives from Virginia.

So Madison's example of having combined service in the executive branch of the federal government as Secretary of State (1801-1809) and President (1809-1817) with state and federal legislative service and attention to constitutional rights and liberties ought therefore to inform the debate across the country among candidates for the presidency in 2008 and, here in North Carolina, in campaigns for governor, the U.S. Senate and House of Represenatives, and the N.C. General Assembly.

The press in North Carolina ought to get on board with this renewed movement to safeguard constitutional liberties by reminding the Nation's most prestigeous universities and most powerful news organizations that journalism was not intended to serve the people of only one or two regions of the country at the pain of servitude or unconstitutional congressional or legislative regulation of writers and editors in all other sections of the country.

Robert Morgan maintained the same views about the importance of the Bill of Rights as N.C. attorney general and U.S. senator that he had previously held as an active local Democrat in Harnett County and a member of the legislature in Raleigh. The vicissitudes of life's philosophical journey notwithstanding, the rest of us should also seek to retain our respect for the fundamental principles of republican democracy in a free society.

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