Patriot Act and the Rule of Law Capstone Project

Excerpt from Capstone Project :

Patriot Act and the Rule of Law

The Patriot Act

The Rule of Law on the Local Level

The Effect on Law Enforcement

The Effect on Homeland Security

Affecting Social Change

The Patriot Act was a serious change to government and the Rule of Law. Additionally, it required adjustments that had to be made to law enforcement agencies from the federal level all the way down to the local patrol policeman. Because that was the case, the Patriot Act made life in America different for all U.S. citizens, visitors, and those who came to the country for any reason. Everything from passports to drivers licenses were more difficult to get after the Patriot Act was created, and people who wanted to obtain legal residency or travel documents had to do more in order to receive these things. That was good in a protective way, but it was detrimental to people who were perfectly innocent but who had trouble providing the proper documentation to receive what they needed. The way people were treated and how much they were trusted also changed, and some people felt as though they were being persecuted because they were of a particular race, religion, or nationality. Overall, however, the Patriot Act was about the protection of the American people despite any difficulties those people had to face in order to comply with the regulations set forth in that Act.

Capstone Project: The Patriot Act and the Rule of Law


For purposes of this paper the Patriot Act will be discussed. It will be examined in light of its effect on the Rule of Law. This will be most specifically targeted toward law enforcement at a local level, but will fall under the broader scope of homeland security. In order to address all of the issues that are involved in this area, the paper will be divided into sections that will discuss each issue individually. That will allow for a more complex and comprehensive examination of the issue at hand, without causing confusion for the reader. It is not always easy to address these kinds of law enforcement issues, and they often also intersect with human rights and responsibilities. That can make things even more complex and difficult, and can cause lawmakers distress when they are attempting to make changes that they feel will protect people and keep them safer than they would have been in the past. If these laws are too oppressive, though, individuals will struggle with them and even fight back against them, making an even bigger job for law enforcement.

As the country moves forward and globalization becomes stronger and more important, both federal homeland security personnel and local law enforcement realize that they are sometimes fighting a losing battle against those who are trying to overtake the country and cause harm to its citizens. There are cyber attacks and people with bombs, and the American public really has no idea of the number of threats they face on a daily basis. Most of these threats are averted, and the vast majority of them do not even make the news. With that in mind, it is important to understand how laws like the Patriot Act affect the overall Rule of Law, and how this relates to how homeland security and local law enforcement officers do their jobs each and every day.

The Patriot Act

Overall, the Patriot Act is a relatively new development. President Bush signed it into law in 2001 after the terrorist attack wreaked so much havoc on the nation and caused so much fear to the American people (Wong, 2006). Despite the fact that it is still new in the sense of many laws and regulations, it is a piece of legislation that individuals in law enforcement and other government agencies must pay close attention to. Some of the regulations created by the Act seem to have little to do with actual law enforcement, but others are very clear and direct when it comes to what they are related to. For example, many states are now much more careful who they issue drivers licenses to, and that is part of the Patriot Act. States ask for more identification than they used to when it comes to getting a drivers license or ID card, and they can require proof of any name changes or other issues that people face throughout their lives (USA, 2001; Wong, 2006). Even if a person was married 50 years ago, the marriage license must be produced in some states if the person's current name does not match the name on his or her birth certificate (Wong, 2006).

That might seem excessive and extreme, but it is really not too much to ask when it comes to keeping the country safe and secure. Other states require a person to provide proof of his or her address through electric bills or other documents, in order to make sure the person is in the area legally and not just trying to get a driver's license or ID card "on the sly" (Wong, 2006). While not all states are highly particular about these kinds of issues, it is possible that a state that is more lax on security issues under the Patriot Act could be at a disadvantage when it comes to keeping its citizens safe. This could come from a lack of information that is properly collected from citizens, or simply from the idea that the rules and procedures are not strong enough to protect citizens and "weed out" the people who are trying to game the system in some way or get documentation illegally.

The Rule of Law on the Local Level

The rule of law is a legal maxim. It has to do with applying legal principles that are already known in an effort to create and manage decisions made by the government (Craig, 1997; Goldsworthy, 2001). However, the rule of law is also something that is very elusive and that cannot be "pinned down" easily. Because it is more of a notion and not an actual "law," there are different ways to define it. In the United States, the President and members of Congress, as well as all of the Supreme Court Justices, take a pledge to uphold the U.S. Constitution before anything else (Lieberman, 2005; Tamanaha, 2004). This shows the rule of law (the Constitution) to be superior, and above any laws that a particular leader would make or create. Even with that being the case, though, there is a large degree of discretion within the federal government (Lieberman, 2005). Scholars often debate the Constitution and whether it is part of a particular rule of law or whether it is misusing or misinterpreting that rule in any way. The discussion on this is ongoing.

Everything that is part of the rule of law filters down from the federal level, all the way down to the local level (Goldsworthy, 2001). At the local level, leaders are still not able to make their own rules and regulations. They can try to do so, of course, but these issues are often "shot down" because they conflict with federal laws and regulations that are based upon the Constitution. For those who are interested in making changes at their local level, there are many issues that have to be faced and there is always the possibility of having all of their hard work destroyed or overturned even if they pass new laws, simply because there is an alleged Constitutional conflict that may have surfaced.

The Effect on Law Enforcement

Both the Patriot Act and the rule of law had (and still have) an effect on law enforcement. This is true at the federal level, and trickles down all the way to state, county, and city officers who patrol the streets each day. The Patriot Act has raised the suspicion level of many people in the United States, and law enforcement officers are not an exception to that (Tamanaha, 2004). While officers always know that they can be dealing with unsavory people and walking into danger, the events of September 11, 2001 proved that there may be more danger than was first anticipated. When police officers approach people, they do not know who those people are or whether they are guilty of something or not in most cases. They may suspect that there is a problem, but they do not always know the real issue and/or the reasons behind that issue. They have the duty to make sure the citizens of their community are safe and protected, and that can be harder to do based on some of the regulations they must follow.

Even though the Patriot Act was designed to protect people from terrorism in the United States, it also required changes to procedures throughout various law enforcement agencies (Goldsworthy, 2001; Lieberman, 2005). Additionally, the rule of law is important because every person that is in law enforcement must be aware of the proper laws and procedures…

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