It carries an innocuous name: The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. It sailed through both the House (388-3) and the Senate (with “unanimous consent”). The president signed it earlier this month.
Supporters say the law simply transfers from local officials to the federal government the authority to prosecute White House trespassers. But critics worry the measure goes much further, giving the Secret Service the power to quash legitimate dissent.
The bill targets not just trespassers — who are obviously committing an illegal act — but anyone who “knowingly, and with the 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.”
In addition to the White House and the vice president’s official residence, those restricted areas include any “building or grounds where the president, or other persons protected by the Secret Service, is or will be temporarily visiting.”
To say this language is overly broad is an understatement. It is not a sign of paranoia to argue that this measure could be used against any number of groups or individuals exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The bill allows the Secret Service “to designate any place they wish as a place where free speech, association and petition of the government are prohibited,” argues Andrew Napolitano, a former judge turned TV legal analyst.
The fact that only three members of Congress opposed this measure — at a time when the two parties can barely agree that the sun will rise tomorrow — highlights how members of the political “establishment love power, fear dissent and hate inconvenience,” Mr. Napolitano goes on.
Prosecuting those who illegally infiltrate the White House grounds? Fine. But don’t trample the Bill of Rights in the process. Congress should revisit this legislation.