The amendment had a familiar ring to it, the stirring words of the founding fathers. But that didn't stop the GOP-controlled House from voting to reject the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
The amendment, part of the Bill of Rights, guarantees Americans protection against unreasonable search and seizure.During Tuesday's debate on a Republican proposal to allow unlawfully seized evidence to be used more often in court, lawmakers defeated an effort by Rep. Melvin Watt, D-N.C., to substitute the Fourth Amendment for the proposal. The vote, generally along party lines, was 303-121.
Democratic lawmakers took the floor in quick succession to accuse the Republicans of jettisoning the Constitution.
"We were there when our doors were kicked down," said Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., one of several black lawmakers to speak harshly of the GOP proposal. "We were there when people were sold into slavery. . . . This is not about some game we're playing. This is about protection of human and individual rights for the people."
But Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., said the Fourth Amendment substitute would gut his bill. "The public is tired of (criminals) getting off on technicalities," he said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, asked Wednesday about the episode, said he didn't view the House's action as having voted against the Fourth Amendment and called the Democrats' move "a deliberate political amendment."
"The Constitution applies to every bill passed. The Supreme Court will enforce that," Gingrich told reporters. "My guess is that that was regarded as a nuisance, I mean, as a deliberate political amendment. . . . You don't have to vote to apply the Constitution to every bill. By definition, the Constitution restricts and constrains every bill, and the Supreme Court enforces that."
The tension grew when Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Mass., read aloud Chapter 13 of the book of Revelation, which describes an evil beast with "seven heads and 10 horns" rising from the sea. The mark, or the number, of the beast was 666, Moakley intoned - the same number as the Republican bill, HR 666.
"And I say, this is the beast we're dealing with today," Moakley said.
The measure, part of the GOP's "Contract With America" agenda, would expand the "good faith" exception to a longstanding rule banning admission of unlawfully seized evidence in criminal trials.
The rule is designed to deter police misconduct and protect people from unreasonable search and seizure.
The exception allows unlawfully seized evidence to be considered in court as long as the mistakes made by police officers in seizing it were made in good faith. The GOP bill would expand that to situations in which police gathered evidence without a search warrant but had an "objectively reasonable belief" they were acting properly.
The Fourth Amendment states:
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."