This penchant of federal officials to attempt or actually suspend the Bill of Rights dates from the first decade of the American republic to the present day. Now, Attorney General Bill Barr is seeking to revive the use of at least some of those past tools of political repression in the name of combatting a microscopic, and all‐to‐frequently lethal virus.
It was the authoritarian Federalists who pushed the Alien and Sedition Acts through the Congress in 1798. President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus at the outbreak of the Civil War. President Wilson and a pliant Congress gave the country the Espionage Act, Trading with the Enemy Act, a revived Sedition Act and the Food and Fuel Control Act (which allowed federal agents to enter people’s homes to see if they were “hoarding” flour, sugar or other daily staples). President Franklin Delano Roosevelt ordered the internment of over 100,000 innocent Japanese Americans after the Pearl Harbor attacks—a scurrilous unconstitutional act upheld by the Supreme Court at the time and only repudiated by the current Supreme Court less than two years ago. During the Cold War, the House Committee on Un‐American Activities and its Senate counterpart, the Internal Security Subcommittee, spent decades and taxpayer dollars in public anti‐communist witch hunts that destroyed the reputations and lives of thousands of Americans.