Bill Clinton’s Warrantless Searches

by Richard Poe
Monday, August 28, 2006

4:27 pm Eastern Time

Commentators at a leftwing forum calling itself have worked themselves into a lather over the ad copy for our new book The Shadow Party — in the process revealing some serious lapses in their recollection of Bill Clinton’s presidency. Responding to a reference in one of our ads to, “The Shadow Party’s plan to rewrite the US Constitution,” one poster bearing the moniker “will in chicago”, writes:

“As for the Constitution, I think you can argue that Bush has violated several key provisions — such as the need to have searches approved by a court warrant.”(1)

Our admiration for the constitutionalist zeal of “will in chicago” was somewhat dampened when a google search failed to reveal any evidence that he has ever commented upon the nationwide program of mass warrantless searches which William Jefferson Clinton implemented during his presidency.

President Clinton, it will be remembered, did not have the excuse of wartime security to justify his conversion of public housing projects into what would have been called “strategic hamlets” in Vietnam circa 1962. Clinton directed full-scale counterinsurgency operations against U.S. citizens during peace time, for no other reason than his belief in the principle of authoritarian government.

During the early ’90s, Bill Clinton called publicly for a nationwide program of warrantless gun sweeps in public housing projects. Certain cities had already implemented pilot programs, whereby police would cordon off a targeted project, then systematically enter and search every apartment for unlicensed weapons.

A federal judge struck down the program, citing its obvious violation of the Fourth Amendment (3), but not before President Clinton appeared on national television defending his theory of authoritarian governance. Speaking on an MTV broadcast of April 19, 1994, Clinton said:

“[W]hen we got organized as a country and we wrote a fairly radical Constitution with a radical Bill of Rights, giving a radical amount of individual freedom to Americans, it was assumed that the Americans who had that freedom would use it responsibly. …

“But it assumed that people would basically be raised in coherent families, in coherent communities, and they would work for the common good, as well as for the individual welfare.

“What’s happened in America today is, too many people live in areas where there’s no family structure, no community structure, and no work structure. And so there’s a lot of irresponsibility. When personal freedom’s being abused, you have to move to limit it. That’s what we did in the announcement I made last weekend on the public housing projects, about how we’re going to have weapon sweeps and more things like that to make people feel safer in their communities.”(4)

Let me repeat the crucial sentence for any readers who missed our former president’s point: “When personal freedom’s being abused, you have to move to limit it.” Thus spake Bill Clinton in 1994. Our nation was not at war. For Bill Clinton, this was business as usual. This was the brave new America of the future, as he envisioned it.

For more on the disdain which the Clinton White House showed toward constitutional liberties, see the 1997 Cato Institute report, “Dereliction of Duty: The Constitutional Record of President Clinton“.(5)

by Richard Poe
August 28, 2006 04:27 PM ET

Cross-posted from 08.28.06


1. “New Reichwing Book: `Shadow Party’“,, 8 August 2006

2. Chi Chi Sileo, Gun Sweeps Brush Off Civil Rights — Chicago, Illinois Police Raid of Homes in Housing Projects“, Insight on the News, 23 May 1994; Don Temy, “Chicago Project in Furor About Guns and the Law”, The New York Times, 8 April 1994, A12

3. Pratt v. Chicago Public Housing Authority, 848 F. Supp. 792 (N.D. Ill. 1994); Pratt v. Chicago Public Housing Authority, 155 F.R.D. 177 (Northern District of Illinois, 1994)

4. “Transcript of Remarks by President Clinton in MTV’s `Enough is Enough’ Forum on Crime,” US Newswire, 19 April 1994

5. Timothy Lynch, “Dereliction of Duty: The Constitutional Record of President Clinton“, Cato Institute, Cato Policy Analysis No. 271, 31 March 1997

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