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Constitution Day

An editorial by BASF president Nanci Clarence and BASF Board Member Jim Weixel


September 17 , 2007 -- This week, we celebrate the writing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787. For 220 years, our government and American society have been molded by a document that has been amended only 27 times. This consistency, unique among the world's governments, is a testament to the strength of our Constitution and our nation.

Americans have always taken a particular delight in debating what is or isn't constitutional. More often than not, the discussion revolves around our personal beliefs about government's role in our lives.

In that vein, The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) has recently undertaken a number of efforts to study timely constitutional issues and to recommend actions to defend our constitutional system of government.

Not surprisingly, privacy rights are most fiercely debated in our community. Justice Louis Brandeis of the Supreme Court once stated famously that the Constitution included "the right to be left alone." Today, this right of individual privacy is being restricted by an ever-growing array of government initiatives, ranging from the USA-PATRIOT Act and warrantless wiretapping on the national scale to local plans for the installation of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. Although security has been advanced as the basic reason for these measures, many Americans have questioned whether safety concerns truly justify these increased intrusions on personal privacy. Moreover, many recent national security measures have been constructed so as to avoid judicial oversight of governmental surveillance measures. This raises serious constitutional issues involving society's ability to protect itself against the abuse of executive power.

This month, BASF announced the formation of its Special Board Committee on Government and Privacy to study these various governmental security measures and advocate for the protection of personal privacy. Our first efforts will be directed at local concerns, such as reviewing San Francisco's installations of surveillance cameras in high-crime areas, and informing the public about privacy concerns implicated by the use of radio frequency identification (RFID) technology in keycards, electronic toll collectors, driver's licenses, and credit cards. We will take on issues of more widespread prominence, such as the "no-fly list" and the warrantless provision of telephone records to the FBI by telephone companies.

For 135 years, the members of The Bar Association of San Francisco have strived to preserve constitutional liberties and to advance public awareness of the workings of the Constitution. As another September 17 is celebrated, we hope you will take a moment to think of the importance of the U.S. Constitution to our heritage, and its continuing relevance in our lives today.

Nanci Clarence is the president of The Bar Association of San Francisco. Jim Weixel is a member of BASF's Board of Directors and heads its Special Board Committee on Government and Privacy. Both live and practice in San Francisco.

The Bar Association of San Francisco (BASF) is a nonprofit voluntary membership organization of over 8,000 attorneys, law students and legal professionals in the Bay Area. Founded in 1872, BASF is one of the largest and most dynamic metropolitan bar associations in the U.S., with a long and distinguished record of community action, public service and service to the legal profession.

Questions about media relations, BASF issues currently in the news, San Francisco Attorney magazine, marketing and communications:

Ann Murphy, Director of Communications & Public Relations
(415) 782-9000 x8792

For general communications inquiries:

Sayre Happich, Assistant Director of Communications & Public Relations
(415) 782-9000 x8104