- Law Cases
(Feb. 3, 2013) — “The power of the law is that it keeps us from settling our differences with violence, unless of course the law becomes unjust itself and violence becomes the only way to restore freedom.” Ron Ewart
The American government is a contradiction. Like all governments, it aggressively seeks more power over the people, but as if it were shooting itself in the foot, it continues to put more laws on the books for citizens to protect themselves against the increase in that power. Now granted, it is difficult for the average citizen to avail him or herself of those laws that protect them from rising government tyranny; nevertheless, the laws are available for them to do so.
One such law is 42 USC 1983 (the protection of civil rights law), which protects citizens from governments acting under the color of law to deny a citizen his or her constitutional rights. A citizen can sue the government if the citizen believes that a law or laws deny them of those rights. However, such a lawsuit takes lots of money, lawyers and courts to prevail, and from the history of those cases, most citizens don’t prevail because the government also put a section into another law that protects government agents and employees from lawsuits. This law protecting government employees is called “qualified immunity.” (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualified_immunity)
But there is one law that citizens can use that doesn’t cost a lot of money and in some cases can actually only cost the price of a letter, envelope and a stamp. That law is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) under 5 USC S 552 wherein a citizen can make a request for specific documents from some agency of the federal government on an action taken, or monies spent by that agency. Here is the link to the FOIA law:
Here are a few things a person needs to know before requesting documents from a federal government agency under FOIA. It helps to know the letter format to use in making a request for documents and what the law allows and doesn’t allow. For example, the government agency does not have to provide documents that are covered under the attorney-client privilege and can redact such information. It also doesn’t have to provide documents that are exempt ”in the interest of national security.” And one more thing, what is being requested has to be in a document form. In other words, there has to be a “document” to copy. No document, no copy. Most agencies will charge you for the documents requested at a reasonable price for each document. However, in some cases, the documents requested may come with no charge if they meet the requirements of 5 USC S 552, (a)4(A)(iii) wherein it states:
“Documents shall be furnished without any charge or at a charge reduced below the fees established under clause (ii) if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”
This is a broad statement because who decides if the document or documents are “likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government?” The government, of course!
There are some teeth in the FOIA law because if the citizen believes that the government is withholding documents it should be providing, the citizen can go after the government in court to require that the documents be provided. Some citizens have received significant awards when a court decides that the government has not been forthcoming in providing the requested documents. One citizen we know received an award of well over $300,000 because a county government did not provide all of the requested documents.
At the state level, a different law is required in order to file a request for documents from local or state government. Most states have a law that might be named the “Public Disclosure Act” or something similar, wherein the state or local governments are required to provide documents pursuant to a citizen request.
What is interesting about government is it keeps a copy of almost everything. We have found that government even keeps copies of documents that incriminate them.
Why would a citizen want to request documents from government? Because the citizen has suspicions about what a government is doing and is looking for evidence within the “public” record to substantiate those suspicions. Since most government is operating suspiciously without anywhere near enough public scrutiny, the request for documents is a way to uncover those questionable operations.
To that end, we have filed two “Request for Documents”; one to the Washington State Department of Ecology and the second one to the U. S. Department of Homeland Security. First, we believe that the Department of Ecology is operating without legal authority to insert international law into state law regarding environmental issues. We have requested that they prove that authority by copies of a statute or statutes. Second, we want to get to the bottom of why the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a civilian agency, is purchasing huge quantities of hollow point ammunition (over a billion rounds) and fully automatic assault weapons (over 7 thousand). We are requesting documents indicating who approved the purchases, when the purchases were approved, why the purchases were necessary, who the purchases were for and how the purchases were financed.
Copies of our letters to both agencies can be found on our website at this link: http://www.narlo.org/foia.html. On that webpage are links to our two “Request for Document” letters we have sent to the respective government agencies in PDF format. To those interested in sending their own “Request for Document” letters to local, state or the federal government, these two letters will provide a sample of the format that could be used for their own request.
In any event, upon receipt of the responses from the government agencies to our requests, we will share what we learn with our reading audience and on our website.
Ladies and gentlemen, filing these requests takes a minimal effort. If thousands of people used these laws to learn what government is doing and quit relying on the news media to get their news, Americans could start holding government accountable by “feeding” this factual information to e-mail addresses, on-line publications, social media and the news media. It follows that with exposure comes better behavior. Governments are like little kids. They will do whatever they please as long as they can get away with it, and boy, have they been getting away with “murder” of the laws that hold them in check. If the laws won’t hold government in check, it is then left up to the people; that is, if the people even care.
We will continue to make these efforts to expose government and distribute that information through our articles. Since it is likely we will incur costs for our request for documents from the state and from the federal government, if you want to help with our effort, we would welcome your support HERE.
Ron Ewart, President
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF RURAL LANDOWNERS
P. O. Box 1031, Issaquah, WA 98027
425 837-5365 or 1 800 682-7848