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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Panel to discuss constitutional privacy rights in a post-9/11 world

New Mexico State University will celebrate Citizenship Day and Constitution Week by hosting a panel discussion of constitutional privacy rights in today's world, five years after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

um will be held from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 21, in Gerald Thomas Hall, Room 194, the building's auditorium.

Jeff Brown, academic head of the Department of History, will moderate the discussion. Other panelists include history professor Jon Hunner, government professors Nancy Baker and Greg Butler, and criminal justice professor Larry Mays, who said that while there's a tradeoff between constitutional protections and freedom, he's "not sure we have a government that's necessarily efficient enough to really significantly impact our civil liberties."

"When people start raising a specter of what the federal government is capable of doing, I remind them that this is the same federal government that brought you Social Security and the Postal Service and neither one of those is a model of efficiency," Mays said.

He said people need to know what's in the Constitution for two reasons. Some people will work in the criminal justice system, so they will need to know the rules. Also, everyone who wants to be a good, well-informed citizen needs to know what's in this historic document.

"For example, if the police stop you and ask to search the trunk of your car, your answer should always be 'No,' because if they don't have probable cause or a warrant, they don't have the right to search your vehicle," Mays said. He added that Border Patrol checkpoints have a different set of rules because they are ports of entry, having authority that state and local law enforcement do not have.

Many people are also misinformed about the Fourth Amendment, Mays said, because they do not realize that search and seizure rules are applied differently, depending on the situation.

"It's not that the Constitution stops at the schoolhouse door, but the Supreme Court has given school authorities much broader authorization to search based on having a safe learning environment," he said.

Baker said it's important to know what's in the Constitution because many people hope or believe the government's political branches or the U.S. Supreme Court will take care of society's problems.

"The danger in that line of thinking is that the Constitution is the document that lays out the powers of government, including the checks on government power," Baker said. "When even well-intentioned people are in positions of power, they're tempted to push those limits as far as they can in order to achieve what they see as good public policy. We, the people, are responsible for checking that power and a democracy will only work if we are awake, aware, informed and active.

"We should be having dialogues on what the Constitution means, what guarantees there are for individual rights, and what limits there are on government powers," she said. "If we're going to be citizens in a democracy, we have the responsibility to know what's in the Constitution."

Brown, the panel's moderator, would like NMSU to offer a minor in constitutional studies, or at the very least, more classes dealing with constitutionally related issues.

"This should be done so these issues can be fought and discussed from a number of points of view by faculty and students," he said. "There is no one valid point of view; there are many valid points of view."

Also, the Honors College will show the movie "National Treasure" at 7 p.m., Sept. 18, in the Monagle Hall lobby. "Fun fact" sheets that include such information as failed constitutional amendments will be handed out.

Bob Nosbisch
Sept. 18, 2006