To applause and cheers from about a dozen people worried about the federal government overstepping its reach, El Paso County commissioners unanimously approved a largely symbolic but politically charged "Resolution to Preserve Habeas Corpus and Civil Liberties."
The resolution was drawn up by Commissioner Peggy Littleton in response to the National Defense Authorization Act, which Congress passed on Thursday. The act authorizes funding for military operations, but it also contains several sections mandating that people thought to have ties to al-Qaida who may be planning an attack in the U.S. be taken into military custody.
Littleton and the resolution's supporters believe the law opens the door for the federal government to detain Americans without due process as guaranteed under the Constitution. Although Congress revised the wording to exempt U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents, Littleton said Thursday that her resolution remains relevant.
"The language does look like it protects us," she said. "But we're being pre-emptive for what might happen in the future."
Before the commissioners voted, about a half dozen people lined up to support the resolution. Anthony Daniels, a veteran, likened the issue to the McCarthy hearings and the House Un-American Activities Committee, which used its power to destroy the lives of many U.S. citizens believed to have ties to the communist party.
"It was wrong then, and it's wrong now," Daniels said.
A portion of Littleton's resolution states that any laws, regulations or executive orders that go against the constitutional rights and civil liberties of county residents are "hereby declared to be invalid and shall not be recognized and are specifically rejected and shall be considered null and void and of no effect."
However, county attorney Bill Louis said it's primarily a political statement.
"It just means the board of County Commissioners is expressing a political view," he said. "It doesn't exempt anyone from the laws."
The resolution also notes that the Sheriff's Office agrees with the resolution and its goals, "and agrees to undertake all appropriate efforts to protect the constitutional rights of all citizens." No one from the sheriff's office spoke Thursday's meeting, but spokeswoman Lari Sevene said Wednesay that the sheriff's endorsement is more of a general statement.