A Disturbing Historical Parallel: The Patriot Act and the Star Chamber

Lynne Kiesling

While I’m delving into history, consider this week’s revelation that a secret panel drawn from the White House National Security Council can put the names of any American on a watch list and “kill list” — and that action is entirely secret.

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions, according to officials.

There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council, several current and former officials said. Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

If you know British constitutional history, this secret panel sounds disturbingly similar to the Star Chamber court in Britain:

Finding its support from the king’s prerogative (sovereign power and privileges) and not bound by the common law, Star Chamber’s procedures gave it considerable advantages over the ordinary courts. It was less bound by rigid form; it did not depend upon juries either for indictment or for verdict; it could act upon the petition of an individual complainant or upon information received; it could put an accused person on oath to answer the petitioner’s bill and reply to detailed questions. On the other hand, its methods lacked the safeguards that common-law procedures provided for the liberty of the subject. Parliaments in the 14th and 15th centuries, while recognizing the occasional need for and usefulness of those methods, attempted to limit their use to causes beyond the scope or power of the ordinary court.

It was during the chancellorship of Thomas Wolsey (1515–29) that the judicial activity of Star Chamber grew with greatest rapidity. In addition to prosecuting riot and such crimes, Wolsey used the court with increased vigour against perjury, slander, forgery, fraud, offenses against legislation and the king’s proclamations, and any action that could be considered a breach of the peace. Wolsey also encouraged suitors to appeal to it in the first instance, not after they had failed to find an efficient remedy in the ordinary courts.

The Star Chamber played a crucial role in facilitating the corruption and power-mongering of Henry VIII’s reign, but attracted more opposition in the 17th century when it enabled Charles I’s reign to execute religious dissenters. It  was finally eliminated in the mid-17th century.

3 thoughts on “A Disturbing Historical Parallel: The Patriot Act and the Star Chamber

  1. I enjoyed that movie too. I remember the theme as the fallibility human decision makers.

  2. The titular movie (and the thing itself) is the worst treatment available among many, many to draw from; and I include some necessarily flip short training media for Federal Agencies (preventing recursion hazards, not holding up stocks of emergency inhalers too long, closing docks that are major ports, managing custody of conferences of 2.5 million attendees, etc.) There are good ones! Of course Michael Douglas’s was about a Regional Court’s (Detroit?!) missed take at avoiding self-reference…while using customary court recorders, rather than Britain before 1641 (which had bonded persons to concern who it suppressed, and a stellar record after Charles I and his dog got theirs.) So…parallel how? Is there a convergence of JD Law Graduates and the NSS at all?

    The National Security Council (er…NSS now?) per se takes a much freer hand in deciding fate (No Twitter about Vegas! Don’t Cry For Me, Justin Bieber! Nutmeg -not- a menu topping for McCoffee!) than the Patriot Act (secrecy theater with watchlist RCS) with or Presidential Powers like removing citizenship (and maybe waging war on a person (Bill O’Reilly (Escaping a 50% marginal tax rate? I think not.) and Snooki (Party too much to the people than society,) say) if they somehow leave our allies, if Congress picks up the lede, and it’s Monday.) This is Required in multinational accords of Executive Bodies. No consensus thought Ghadaffi would ever pull that aggro…

    Did we really not revoke citizenship (surely as parcel with the listing) before detonating a drone on a citizen raging (with martyrs) at the US and consumer air travel from abroad? I must check out Hallmark’s ‘You Care About The Wrong Things’ lines. Is that line EMEA-only or North-America, anyhow?

    The elderberry wine FDA incident (labels deadpan curing cancer; eligible stock -moved- into Custody rather than Estoppal) seems to have been the showdown level down…

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