On March 8, 2012, with no publicity or fanfare, Obama signed into law a bill with a deceptively innocuous and arboreous name, H.R. 347: the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.
Passed by a bipartisan majority of both houses in Congress, the bill was sponsored by two Florida Congressmen: Thomas Rooney (R) and Ted Deutch (D).
In the video below, Judge Andrew Napolitano says that H.R. 347 makes political protest a felony, by giving the Secret Service sweeping powers to arrest and charge citizens with a felony for exercising their Constitutional right to free speech.
Alerted by a reader to this video, I went looking for more information.
GovTrack.us describes the purpose of the new law as: “To correct and simplify the drafting of section 1752 (relating to restricted buildings or grounds) of title 18, United States Code.”
The following summary of H.R. 347 was written by the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, which serves Congress:
Here’s the full text of H.R. 347:
One Hundred Twelfth Congress of the United States of America
AT THE SECOND SESSION
Begun and held at the City of Washington on Tuesday, the third day of January, two thousand and twelve
To correct and simplify the drafting of section 1752 (relating to restricted buildings or grounds) of title 18, United States Code.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the ‘Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011’.
SEC. 2. RESTRICTED BUILDING OR GROUNDS.
Section 1752 of title 18, United States Code, is amended to read as follows:
-‘Sec. 1752. Restricted building or grounds
‘(1) knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so;
‘(2) knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions;
‘(3) knowingly, and with the intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds; or
‘(4) knowingly engages in any act of physical violence against any person or property in any restricted building or grounds; or attempts or conspires to do so, shall be punished as provided in subsection (b).
‘(b) The punishment for a violation of subsection (a) is–
‘(1) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than 10 years, or both, if—
‘(A) the person, during and in relation to the offense, uses or carries a deadly or dangerous weapon or firearm; or
‘(B) the offense results in significant bodily injury as defined by section 2118(e)(3); and
‘(2) a fine under this title or imprisonment for not more than one year, or both, in any other case.
‘(c) In this section–
‘(1) the term ‘restricted buildings or grounds’ means any posted, cordoned off, or otherwise restricted area–
‘(A) of the White House or its grounds, or the Vice President’s official residence or its grounds;
‘(B) of a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting; or
‘(C) of a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance; and
‘(2) the term ‘other person protected by the Secret Service’ means any person whom the United States Secret Service is authorized to protect under section 3056 of this title or by Presidential memorandum, when such person has not declined such protection.’.
Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.
The key to H.R. 347, of course, is who gets to decide whether a place constitutes “restricted building or grounds.” Notice that, contrary what Judge Napolitano asserts, nowhere in the language of H.R. 347 does it say it’s the Secret Service who decides when and whether a political protest becomes a felony.
Here’s the ACLU’s analysis of H.R. 347:
H.R. 347 doesn’t create any new crimes, or directly apply to the Occupy protests. The bill slightly rewrites a short trespass law, originally passed in 1971 and amended a couple of times since, that covers areas subject to heightened Secret Service security measures.
These restricted areas include locations where individuals under Secret Service protection are temporarily located, and certain large special events like a presidential inauguration. They can also include large public events like the Super Bowl and the presidential nominating conventions (troublingly, the Department of Homeland Security has significant discretion in designating what qualifies as one of these special events).
The original statute, unchanged by H.R. 347, made certain conduct with respect to these restricted areas a crime, including simple trespass, actions in or near the restricted area that would “disrupt the orderly conduct of Government,” and blocking the entrance or exit to the restricted area.
H.R. 347 did make one noteworthy change, which may make it easier for the Secret Service to overuse or misuse the statute to arrest lawful protesters.
Without getting too much into the weeds, most crimes require the government to prove a certain state of mind. Under the original language of the law, you had to act “willfully and knowingly” when committing the crime. In short, you had to know your conduct was illegal. Under H.R. 347, you will simply need to act “knowingly,” which here would mean that you know you’re in a restricted area, but not necessarily that you’re committing a crime.
Any time the government lowers the intent requirement, it makes it easier for a prosecutor to prove her case, and it gives law enforcement more discretion when enforcing the law. […]
Also, while H.R. 347, on its own, is only of incremental importance, it could be misused as part of a larger move by the Secret Service and others to suppress lawful protest by relegating it to particular locations at a public event. These “free speech zones” are frequently used to target certain viewpoints or to keep protesters away from the cameras. Although H.R. 347 doesn’t directly address free speech zones, it is part of the set of laws that make this conduct possible, and should be seen in this context.
To conclude, Judge Napolitano distorted and exaggerated H.R. 347. It turns out the federal government had had free speech restrictions in “restricted buildings and grounds” even before H.R. 347. That being said, the new law is yet another nail driven into the coffin of our Constitutional liberties.
H/t my beloved friend Barbareno.