Nadine Strossen

WALLA WALLA — In Nadine Strossen’s William O. Douglas Lecture Thursday at Whitman College, the legacy of Douglas ’20 was roundly celebrated and the record of the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 was roundly assailed.

In his introduction of Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1992, Tim Kaufman-Osborn, interim dean of the faculty, called Douglas “Whitman’s most prestigious alumnus.” In Strossen’s lecture on “Abuse of Power: The Assault on Civil Liberties after 9/11,” the first person she cited in making her case was Douglas, the Whitman honors graduate and U.S. Supreme Court justice for 36 years.

“At least someone on the court was voicing the civil liberties approach to constitutional issues,” Strossen said.

A capacity crowd at Maxey Auditorium heard Strossen spell out “the civil liberties crisis in America" in the wake of the World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings of Sept. 11, 2001. Some in the audience sat in the aisles. Others stood at the back of the auditorium. Many gave Strossen a standing ovation after her impassioned, nonpartisan speech.

Strossen noted that even the Cato Institute, the Washington, D.C. think tank closely aligned with prominent conservatives, recently issued a report that severely criticized the Bush administration’s abuse of executive power.

She quoted from the institute’s report: “A ceaseless push for power unchecked by either the court or Congress. In short, a disdain for constitutional limits. That pattern should disturb people across the political spectrum.”

Strossen maintained that national security and freedom “are not antithetical goals,” and underscored the nonpartisan sources of evidence of the administration’s abuse of power. She also dispelled “the many myths” created by the government to expand its authority and evade judicial review.  

It is a myth, she maintained, that prior to 9/11, the government lacked adequate power to detain terrorist suspects. It was not the government’s lack of information on terrorists but rather its failure to analyze and act on the information it possessed that led to the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, she said.

Strossen borrowed a headline from The Onion to make a point about the renewed Patriot Act. “Revised Patriot Act Will Make It Illegal to Read Original Patriot Act.”

Summing up the administration’s sweeping disregard for constitutional limits and laws, Strossen said, “William O. Douglas would have been appalled.”


Keith Raether
Office of Communications, Whitman College