THE EDITORS OF The New York Times and any other newspaper that printed the Pentagon Papers, anyone who has ever picketed a federal building to protest the Viet Nam War, and all those who have lent others novels with obscenities in them have something in common. They all would have been put in jail if Senate Bill One, a revision of the federal criminal code, now being debated on the Senate floor, were on the books.
While S-1 would imprison dissenters and others who exercise free speech, it would be freeing criminals. A clause in the bill that allows public servants to defend themselves in court on the claim that they were following orders from above would free all Watergate conspirators.
It is not coincidence that those involved in Watergate would be freed if the bill were passed. S-1 is a product of the Nixon administration. After President Johnson authorized a needed revision of the crime code in the 1960's, Attorney, Generals John P. Mitchell and Richard G. Kleindienst '41 re-wrote the bill, inserting repressive clauses. In the words of former Senator Sam J. Ervin, they produced a 735-page "hideous proposal" that would create a police state in America.
The bill undermines the rights guaranteed citizens under the First Amendment. It would establish heavy jail sentences for newpaper editors, speakers, demonstrators, or anyone else who discloses classified information.
Those who simply incite "imminent lawless conduct" would be imprisoned under S-1. That provision of the bill would cover anybody who speaks of revolution, out on the street or in a classroom.
Other provisions of the bill seem specifically aimed at Americans who protested the Viet Nam war. Some provisions would incarcerate anyone who physically interfered with federal government functions. The bill, if applied as broadly as it is vague, would make anyone who picketed a federal building, or protested marine recruiting on campus liable to prosecution and stiff-sentencing. One section of the bill even zeroes in on those who block public transit--which would make street marches a criminal offense.
The crime bill would reverse the current progressive trend in criminal sentencing. Besides making the death penalty mandatory for most of crimes including espionage, treason, and various categories of murder, the bill also calls for high maximum penalties giving judges greater discretion for criminal sentencing.
By making sentences indeterminate for felonies, the bill would allow judges to hand down sentences from anywhere between one year and life for some crimes. But more power to judges, who often make decisions based on criteria other than crime, such as race, poverty, or even appearance, is a step backward in criminal law.
Marijuana and obscenity laws would also change substantially if the bill is enacted. While some states are already beginning to decriminalize marijuana, S-1 would make first possession punishable by 30 days in prison and a $10,000 fine. Second offenses would bring six months in prison and a $10,000 fine. The changes in the obscenity laws could make publishing, buying, or even lending many best-selling books a federal crime.
Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.) an original supporter of the bill who withdrew out of public pressure, has said that with a few amendments S-1 could be workable. Spokesmen for the American Civil Liberties Union claim that only with 2600 amendments would the bill be palatable. S-1 is so packed with repressive measures that it should not even be debated on the senate floor. The bill should be scrapped immediately and a new crime commission established to draw up a just criminal code.