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Bob Barr on Civil Liberties

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Bob Barr

Former U.S. Representative Bob Barr (R-GA), who served from 1995 to 2003, is the Libertarian Party's nominee for the 2008 presidential election. His nomination may highlight the degree to which the Republican Party has marginalized libertarians.

Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images.

ACLU Rating:

Bob Barr holds an abysmal 7% lifetime rating from the ACLU, based on his performance in Congress between 1995 and 2003. Despite his low overall rating, Barr has become an outspoken opponent of the Bush administration's post-9/11 civil liberties abuses. Shortly after he left office, he was hired by the ACLU to consult on privacy and surveillance issues.

Abortion and Reproductive Rights - Supports Overturning Roe v. Wade:

While in Congress, Barr consistently supported all legislation restricting abortion, and most legislation restricting birth control access. He opposes Roe v. Wade, and has argued that abortion should be banned nationwide.

Death Penalty and Other Criminal Justice Issues - Expansionist:

While in Congress, Barr voted to limit death penalty appeals. He has also favored the sentencing of juveniles as adults, and consistently voted against community courts and other rehabilitation-based approaches to crime. While in Congress, he also strongly opposed all drug decriminalization efforts. This included personally sponsoring a bill to prohibit the local DC government from considering medical marijuana, though he later regretted this legislation and has recently worked with the Marijuana Policy Project in an effort to repeal it.

The First Amendment - Opposes Campaign Finance Reform, Problematic Elsewhere:

Barr has long been a strong opponent of campaign finance reform, which he has argued to be unconstitutional. On the other hand, he voted for the Communications Decency Act and the Flag Desecration Amendment. He also has a problematic history on church-state issues, having personally written and sponsored a bill to ban Wiccan ceremonies on U.S. military bases.

Immigrants' Rights - Extremely Conservative:

In 2001, Barr co-sponsored a bill to strip citizenship from any infants born in the United States to undocumented immigrants, despite the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantee of citizenship to "{a}ll persons born and naturalized in the United States." His other votes on immigration-related issues have consistently favored a pro-border security, anti-immigration perspective.

Lesbian and Gay Rights - Opposes Both Gay Rights and Federal Marriage Amendment:

Barr is the author and principal sponsor of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, and he voted for a bill that would have banned joint same-sex adoption in Washington, DC. On the other hand, he opposes the Federal Marriage Amendment. "Make no mistake, I do not support gay marriages," he said in a 2003 interview. "But I also am a firm believer that the Constitution is no place for forcing social policies on states..."

Race and Equal Opportunity - Problematic:

Barr has consistently opposed affirmative action and minority contract programs, but his position on other civil rights issues is not yet clear. Barr came under fire for delivering the keynote address at the 1998 convention of the Council for Conservative Citizens, a white nationalist group, but later told a reporter that he actually had "no idea" what the organization stood for.

The Second Amendment - Strongly Supports Gun Rights:

Barr holds a lifetime A rating from the NRA, and has been elected to a third consecutive term on the National Rifle Association's Board of Directors.

War on Terror - Good Record:

While Barr did vote for the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001, he is author of the "sunset provisions" that would have let sections of the Act pertaining to surveillance expire after five years. He describes his decision to leave the Republican Party in 2004 as being primarily based on the Party's embrace of executive power, surveillance, torture, and other post-9/11 civil liberties abuses. He describes his candidacy primarily in terms of his position on these issues.

Tom's Take:

Barr is an enigma, and in many respects he still has not defined himself clearly as a national candidate. His legislative record, taken on its own, is that of a particularly outspoken member of the Religious Right who has been loyal to the Republican Party in every significant way. His current campaign platform, on the other hand, is grounded in a paleoconservative small-government conservatism reminiscent of Ron Paul--opposition to executive power, support for state power and local control, non-interventionist foreign policy, and, of course, low taxes.

Old-school Republicans who are suspicious of McCain's moderate record on immigration and campaign finance reform, but equally suspicious of the military interventionism and expansion of executive power brought on by the Bush administration, will probably find Barr to be a very appealing candidate. Others, including the many rank-and-file Libertarian Party members who favor drug decriminalization, are likely to find his congressional history difficult to forgive.
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