Lee asks his readers to imagine that if Otis did not like the British writs of assistance
, what would he think of the FISA court today?
Writs of assistance were akin to general search warrants.
expiration of all extant writs of assistance in the spring of 1761.
First, it is a reminder that not so long ago even practices as seemingly mild (at least from today's perspective) as mail covers and subpoenas of bank records could so alarm an establishment judge that she would equate them with the writs of assistance
and general warrants that impelled the Founding generation to revolution.
Finally, there was the furor over writs of assistance
. By 1700, writs of assistance
were the predominate type of revenue search in Britain.
The concern over official discretion was similarly echoed with respect to writs of assistance
. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, British statutes gave customs officials virtually unlimited authority to search for and seize goods in violation of existing trade rules.
In 1761, after public resentment over snooping customs officials and their oppressive search tactics had reached the boiling point, a group of Boston merchants retained attorney James Otis to challenge the legality of the writs of assistance
.(55) The case was closely watched.
Rather than supervise these orders, Otis resigned his position and, in February 1761, argued in court against these "writs of assistance
." Since there were no legal grounds on which to oppose the writs, Otis eloquently insisted that they trampled on the people's liberty.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a Senate Tea Party Caucus co-founder, announced his opposition to Patriot Act renewal in a February 15 letter to his Senate colleagues because these two provisions (Library and John Doe) too closely resemble the Writs of Assistance
that the British crown issued against American colonists just prior to the American Revolution:
As such, the Protect America Act sends us back in the direction of the writs of assistance
(general search warrants) granted by British authorities under King George III.
What of Writs of Assistance
? Answer: Never was more need of them, I shall soon apply for one."
As Otis' able lieutenant, Adams was soon filling the local newspapers with information about threats to liberty on issues such as the Writs of Assistance
. Samuel became a regular contributor to the Boston Gazette, usually under Latinized pen names such as Vindex, Candidus, and Populus.