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Defining Bills of Attainder

by Thomas M. Saunders
Bill Of Attainder Project

In 1986 I happened upon a phrase in the Constitution, in Article 1, Section 9, Paragraph 3, which stated, "No Bill Of Attainder or Ex-post Facto Law, shall be passed." I was reasonably secure I knew what an ex-post facto law was, but I had no idea what a bill of attainder was. I am a Certified Linguist, and the prospects that came about from finding out what a bill of attainder really is, have led me into 1997, as the director of a program which is associated with Libertarians and others called the Bill Of Attainder Project.

As I stated I am a Certified Linguist. Linguists write your encyclopedias, dictionaries, and different texts which define things. They do a lot more but one of the fundamental things they do is define things. Linguists are usually very pleasant, cerebral people who really enjoy studying the aspects of language. They are scientists, and do what scientists do - they measure things.

For the linguist as well as the scientist if they need to know if something is a yard long, it is put to the test of 36 inches, and three feet, and however many other measurement instruments and scales "is" as needed to safely establish the yard. Proving what a bill of attainder really is, was as simple as holding up a yardstick. The yardstick is a little different than the thirty-six inch kind, but very simple. It works along the lines of, "If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck".....that simple, you define the "thing" by describing its essential parts. The law does not do this. There is no complete applicable definition of bill of attainder in the law. Americans deserve to have "Bill Of Attainder" defined into the law, in a way that actually protects their rights, and will not let the legal community and the legislature use the law to plunder.

To establish what a bill of attainder really is requires a trip to the local public library. You saunter in and you start looking up bill of attainder, and attainder in every dictionary, and encyclopedia you can lay your hands on. I picked a very small library, and with good reason.* I'd still be at some of them heaping up definitions and descriptions to this day. All you need to establish a definition is enough sources of your target "thing" to give it a complete picture. It is simple comparative analysis of establishing the basic elements of which your target "thing" is composed. Line up your collection of definitions and sources to see what they have in common. What my collection of definitions told me a bill of attainder was: "A Bill Of Attainder" is a law, or legal device used to outlaw people, suspend their civil rights, confiscate their property, or put them to death, or punish them without a trial. Nothing anyone has sent me has changed any of the definition I have put forth.

I contend the original intent of the bill of attainder mandates were to prevent laws that punish without trial, suspend civil liberties, and confiscate property. The doctrine of "pains and penalties" is included as just as much a bill of attainder as any other part of the mandate. A punishment less than death without a trial is considered to be a bill of pains and paenalties. A bill of attainder is more than one thing and they are almost different things. This is why the elements of what a bill of attainder is, must be included in the law to understand the entirety of the phrase bill of attainder. The continuity of the Constitution has been weakened without this information included in the law. It is certain that the original intention of the Constitution was to protect people from the tyranny Americans had just suffered from the British Empire. Today's asset forfeiture is almost the exact tyranny as Americans fought against in the Revolutionary War, and almost all the other wars we have fought. Without bill of attainder defined in the law, the law can ignore the rights Americans are supposed to have. That is what has happened.

The definitions that exist in the law, the U.S.C. ( United States Code) are statements or precedents which are confusing, incomplete, and do not reflect all the rights the mandates were meant to insure. They come from single unrelated cases. They may have even served to detract from the rights the mandates were meant preserve because they only reflect portions of what a bill of attainder actually is. U.S. v. Brown (1965), U.S. v. Lovett (1946) , and re: Yung See Hee (1888) all qualify the doctrine of pains and penalties as punishment without trial, and inclusive as a bill of attainder. The only statement in the U.S.C. that reflects most of the original intention of the mandates is from Cummings v. Missouri (1867). It states, "A bill of attainder, is a legislative act which inflicts punishment without judicial trial and includes any legislative act which takes away the life, liberty or property of a particular named or easily ascertainable person or group of persons because the legislature thinks them guilty of conduct which deserves punishment."

The preservation of a group or individual's protection of life liberty and property have fallen by the wayside in American law. Any prosecutor that waves the case, Calero-Toledo in front a judge takes any property he wants, and in some cases without a trial. It has also been ruled in U.S. v Ursery, that it is not a violation of the Double Jeopardy Clause to pursue both criminal and civil punishment in cases arising from the same offense. Further, the Court has allowed the confiscation of property from "innocent owners" without due process.* So much for "any" legislative act, so much for "any" protection at all from the bill of attainder mandates. No matter what relevance the mandates had in our past without the protection from bills of attainder in our law we have been robbed of the civil rights the Constitution was meant to preserve.

It is not the purpose of the Bill Of Attainder Project to raise some long lost Phoenix out of the ashes of our judicial system. The fact is that "goose" has long been cooked. We need a new and fresh start to restore our rights. Bills of attainder need to be defined so the essential elements, and the rights they reflect, are understood by everyone. If the Court has to rule on a case which is suspect of plundering life, liberty, or property, the fact that the law is a bill of attainder, will not go unchallenged if the law is put in place so as to preserve our rights. The Court is a lost cause for establishing these rights, it must be done with legislation.

All of the mentioned properties in our definition of bill of attainder will stay the same if you pile on the research from all the libraries in the nation. The same goes if you want to pile case law on top of that. Pile up all the bill of attainder references you can get your hands on, from history, government and political science, start a class project, create a fire hazard. Your outcome of comparative analysis will be that outlawing, suspension of civil rights, confiscation of property, and punishment without a trial, are the primary elements of bills of attainder. The troubling thing about this discovery is that the current government denies Americans all the rights they are supposed to have to be protected from bills of attainder. We have a Supreme Court that believes it is perfectly all right to let the government plunder the life, liberty, or property of anyone alleged or (outlawed). The growing number of offenses used to take property, and suspend civil rights, numbers over 200 in the federal camp.

Experts are warning Americans that this country's asset forfeiture programs are starting to cause the same social stresses as seen in the days of the Inquisition.* This was never intended to happen in the United States, the government was never supposed to have the right to steal (confiscate) property, or suspend civil liberties. The Fifth Amendment clearly states, "No property shall be confiscated."

It is an absolute fact that the government has enforced the confiscation of property for over 200 years. It is an effect of the practice of outlawing that has prompted the government to enforce these bills of attainder. Some segments of American society have been dedicated to seeing to it that different ethnic groups, especially Native Americans, Irish, African Americans, and others have been suppressed, repressed, and oppressed. It has not always been within the public sympathy to see to it that there are enforced mechanisms in the law to make sure there is equality.

With a major part of the American population dedicated to inequality, and special interests, the advancement of the bill of attainder mandates were put on the sidelines and ignored. America may be evolved enough today to start demanding the rights they are entitled to have. They must understand what their rights are, and in this case what they were meant to be. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 may have made us equal only to the point that we can be equally plundered.

One of the specifics given in many sources about bills of attainder states that a bill of attainder can be administered by verdict. A verdict is rendered in a trial, so the relevance of trial does not negate an action as a bill of attainder. The Congress has no right to pass a bill of attainder; they do it anyway. The courts and police administer them. As long as the courts, congress, and the public condone the confiscation of property or the suspension of civil rights as a fit punishment, American civil liberties are lost. Americans do not realize they give up the essence of their power as a people by giving up their right to private property. That is what has happened and we are starting to see the drastic consequences.

All the provisions in the Constitution that were meant to preserve the right of private property over the right of the government to take property have been abused to the point that there is no protection for private property. The evidence that this was never meant to be is overwhelming. Starting with a quote from Samuel Adams, "Now what liberty is this when property can be taken without permission." Some case law exists that reflects this idea. Cases like, U.S. v Brown, U.S. v Lovett, and Nixon v. U.S., all state the government does not have the right to confiscate property. One can wonder if the opposition in the Nixon case had waved Calero-Toledo in front of the Judge, would President Nixon have lost his rights to private property? Why did "Tricky Dick" get his rights to private property, while the rest of us are plagued with a court and a justice system that can take whatever they have an inclination to? What is worse is how they can justify plundering our life, liberty, and property.

One of the biggest criticisms of the asset forfeiture plague is the use of "personification" to confiscate property. Personification is the idea that things or objects posses the free will and capacity to commit crimes. It is an idea deeply rooted in the practice of witchcraft, the occult, and devil worship. Objects are supposed to get that kind of power from the devil, or a curse. I find it appalling that the Christian community, for the most part, condones this practice by the courts of declaring "things" capable of the free will to commit crimes. I want to hear a car, boat, or house walk in, sit down on the witness stand and testify like "Mr. Ed" the horse, before I will concede that this practice is anything but an evil ploy to steal property. The idea that the American social fabric is suffering from the same social stress as caused in the Inquisition is no exaggeration. The courts are using some of the same terrorist tools as used by Inquisitioners. This was never meant to happen in America. The bill of attainder mandates were meant to keep the horrors of this kind of law from being practiced.

Americans must demand their right to be protected from laws that plunder our lives, liberty, and property. This can be accomplished by demanding that bills of attainder be defined to protect American civil liberties. It is time to define our rights so they cannot be ignored, or abused. Until the basic elements of what a bill of attainder is becomes defined in our law, the legislatures, the courts, and the police will continue to violate the American rights the Constitution was supposed to provide. Perhaps we as a people need to understand the warning given by James Madison when he stated, "Do not seperate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government."


  1. Article 1. Sec. (9), and (10), U.S. Constitution.
  2. U.S. Commission On Civil Rights CC#93-1-1037
  3. U.S. v. Brown, (1965) 85 S Ct.1707, U.S. 437 (see also) Communist Party of U.S. v. Subversive Activities Control Board (1961)
  4. U.S. v. Lovett (1946)
  5. re: Yung See Hee, (1888) 36 F. 437
  6. Cummings v. Missouri (1867) 71 U.S. 277, 323
  7. Calero-Toledo v. pearson Yaught, (1974) 416 U.S. L 2d 452
  8. Bennis v. Michigan (1996)
  9. F.E.A.R. Chronicles, Vol. 3, No.3, p. 11.
  10. Nixon v. U.S. (1992) 978 F. 2d 1269
For more information: The Bill Of Attainder Project, , P.O.Box 584, Colbert, OK 74733.

(Isaiah 33:22) For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our lawgiver, the Lord is our king; he will save us.

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