Thursday, February 10, 2011

Libertarians and Civil Libertarians: An Update

What does it mean when Senator Rand Paul, the Tea Party adherent from Kentucky, makes more sense than any other Senator in Congress?  As quoted below, he provides a clear and impassioned explanation for his opposition to extending the Patriot Act.  Where are the Democrats?
Jefferson wrote that if we had a government of angels, we would need no Constitution to protect us. But men are not always angels, and I for one do not wish to unchain government from the bindings of the Constitution. If we do not protect the First Amendment we cannot protest the First or Second either. [...] I intend to oppose extending the expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act in the coming weeks. But more importantly, I want to spark a discussion of who we want to be as a people and as a nation. Are we a nation whose laws that are in place to protect the rights of the people? Or are we willing to give those rights up to more expeditiously capture criminals? [...]  I think it is about time we in Congress took a serious look at our obligations to stand up for the rights of those we are supposed to represent, rather than casting the politically easy votes.

Libertarians and Civil Libertarians   (2/9/11)

Protecting the safety of the American people is a solemn duty of the Congress; we must work tirelessly to prevent more tragedies like the devastating attacks of September 11th. We must prevent more children from losing their mothers, more wives from losing their husbands, and more firefighters from losing their brave and heroic colleagues. But the Congress will fulfill its duty only when it protects both the American people and the freedoms at the foundation of American society. So let us preserve our heritage of basic rights. Let us practice that liberty. And let us fight to maintain that freedom that we call America. --  Sen. Russ Feingold, 10/12/01
 Where is Russ Feingold when you need him?  The Wisconsin Democrat, who was defeated in the mid-term elections, was the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act in 2001.  Now some of the Act's most controversial provisions are due to expire unless extended by Congress.  These include, the so-called "library provisions," which as the ACLU summarizes: "allows a secret court to issue orders for anything deemed relevant to an investigation," including library records; the "roving wiretap provision that allows the government to get a wiretap order that doesn't specify the person or place to be tapped," to allow tapping when the alleged suspect changes phones or locations; and the "'lone wolf' provision, which permits intelligence wiretapping of people not connected to a terrorist group."  [Read more after break]

According to the L.A. Times, the White House has been working with congressional leaders to secure an extension through December 2013.  There are three competing bills in the Senate.  Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has pushed for some new oversight language to be included in any extension of the provisions.  The Justice Department has apparently agreed to enact these reforms voluntarily, although according to many civil rights groups, they don't nearly go far enough.  Another bill, authored by Sen. Feinstein (D-Cal), would secure an extension through 2013 without any reforms, as the White House prefers.  A third bill proposed by Sen. Grassley (R-Iowa) would permanently extend the Act.

One would expect the civil libertarians in the Democratic Party to be fighting hard to prevent the extension of these provisions unless stronger protections are added to prevent illegal spying on American citizens.  Amazingly, opposition to an extension is not coming primarily from Democrats but from the Tea Party-wing of the Republican Party, who oppose making the extensions permanent.  As reported in the Washington Post, "several tea party-aligned members of the new freshman class ha[ve] been expressing doubts about the measure."  The Los Angeles Times noted that the "tea-party inspired lawmakers" are "wary of the law's reach into private affairs."

This was evident from last night's vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, which sought to extend the Act without debate.  While a majority in the House voted in favor of a 9-month extension, the measure fell short of the 2/3 majority required pass it under expedited procedures.  The vote was 277-to-148 vote in favor of extension.  67 Democrats voted with 210 Republicans to back the measure, while 26 Republicans voted with 122 Democrats to oppose it.  Thus, 26 Republicans actually answered Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich's plea to Tea Party adherents who "came to Congress to defend the Constitution [to] join me in challenging the re-authorization."

When the Act's extension is brought up again in the House under majority rules it is likely to pass with the help of at least 67 House Democrats.  In the Democratic-controlled Senate, the only question appears to be whether the extension will be permanent or last for 2 years-and-9 months.  But what if the Tea Partiers in the Republican Party and the progressives in the Democratic Party could get together to push for real reform of the Patriot Act?  Now, that would be bipartisanship I could believe in.



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