Here at Irregular Times, we have been following the progress of legislation in the Senate that would renew George W. Bush’s very first law to attack the constitutional rights of Americans: The infamous Patriot Act. For a while, I had hope that the Senate would take this opportunity to reform the law, ending most, if not all, of its unconstitutional provisions that allow the government to snoop into the private affairs of American citizens. I had hope that the Democrats would support Russ Feingold’s bill, the Justice Act.
Unfortunately, it now seems that the Justice Act won’t even have the chance to make it out of committee. It has been superseded by another bill, S. 1692, the USA PATRIOT Act Sunset Extension Act, which fails to contain many of the protection of Americans’ constitutional rights that are part of the Justice Act.
Still, there was one last hope – that S. 1692 could be fixed in the Judiciary Committee’s markup process, which began in a special meeting yesterday. Senators had the chance to offer amendments to the bill, and so there was the chance for the protections of the Justice Act to reappear.
Sadly, this was not to be the case. Even worse, it was Democrats on the committee who made sure that protections of our constitutional rights would not be included.
The following is the membership of the Senate Judiciary Committee. To make its composition easy to understand, I’ve highlighted the names of the committee members, blue for Democrats, red for Republicans.
|Patrick J. Leahy
Russell D. Feingold
Charles E. Schumer
Richard J. Durbin
Benjamin L. Cardin
Edward E. Kaufman
Charles E. Grassley
Orrin G. Hatch
As you can see, the Democrats on the committee heavily outnumber the Republicans. The Democrats could get any legislation they wanted to out of committee, if they worked together. So, if the Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee wanted to meaningfully reform the Patriot Act, they could. Unfortunately, it seems that most of them do not wish to do so.
To understand what went on at yesterday’s meeting, let’s examine the Durbin amendment: (HEN09957) Senator Dick Durbin (listed as Richard up above) offered this amendment in order to end one of the most grave abuses of the Patriot Act: The creation of government spying programs, often in conjunction with the FISA Amendments Act, that grab and compile huge databases of personal information about the private activities of law abiding Americans.
Where you go, what you buy, what you read, who you talk to on the telephone, the medical procedures you’ve had, the organizations you belong to – all this information about you, and much more, can be taken by government spy agencies under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.
Senator Durbin’s amendment would have restricted the use of Section 215, so that it could be used only “to obtain foreign intelligence information not concerning a United States person or to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities”. If the Durbin amendment had been added to S. 1692 and passed into law, Section 215 spying could only be used to protect against spies working against the American government, terrorism, or as a part of spying against foreign targets that are not related to Americans.
Who could object to that? Eight Senate Democrats, that’s who. The Durbin amendment was defeated in a 4 to 15 vote. Eight Democratic Senators on the Judiciary committee voted against the Durbin amendment. Who were those senators?
That’s where things get tricky. You see, the person who reported the roll call vote in yesterday’s live webcast of the Senate Judiciary Committee was not speaking into a microphone. Here’s what’s clear:
Senator Durbin voted for it, and so did Senator Feingold, who spoke in favor of the amendment. Senators Leahy, Feinstein, Cardin, Whitehouse, Klobuchar, and Kaufman placed their names on an amendment that was to the opposite impact of the Durbin amendment, so it’s fair to assume that they voted against the Durbin amendment (actually, that’s not how it turned out – see update at the bottom of the article). That leaves us with four Democrats unaccounted for.
I could guess at which of those final four voted for and voted against, but I don’t want to guess. I want to know. So, as soon as the offices of the Senate open up this morning, I’ll be placing a telephone call to ask the aides of these four senators just how they voted on the Durbin amendment.
It’s important to know, because I don’t think that anyone who supports the cause of restoring the Constitution could vote for a senator who voted to kill the Durbin amendment. I’m particularly interested in this because one of the four senators in question is a senator of mine: Charles Schumer.
Update: Not many of the offices for the senators on the Judiciary Committee had information about how these senators voted yesterday, so I contacted the Senate Judiciary Committee myself, and asked them. They reported that the following four senators cast votes in favor of Dick Durbin’s amendment: Feingold, Durbin, Cardin and Specter.
I had presumed that, because Senator Cardin had signed his name as a supporter of an amendment that was contrary in purpose to Durbin’s amendment, Cardin had voted against Durbin’s amendment. That just goes to show you that things can be more complicated than one would expect when it comes to politics, especially when legislative details are involved.
The following lists then, show the definitive roll call of which Democrats voted for the Durbin amendment, and which voted against:
The four Democrats on the committee who voted to protect Americans from unreasonable government searches into private databases containing information about our personal lives deserve our thanks. The eight Democrats who voted against the amendment, on the other hand, voted to extend George W. Bush’s attacks against our constitutional rights. They deserve the strong opposition of every American who believes in the value of the Bill of Rights.