After asking Congress for a year to reform the Patriot Act, John Conyers did no such thing, even though as Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that was his job more than anybody else’s in the House of Representatives. He just frittered away the rest of his term, doing no work at all on any legislation to defend civil liberties in the face of the Bush and Obama Homeland Security onslaught. He held one hearing in which people said nice things about freedom, then he let it drop.
Now, thanks to the congressional elections of 2010, John Conyers has lost his seat as Judiciary Chair. That seat of power is now held by Lamar Smith, one of the 5 most conservative members of the 111th Congress. Lamar Smith has zero interest in preserving Americans’ civil liberties, and as Judiciary Chair he has the capacity to prevent the consideration of any bills to defend civil liberties.
So now, now when unlike last year it doesn’t actually matter what legislation John Conyers introduces, now John Conyers has decided to introduce a bill, H.R. 109. Conyers made remarks upon its introduction yesterday:
Mr. Speaker, today I introduce a bill that will create a national commission to examine fundamental questions regarding national security, civil liberties, and the rule of law. These include: What actions are permitted in the name of national security? What rights and liberties should a free people demand? Can the so-called Imperial Presidency be controlled?
These questions take on greater significance every year. The power of the Presidency seems to grow and grow under both parties, and the ability of our democratic institutions to constrain it seems more and more uncertain.
In the current political atmosphere, I believe that an expert commission with appointments made by both branches and individuals of both parties would be uniquely positioned to evaluate the issues and propose steps that the Congress can take to enhance both our liberty and our security for generations to come.
Mercy! Someone pick me up off the floor; John Conyers wants to establish a commission to study the matter. Unless you’ve been in a coma for the past ten years, you should be familiar the state of civil liberties in the United States. We’ve been rhetorically asking these sorts of questions for years, and as a matter of fact John Conyers actually already commissioned a study and wrote a report on the matter before he decided to sit on his hands and not use his chairmanship to do anything about it. The Constitution has set out “what actions are permitted in the name of national security” and “what rights and liberties a free people should demand.” And there’s already a commission with subpoena powers and a mandate to make twice-yearly reports to Congress and the public on the subject: it’s called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and after two years of refusing to fill it with actual members President Barack Obama has finally bothered to nominate two — and only two — people to lead it. Nominations to finish filling up the board haven’t been forthcoming. Maybe we’ll get them in another two years, just before Sarah Palin takes office and the whole charade begins again.
The point of power is to use it to accomplish something. You had the power for four years, The Honorable John Conyers, but you never used it. So pardon me if I’m underwhelmed by your late and futile call for another commission. But I tell you what. Why don’t you take a trip up Pennsylvania Avenue and convince your party leader to fill the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, just like the law said he should have done two years ago. Then maybe I’ll clap for you a little bit.