On May 4 2011, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy made one final check with President Barack Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder to make sure that S. 193, a bill considered by civil libertarians to be a meager improvement of the Patriot Act with imperfect reforms, was to the Obama administration’s liking.
S. 193 was a weak bill, introducing fewer reforms to the Patriot Act than Senator Leahy’s Justice Act of the 111th Congress. The Justice Act was a further weakening of Patriot Act reform compared to the measure proposed by Senators Russ Feingold and Richard Durbin in the Judiciary Committee. As time passed, proposed reforms to the Patriot Act got weaker and weaker. President Obama’s Democratic Party loyalists in the Judiciary Committee closed ranks with authoritarian Republican senators to vote down Feingold’s and Durbin’s reforms. Then to reward Senator Patrick Leahy for presenting a compromised bill with imperfect reforms, they slapped him upside the head: the same coalition voted away the reforms of the Justice Act and passed a straight reauthorization of the Patriot Act with no reforms in February 2010. They promised to tackle reform in the next year, and Senator Patrick Leahy doggedly went to work to write a further compromised bill with even fewer reforms. Attorney General Eric Holder patted Leahy on the head for creating a compromise the White House said it could live with:
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy: As you know, this committee favorably reported S. 193, the USA Patriot Act Sunset Extension Act, with a bipartisan vote. You previously said that you feel it strikes an appropriate balance and does not pose operational concerns for the department. Would you agree that this bill is a careful product of negotiations between the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Committee and this committee?
Attorney General Eric Holder: Yes, I would agree, and as I indicated in my opening statement, I think it is really critical that bill become law as quickly as possible. We don’t want to have the uncertainty over the recent past where we’ve had to come back for extensions of the Patriot Act that do not last long enough. We look for a reauthorization for a substantial enough period in order to provide certainty and predictability for the people who will have to enforce those very important provisions of the act.
Leahy: Would three years be considered substantial?
Holder: Uh, three years to me sounds substantial. I’m interested in getting, again…
Leahy: A lot better than three months.
Holder: A lot better than three months. And I’m also trying to get to 60 I guess, in this body and I guess 217, 218, whatever it is in the other body, so whatever we can get you to get to a substantial period would be appreciated.
Leahy: Thank you.
What a lovely exchange. In return for stuffing his concerns about violations of the Constitution and watering down the watered down version of already watered-down Patriot Act reforms, what fabulous door prize does the Democratic Party and the White House have waiting for Senator Patrick Leahy?
That’s what you get for compromising liberty, Senator Leahy. In the end, you get nothing at all.