Later today, the U.S. Senate is expected to enter into a very brief debate followed by a vote to reauthorize the surveillance provisions of the USA Patriot Act, most likely for four years. If you’ve been following the issue of the Patriot Act, you’re aware that it permits a wide net of surveillance, searches and seizures to be carried out by the federal government without the probable cause warrants that are required under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It turns our government into a Big Brother, with those Big Brother powers often abused and almost always used for purposes other than catching terrorists. If you haven’t already, I encourage you to call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121, connect to the offices of your members of Congress, and ask them NOT to vote for Patriot Act reauthorization.
If you’re looking to watch and track Senate debate on the Patriot Act, head over to C-SPAN 2 for live video; debate should begin at about 3:00 PM Eastern Time.
While we’re waiting for that vote in the Senate, let’s turn our attention to the House of Representatives, specifically the House Judiciary Committee. On the morning of May 12, 2011, the House Judiciary Committee met to “mark up” H.R. 1800, also known as the FISA Sunsets Reauthorization Act of 2011. In comprehensible English, that means the Judiciary Committee voted on a series of amendments, amendments which would have added reforms to the Patriot Act. As the record shows, a majority on the House Judiciary Committee voted down all seven reform amendments, then voted to send H.R. 1800 on to the House floor.
The first amendment considered that day was offered by Rep. John Conyers of Michigan. If passed, Amendment 1 would have revoked the government agents’ Patriot Act power to seize lists of the books people are reading from libraries and bookstores, unless the government first obtains the probable cause warrant stipulated by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. John Conyers spoke to the Judiciary Committee to explain why he felt this amendment to be necessary:
Now, of all the changes, it seems to me that this amendment protects the most fundamental of American values and makes this, in some way, to me, the most important amendment in terms of changes that we have to consider: the right to be free from unreasonable government intrusion into our thought processes and how we feel and what we are thinking about. Now, once you start going over, crossing that line, I think that is the beginning of the unraveling of one of our most fundamental values.
Whatever the views of anyone here are about the merits of the PATRIOT Act, there should be, as unanimously as we can, an agreement that the government shouldn’t be seizing library or bookstore records to determine what citizens are reading or thinking. Freedom of thought is just simply too fundamental to our democracy, and I go back to the Supreme Court where Brandeis recognized the surpassing importance of the right to be left alone.
That is what this amendment is about, and what he said, “The most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men. The makers of our Constitution sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, in their thoughts, their emotions, and their sensations. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever means may be employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”
And so I think that we can, on both sides of the aisle, support a statement like this that is critical to the adoption of this amendment. In the past, opponents of this basic protection have argued that it would create a terrorist safe haven, whatever that means, and nothing can be less accurate. This amendment does not intrude upon sensitive surveillance into things like computer communications of terrorist suspects. That will not be interfered with if this amendment is adopted. Even if it occurs on library premises, instead it provides only a very narrow protection for reading habits and intellectual privacy. Furthermore, even the library and the bookstore records covered by this amendment are not immune from seizure in appropriate circumstances. In a real case of suspected terrorism, these records could be obtained through the regular criminal investigation process if the showing required by the regular criminal process can be made.
So, please, none of us should vote against protecting the intellectual liberty and freedom of thought that this amendment
protects, and I urge your support and I yield back my time.
Following Rep. Conyers’ remarks, the House Judiciary Committee voted down his amendment, with 10 votes in favor and 17 votes against.
Sitting on the House Judiciary Committee are 16 members of Congress with direct connections to the Tea Party movement — official endorsement in the 2010 campaign by Tea Party Express, official endorsement in the 2010 campaign by self-professed “Tea Party HQ” FreedomWorks, and/or membership in the Tea Party Caucus of the 112th Congress. The Tea Party members of the House Judiciary Committee are:
Rep. Sandy Adams (Republican-FL, District 24)…DC Phone: 202-225-2706
Rep. Steven Chabot (Republican-OH, District 1)…DC Phone: 202-225-2216
Rep. Jason Chaffetz (Republican-UT, District 3)…DC Phone: 202-225-7751
Rep. Howard Coble (Republican-NC, District 6)…DC Phone: 202-225-3065
Rep. Trent Franks (Republican-AZ, District 2)…DC Phone: 202-225-4576
Rep. Elton Gallegly (Republican-CA, District 24)…DC Phone: 202-225-5811
Rep. Tim Griffin (Republican-AR, District 2)…DC Phone: 202-225-2506
Rep. Louis Gohmert (Republican-TX, District 1)…DC Phone: 202-225-3035
Rep. Steve King (Republican-IA, District 5)…DC Phone: 202-225-4426
Rep. Daniel Lungren (Republican-CA, District 3)…DC Phone: 202-225-5716
Rep. Thomas Marino (Republican-PA, District 10)…DC Phone: 202-225-3731
Rep. Mike Pence (Republican-IN, District 6)…DC Phone: 202-225-3021
Rep. Ted Poe (Republican-TX, District 2)…DC Phone: 202-225-6565
Rep. Ben Quayle (Republican-AZ, District 3)…DC Phone: 202-225-3361
Rep. Dennis Ross (Republican-FL, District 12)…DC Phone: 202-225-1252
Rep. Lamar Smith (Republican-TX, District 21)…DC Phone: 202-225-4236
Dennis Ross and Louis “Louie” Gohmert were late to the committee meeting and therefore weren’t able to cast votes. Records show that every single Tea Party member of the House Judiciary Committee that was there cast a vote against John Conyers’ amendment. Every single Tea Party member who was there acted to continue the government’s practice of seizing people’s reading lists from library and bookstores without probable cause warrants.
Outside Congress, the Tea Party movement spends a fair amount of time exclaiming the importance of limited government, embracing the Constitution, and accusing government of taking away its freedoms. In some of these regards, the Tea Party movement has a point. Inside Congress, Tea Party members started off the 112th Congress with a public recitation of the United States Constitution, including the full text of the Fourth Amendment:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Members of the Tea Party movement who sincerely believe in the preservation of American freedoms, who sincerely respect the Constitution, and who expected Tea Party affiliated members of Congress to act defend constitutional freedom deserve to know what their members of Congress have actually done in their name. Tea Party politicians’ freedom talk does not match their Big Brother action.
It should also be noted that every member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted FOR John Conyers’ amendment to restore constitutional standards to the Patriot Act… is a Democrat. Not one committee Democrat voted to preserve arbitrary government power. Members of the Tea Party who sincerely respect the Constitution may want to start looking outside the Republican party for politicians they can support.