When I saw that the U.S. Senate had voted to table S. 1038, the legislation to extend the most extreme spying powers of the Patriot Act for four more years, I was confused. I thought that a majority of Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had coalesced in support of the legislation. Wouldn’t a motion to table the legislation prevent the Senate from taking a final vote on the bill?
Actually, as The Hill explains, the motion to table the legislation yesterday was actually part of a complicated maneuver to pass the bill in rapid fashion, without full consideration of amendments. Senate leader Harry Reid cast aside the form of S. 1038 that had several proposed amendments attached to it, and then took the body of S. 1038 and linked it to a message from the House of Representatives, to which the amendments were unconnected.
The Hill’s analysis focuses on one of those amendments, introduced by Senator Rand Paul, which would prevent the Patriot Act from being used to seize records of gun purchases in particular. That amendment to the bill is just one of many, however, which were blocked from consideration as a result of Reid’s twist of Senate rules.
These amendments sought to use the extension to reform the Patriot Act. One, by Senator Paul, would have required the government, when seeking a National Security Letter to perform searches and seizures, to go to a court established under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and a judge’s certification that probable cause sufficient to gain a warrant has been established. Another of Senator Paul’s amendments would have required a district court to issue the equivalent of a search warrant before the seizure of financial records could take place.
Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden of Colorado submitted amendments as well. One amendment would have required that “lone wolf” spying powers, to authorize electronic surveillance without the constitutionally required identification of a particular person or place to be searched, could only target agents of foreign powers. Another of their amendments would have required the government to specify, for roving wiretaps and electronic surveillance, the identity of the target or the location of the target of the surveillance.
Senator Bernard Sanders offered an amendment to S. 1038 protecting libraries and bookstores from having their records seized without a search warrant. Senator Patrick Leahy offered an amendment that would have required the government to establish procedures to destroy or return all evidence gathered through the Patriot Act that is determined not to be relevant to the investigation, rather than keeping the evidence and using the information for other purposes.
All these amendments, and the reforms that they proposed, were blocked by yesterday evening’s vote to table S. 1038. Those who voted “Yea” to this motion were voting to prevent efforts to improve the Patriot Act by reducing its unconstitutional search and seizure powers.
Those who voted “Nay” weren’t necessarily trying to block the Patriot Act extension from renewal. They were voting to at least give reforms for the Patriot Act a fair hearing.
Only 13 senators voted “Nay”. They were:
Senator Mark Begich, Senator Jeff Bingaman, Senator Maria Cantwell, Senator Dean Heller, Senator Mike Lee, Senator Jeff Merkley, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Bernard Sanders, Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Senator Jon Tester, Senator Mark Udall, Senator Tom Udall, Senator Ron Wyden
One of these senators, Jeff Merkley, rose to speak against Harry Reid’s move to squelch amendments to reform the Patriot Act. Merkley said,
“There is no question that every Member of this Chamber has an enormous sense of responsibility in the security of our Nation. In that sense, there is significant feeling on every person’s part that we need to enable our intelligence services, our military, to do the necessary work to protect our Nation.
But that does not mean we should avoid having a debate about whether the PATRIOT Act, as written today, without an amendment, rolls over the top of the fourth amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America.
We can have both personal privacy and a high standard, as set out in the fourth amendment, for the seizure of papers and security. Those two things are not at war with each other. We have had two centuries in this Nation of embracing the twins of personal privacy and security. We have made that work. We can continue to make it work.
I rise in protest about the process unfolding in the Senate in which amendments will not be presented and will not be debated. I rise to say the fourth amendment matters; that it sets a significant standard against unreasonable seizures and searches, and that the PATRIOT Act, as written, does not provide a clear implementation of the fourth amendment, a clear protection of the fourth amendment.”