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A Long Week and a Long Way to Go

Lisa Graves,
Legislative Counsel
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July 28, 2005

Hello! I’m sorry it’s been a few days since my last post! I think between Monday of last week and the votes on the House floor and in the Senate Judiciary Committee last Thursday, I may have slept only about 12 hours! Not that I’ve been sleeping since then–there has been much to do in the aftermath of those votes and much remains to be done!

As you know, the House approved a bill late last Thursday night to reauthorize the Patriot Act and make all but two provisions a permanent part of our law. The ACLU strongly opposes that bill, which does not make meaningful reforms and would in some ways make the Patriot Act worse.

The good news is that through your efforts the balance of support for reform shifted in the right direction. Nearly 200% more Members of Congress voted against HR 3199 last week than voted against the original Patriot Act in the frantic days after the 9/11 attacks. The shift is absolutely due to the efforts of everyday Americans speaking up and speaking out on the need to restore the checks and balances to the laws that preserve our liberty and privacy. So, let me say a big THANK YOU!

As I wrote last time, the process in the House was terribly flawed:

  • from the apparent decision in the Judiciary Committee to try to force party-line votes against Democratic amendments (despite previous statements of support from some Republican members) …
  • to the party-line votes in the House Rules Committee that denied votes on key reforms to Section 215 (known as the library records provision, but allowing federal agents to get a secret court order for “any tangible thing” without showing any facts to connect the records sought to an agent of a foreign power like al Qaeda) …
  • to the final floor vote, in which only the most stalwart and courageous libertarian Republicans crossed the aisle to vote against reauthorizing the Patriot Act’s expiring provisions without any real reforms.

The fact that laws about chewing tobacco smuggling got an up/down vote in the full House, but the Sanders amendment on 215 did not, among others, starkly demonstrates how flawed the political process was in the “people’s house.” Protecting our security and our freedom should not be a partisan football. Unfortunately, some are trying to make it so. Our allies on the right and left issued strong statements criticizing the House bill.

This bipartisan support shows how far we have come in building a network of people from across the political spectrum, who are joining you as you stand strong for our Fourth and First Amendment rights. In fact, the forces for reform almost won a motion to recommit the House bill to the Committee to add new sunsets. The vote was 210 to 218, and it showed how strong the push for Patriot Act reform really is. Watching it on C-SPAN, it looked for quite a long moment like we might win and stop the flawed bill from getting a vote that night. Many Republicans and Democrats joined the one Independent in Congress to oppose making these powers permanent, and to reject the idea that the House bill did enough by creating new sunset dates for only two provisions (a sunset date that’s decade away, that skips the next President and that will make it more difficult to get information about how these powers are being used in the current administration).

As you know, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill that takes some steps forward on Patriot reforms but still fails to correct some of the key flaws–and a unanimous vote in that Committee really says something. ACLU is not endorsing that bill but does commend the bipartisan approach taken by the Senators, especially in contrast to the House bill. The next stage is a vote on the Senate floor. We don’t know when that will be.