ACLU Praises Senate For Standing for Freedom, Rejecting White House Pressure; Calls Cloture Vote a Victory for Civil Liberties

December 16, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the Senate for rejecting a cloture motion to limit debate on legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act that failed to make substantive changes to that law. The vote came despite increasing pressure from the White House and its allies to adopt the flawed bill. The failure to invoke cloture means efforts to fix the Patriot Act can continue.

"Today, fair-minded Senators stood firm in their commitment to the Constitution and rejected the White House’s call to pass a faulty law," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "The Senate was our last, best hope to preserve our fundamental freedoms, and it did not fail. The Senators who voted to continue debate saw through the empty rhetoric and dismissed the notion that this damaged bill was in the best interests of the country. This was a victory for the privacy and liberty of all Americans."

The ACLU noted that Senators from both parties vowed to continue to press for reforms and stood up for the protection of the fundamental freedoms of all Americans. 47 Senators voted against cloture, and both Democrats and Republicans spoke passionately about the need to protect ordinary Americans from government misuse of these broad powers governed by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Many pointed to evidence that the secret records search powers expanded by the Patriot Act are being used with increasing frequency to gather the financial and Internet transaction records of innocent Americans.

The motion for cloture failed only hours after the New York Times revealed that the White House had directed the National Security Agency (NSA) to spy on people in the United States in violation of the FISA law. Congress passed the FISA rules in response to revelations during the Nixon administration of NSA spying on Americans on these shores in contravention of Fourth Amendment rights.

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), who was the lone Senator to oppose the Patriot Act in 2001, and John Sununu (R-NH) led the Senate’s opposition. Others instrumental in the vote against the cloture motion were Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Harry Reid (D-NV), Ted Kennedy (D-MA), Larry Craig (R-ID), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ken Salazar (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Max Baucus (D-MT), Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Carl Levin (D-MI).

Had opponents of Patriot reform succeeded, their version of the bill would have allowed the government to continue seizing law-abiding Americans' most sensitive personal records without requiring a link between the records sought and a suspected foreign terrorist. It would also have left in place the automatic gag order that makes it difficult to challenge the government's secret record demands. The ACLU and its bipartisan allies, along with 400 communities, including seven states, continue to call for meaningful changes to be made. Also contained in the legislation is a proposal to revisit two Patriot Act powers in 2009. The ACLU urged lawmakers to renew negotiations to ensure that precious anti-terrorism resources are not wasted on innocent Americans unconnected to a suspected terrorist.

"The White House used every means to protect easy access by the FBI to the private information of innocent Americans unconnected to suspected foreign terrorists," said Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy. "Today’s vote is a beacon of hope for the continuing vitality of our Bill of Rights. As Congress continues its examination of the Patriot Act, it must add common sense protections to preserve our privacy. Americans from across the political spectrum insist that this law be reformed so America will both be safe and free."

For more on the ACLU’s concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:

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