July 21, 2005

House Rules Committee Shuts Out Needed Patriot Act Reforms, Yet Adds "Smokeless Tobacco" Amendment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Media@dcaclu.org

WASHINGTON - Following a late night meeting of the House Rules Committee yesterday on legislation to reauthorize the Patriot Act, the American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its disappointment that the final floor debate will exclude several much-needed amendments to bring the controversial 2001 law in line with the Constitution by restoring proper checks and balances on government power. The committee rejected more than half of the amendments offered for consideration.

The committee rejected allowing a fair, up-or-down vote on a series of amendments that would correct these flaws based on no apparent principle other than the fact that these amendments likely have majority support on the House floor, and they reflect some of the principal objections that civil libertarians have made to the Patriot Act.

Many of the amendments that were rejected offered common sense fixes to the Patriot Act, and would have put better checks against abuse into place. For example, the committee rejected a measure that won a substantial majority vote in a funding vote earlier this year, the Sanders amendment, that would have exempted library and bookstore records from Section 215. That provision allows the government to obtain Americans' personal records without showing any facts connecting the records sought to a foreign agent. However, the Rules Committee did allow an amendment, offered by Rep. Howard Coble (R-NC), that would amend the Contraband Cigarette Trafficking Act to, among other things, extend its reach to cover "smokeless tobacco." The ACLU takes no position on the need to combat trafficking in chewing tobacco but expressed its disappointment that the committee rejected other amendments that were clearly germane to the excesses of the Patriot Act.

The following can be attributed to Lisa Graves, ACLU Senior Counsel for Legislative Strategy:

"Sadly, the House leadership has continuously blocked efforts to allow fair-minded lawmakers to make meaningful changes to the Patriot Act. When the House Judiciary Committee considered this issue, partisan politics trumped a commitment to freedom. Yesterday, the Rules Committee showed deference not to the Constitution, but again to party politics. When it comes to protecting the Bill of Rights and our freedoms, lawmakers must engage in a full and open debate, and the leadership has effectively prevented that.

"There have been repeated bipartisan calls for the Patriot Act to be fixed so that our freedoms are not unnecessarily compromised. Nationwide, nearly 400 communities - including seven states - have passed resolutions calling on Congress to bring proper balance to security and liberty. Congress must show its true patriotism by acting to protect the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."

To read the ACLU's letter to the House on the Patriot Act reauthorization legislation, go to:
/node/24840

For more on the ACLU's concerns with the Patriot Act, go to:
http://www.reformthepatriotact.org



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