President Bush Plugs New Ashcroft PATRIOT Act Power Grab; ACLU Says Congress Should Resist Granting Expanded Police Powers

September 10, 2003 12:00 am

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Contact: WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today decried President Bush’s endorsement, on the eve of the second anniversary of the tragic attacks of September 11, 2001, of a further expansion of the unprecedented policing powers granted in the now hot-button USA PATRIOT Act, which Attorney General John Ashcroft has been touring the country over the past month to promote.

In light of Congress’ recent repudiations of the unnecessarily broad surveillance and domestic spying powers granted in the bill, the ACLU also questioned the nation’s legislative stomach for more anti-democratic security measures.

“It is unfortunate that President Bush would use this tragic date to continue to endorse the increasingly unpopular anti-civil liberties policies of Attorney General Ashcroft and the Department of Justice,” said Anthony Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “Rather than rubber-stamping new powers for the Attorney General, the President should respond to the voices of Americans from the right, left and center and disavow the Attorney General’s power grabs over the last two years.”

The President is expected to deliver a speech this afternoon at the FBI Academy in Quantico, VA in which he will endorse further expansions of the PATRIOT Act – the highly controversial anti-terrorism legislation pushed through Congress in the weeks after 9/11. These expansions would reportedly include three new powers asked for by Attorney General Ashcroft in June testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

The three powers were also contained in a draft bill – known commonly as PATRIOT II – that was leaked to the media in February. Specifically, they involve reducing judges’ discretion in granting bail and creating new death penalty-eligible offenses, which, because of an overbroad PATRIOT Act redefinition of “domestic terrorism,” might be applicable to political advocates. The third new power would grant the Attorney General more expansive administrative subpoena power, allowing him to unilaterally seize Americans’ private records without judicial oversight during criminal investigations.

Earlier this year, lawmakers and opinion leaders of all political stripes roundly denounced these powers and others contained in PATRIOT II. Even House Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) suggested at the time that there was no real enthusiasm to further expand the already vast powers of the federal government. In response, pieces of PATRIOT II are starting to appear piecemeal in seemingly innocuous legislation.

One such bill, the VICTORY Act – draft drug war legislation circulating on Capitol Hill – harbors four PATRIOT II provisions and consequently has been criticized for attempting to end-run the Justice Department’s agenda around proper and open legislative deliberation.

“Politically and legally, further erosions of judicial oversight and the basic checks and balances that protect us and our democracy from political abuses of power are the wrong path to take,” said Charlie Mitchell, an ACLU Legislative Counsel.

The ACLU analysis of the new powers being endorsed can be found at:

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