I am committed to protecting our civil liberties — one of the principles upon which our country was founded. In 2001, I was one of only 33 Members of Congress to oppose the USA PATRIOT Act. We must give law enforcement the tools they need to keep us safe. However, the PATRIOT Act is a bad law because it failed to protect our cherished civil liberties.
Like many of my constituents, I was deeply concerned by reports in 2005 that the National Security Agency (NSA) was allegedly wiretapping phone calls of United States citizens without a warrant. I immediately reached out to a number of constitutional law scholars in my district to learn their views on the constitutionality of this program and was not surprised that virtually every professor who responded believes this program is unconstitutional. If you are interested in learning their views, you may click here.
I co-sponsored legislation in the 110th Congress that would establish a national independent commission to examine this issue, and joined a number of my colleagues in filing an Amicus brief with the federal courts considering it. Our intent was to make it clear that many Members of Congress believe this program has little basis in law or the Constitution.
I was outraged in the summer of 2013 to learn that the federal government was obtaining information from major phone and internet providers about telephone calls, emails, and other internet activity to and from the United States. Federal officials argued that this bulk data collection was permissible under the PATRIOT Act and that U.S. Citizens were not being targeted. This is an incredible overreach and a clear invasion of privacy. A better balance must be struck between giving law enforcement the means to monitor potential terrorists and preserving the freedoms terrorists seek to destroy. I am supporting legislation, the USA FREEDOM Act, to ensure that the rights of Americans are protected by limiting the scope of the PATRIOT Act.
I also opposed the FISA Amendments Act of 2008, which passed the House by a narrow margin of 213-197. The original FISA legislation permitted wire-tapping with warrants obtained from judges in special courts who could examine evidence in camera, that is, in secret, if national security might be compromised by a discussion in open court. The new bill failed, in my opinion, to protect our citizens from unconstitutional intrusions, and although it made some improvements, I could not support it. In the 111th Congress, I cosponsored H.R. 104, To establish a national commission on presidential war powers and civil liberties. It called for an independent commission, with members appointed by the President and by leaders of both parties in the House and Senate, to investigate detention; "enhanced interrogation techniques;" "ghosting" or other policies intended to conceal an individual's capture or detention; extraordinary rendition; and domestic warrantless electronic surveillance. The bill had 50 co-sponsors but unfortunately it was never brought to the floor for a vote.
I remain deeply troubled by the targeted killing program undertaken by the Executive Branch in both of the two most recent presidential administrations. These efforts are aimed at eliminating terrorist threats overseas; they are conducted with utmost secrecy and usually involve the use of drone aircraft. While I recognize that national security may, in some instances, require U.S. strikes against those abroad who pose an imminent threat to our country, I believe our government can and must set up a more regularized framework grounded in law and based on sound policy. The “collateral damage” often deepens our difficulties in dealing with local governments who are themselves under threat from terrorist networks. Transparency is needed to legitimize the policy and confirm America’s moral leadership in the world. I plan to pursue this issue and seek support of my colleagues in Congress to ensure that human rights are not violated and broader foreign policy goals not undermined by targeted killings. It is essential also to affirm the Constitutional role of Congress in authorizing the use of force.
I have also consistently fought to protect the fundamental civil rights of all Americans. The right to vote is crucial to our democracy. Every citizen eligible to vote must feel free to exercise that right and to know votes will be fairly counted. I am proud to have co-sponsored the reauthorization of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006 and am pleased that it is now the law of the land. I have also insisted that any reform of voting systems include the right of every citizen to demand a paper ballot.