UPDATE (2/9/11): In another move to fast-track PATRIOT Act renewal before three of its most controversial provisions expire at the end of the month, the House is expected to call another vote on a PATRIOT reauthorization bill any day now. Unlike the two-thirds majority that would have been needed to pass the measure on Tuesday, the next vote will only require a majority to pass. Your voice is needed now more than ever. Act now - contact your Representatives and tell them not to rubber-stamp the PATRIOT Act extension!
Today in the U.S. House of Representatives, an unlikely alliance of House Democrats and Republicans stood up for civil liberties and successfully beat back a fast-track attempt to reauthorize the USA PATRIOT Act without the much-needed checks and balances EFF has championed.
The renewal bill voted on today would have extended three dangerous surveillance provisions in the PATRIOT Act until December 2011, provisions that are otherwise set to expire at the end of this month. In order to pass under the fast-track procedure adopted by House leadership to prevent the introduction of any reform-minded amendments, the bill would have had to garner a two/thirds majority--that is, 290 votes. The renewal effort narrowly failed on a final vote of 277 Yeahs to 148 Nays, thanks to the staunch opposition of Democratic leaders and an insurgent movement of freshman Republican Representatives and "Tea Party" conservatives who were unwilling to rubber-stamp the PATRIOT renewal.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), one of the most consistent anti-PATRIOT voices, once again voiced his opposition to PATRIOT renewal today, voicing concerns about the civil liberties implications of the proposal:
The Patriot Act is a destructive undermining of the Constitution. How about today we take a stand for the Constitution to say that all Americans should be free from unreasonable search and seizure, and to make certain that the attempt to reauthorize the Patriot Act is beat down.
The House Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, John Conyers (D-Michigan), has been just as outspoken, calling the PATRIOT Act "One of the worst laws this body has ever passed."
Meanwhile, some new Republican Representatives refused to vote for the bill both out of concerns about the bill and frustration at the rushed renewal process. Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), one of the Republican freshman who voted "no", complained that he “didn’t know anything about (the vote) until today.” Rokita continued:
In a free society you have to be very careful as to taking away the civil liberties of the American people.... Even if the bill is well intentioned and the law is well intentioned it can be used against innocent people. So that was my concern.
While today’s vote was a victory for civil liberties, we are not yet free of the expiring surveillance provisions or the PATRIOT Act itself. The White House is advocating for reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act until December 2013, and Congessional leaders in both the House and the Senate are determined to pass some sort of PATRIOT renewal bill before Congress leaves for recess at the end of next week. So please stay tuned to our action center to learn how you can speak out for civil liberties in the crucial weeks ahead--and thank you to everyone who acted to help stop today's PATRIOT Act sneak attack!