Right in more ways than one

“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.”
—George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)

President George W. Bush has signed the legislation to re-enact the USA PATRIOT Act.

This time around, it passed the Senate by a vote 89-10. Now, let us recall that said Act passed the Senate the first time by a vote of 98-1.

Of course, it wasn’t until after its first passage that Democrats suddenly discovered this thing called the United States Constitution and got their undies all in a bunch over alleged “civil liberties abuses.”

A March 1 op-ed piece in USA Today written by James Sensenbrenner Jr., R-Wis., who chairs the House Judiciary Committee correctly points out these facts:

“Zero. That’s the number of substantiated USA PATRIOT Act civil liberties violations. Extensive congressional oversight found no violations.

“Six reports by the Justice Department’s independent inspector general, who is required to solicit and investigate any allegations of abuse,[also] found no violations.

“Intense public scrutiny has yet to find a single civil liberty abuse. Despite many challenges, no federal court has declared unconstitutional any of the PATRIOT Act provisions Congress is renewing.”

Even so, the Senate has now supposedly “fixed” all of those questionable provisions. After the vote, MSNBC had this: “Our support for the PATRIOT Act does not mean a blank check for the president,” said Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who voted to pass the bill package. “What we tried to do on a bipartisan basis is have a better bill. It has been improved.”

Which begs the question, why did ole’ Give’em Hell Harry and his crew vote for the thing in the first place if it had all those questionable provisions?

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On a related topic, if you read the letters to the editor section, you may have noticed some readers have called into question my interpretation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in previous columns, as well as its use by prior administrations going back to former President Jimmy Carter. Their implication is that I was (and still am) wrong. Now I will admit I may not be the world’s foremost expert on all topics mentioned herein. But let’s see. I’ve been a lawyer (now recovered) since 1992. I spent well over a year studying the Constitution in law school, and the topic covers one-third of most state bar exams. (Of which I’m 3 for 3. That is, I’m admitted to the state bar in three states.) I’ve also been teaching the Constitution at the college level for the better part of four years. So while my confidence may appear as raw, unbridled arrogance, let’s just say that on some topics, I’m a little more certain of my “rightness” than others. This would be one of those times.

But as long as I’m at it, I will admit that one reader was correct in his assertions “that just because Democrats did it too doesn’t necessarily make it right.” But the fact they were at it first makes their righteous indignation now seem rather disingenuous at best, downright hypocritical at worst.

In any event, rather than get into a “neener-neener” argument with anyone, I will suggest this for those who may be so inclined: Go to www.law.cornell.edu or www.findlaw.com and read FISA (50 USC 1801 et. Seq.) yourself and draw your own conclusions. Specifically, you are looking for Title 50, Chapter 36, Subchapter I, §1801 of the United States Code.