Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduces extension of Patriot Act sunset

GovTrack: S. 1692: Text of Legislation, Introduced in Senate.

With the bill linked above, Patrick Leahy is attempting to move the end date of the USA Patriot Act from December 31st 2009 to December 31 2013. On October 8th the bill was read twice and submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Leahy is chair.

Specifically what S. 1692 will do is amend the USA Patriot Improvement and Re-authorization Act of 2005 by changing ‘2009’ to ‘2013’ in various sections of the law which reference the bill’s “sunset”, a fail-safe date placed into the law in order to make it more palatable to its detractors. The next step for Leahy’s bill is for it to leave the Judiciary Committee and enter debate on the floor of the senate.

If Leahy’s amendment goes through, the USA Patriot act and all that it allows will stay with this country for another four years. This law needs to run its course and end this December.

For eight years now we’ve lived in a shadow of fear brought on by first the destruction of the World Trade Center, the fall-out caused by the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and — not the least — the fear-mongering actions of our representatives in congress, of which the Patriot Act is one.

The structure of the United States is such that we can either entertain personal and civil liberties, or we can give all of that up for the illusion of perfect safety. We can’t have both. The Patriot Act represents the latter. It’s time for the former. There is still time for us to contact our senators and representatives and let them know that we’re done with the Patriot Act and the fear it represents.

Thoughts on last night’s post

As I begin my exploration of the Constitution in more depth, I’m struck by the concept of “being a strict constitutionalist”. Two days ago, I would have said that means limited government, Libertarian ideals, and a move towards local control and self-sufficiency.

The idea now comes into my head, however, that if the Constitution is a foundation or framework for government structure, then who’s to say that as long as laws fit within the bounds of the Constitution that they are wrong? What I mean is that if the Democratic party wants to create larger social programs, and their ideas don’t violate the foundation of the document nor any of the amendments, then there’s nothing unconstitutional about those laws.

Problems arise, however, when laws are created that violate the spirit with which the founders wrote the constitution. As I see it, that is what’s happening in our country today.

It seems that our current Congress — and for many years now, actually — feels as though it is they who are in power. Laws are being created and bills are being written that violate — if not the actual letter — the spirit of our Constitution. The President has consistently exceeded his power as executor of those laws, issuing signing statements, acting as war chief, and otherwise trampling on the spirit of the office. For their part, the Supreme Court seems to be happy ignoring the encroaching trespasses on justice, domestic peace, general welfare, and liberty while also allowing the idea of “national defense” to be turned into a “first strike” mentality.

Unfortunately, what the citizens of the United States have not realized is that the elected officials are not who is in control of the country. Or if they are, it is only through our own apathy. Congress has no fear about being re-elected because the people most affected by their violations of the spirit of our foundational rules don’t seem to care. It’s that lack of caring that brings me back to my original point.

Being a strict constitutionalist doesn’t imply one party affiliation over another. What it implies is a willingness to consistently adhere to the principles and spirit represented in our founding document; to eschew apathy; to transcend the general and pervasive air of defeat. Our representatives in Congress are acting within the laws of the Constitution to create laws that may or may not be beneficial to their constituents. It is the constituents’ job, now, to play their part.

Each of us needs to be a “strict constitutionalist”. Each of us needs to understand the spirit of the document, the rules it sets forth, and the roles we must play in the governing of this country. This is not a country of government acting on its own, but for too long the government has acted as though it is. This is not a country run by the powerful, but one where “We the people of the United States” are in charge. It’s no easy task, but it is our job to manage the direction of our government, and this has to be done no matter the party line or ideological beliefs each of us holds. If not, there will be no Constitution left.