Although you may have forgotten, back on February 15th of this year, I sent a message to my Representative, Bob Goodlatte (VA-6), asking why he voted to continue several constitutionally questionable provisions of the Patriot Act including roving wiretaps and allowing federal government access to your library records.
Let me tell you that, in the past, I’ve been very impressed with his response to my queries. In general, they have arrived within a few weeks and include very detailed answers to the issue in question. Therefore, although I happen to disagree with him over this particular matter, I eagerly awaited his answer. After all, political dialogue is one of the great hallmarks of our government.
Well, on Thursday, June 2nd, one hundred and seven days since my inquiry, I finally received a response. I could explain how much effort it took on my part to get this reply; how many phone calls, emails, and office visits I made over these three and a half months as I waited. But, I’ll save that whole story for another blog post.
So, after all this waiting, what did Representative Goodlatte say? Well…
Thank you for contacting me regarding civil liberties and the USA PATRIOT Act. It’s good to hear from you.
The September 11th terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon quickly reshaped the priorities of Congress, the Bush Administration, and the Department of Justice (DOJ). In response, the original USA PATRIOT Act was passed by the House and Senate, and signed into law on October 26, 2001. This law, which I supported, gives law enforcement officials the tools they need to wage a successful fight against terrorism while safeguarding the civil liberties of Americans.
The investigative tools that this law provides assist in protecting the nation against terrorism. Those tools used in national security investigations include application of wiretap and other electronic surveillance orders to new technologies like the Internet and cellular phones and the authority for federal law enforcement officials to share foreign intelligence information with other government officials with responsibilities for national defense, protection of federal officials or facilities, and immigration.
As you may know, H.R. 514, the FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011, was introduced by Representative James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, and would extend the sunset for the three temporary provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act until May 27, 2011.
Like you, I am concerned about the protection of civil liberties. The USA PATRIOT Act, as amended by subsequent reauthorizatioins [sic], preserves civil liberties while combating terrorism by retaining evidentiary standards for obtaining warrants, and subjecting information sharing to court supervision.
The FISA Sunsets Extension Act of 2011 was introduced on January 26, 2011, and passed the House on February 14, 2011, by a vote of 275 – 144. This legislation passed the Senate on February 16, 2011 by a vote of 86-12. H.R. 514 was then signed into law by the President on February 25, 2011, becoming public law 112-3.
The world that we live in since September 11th will require us to be more patient, to be more alert, and to tolerate more inconveniences. However, we must be careful not to trade our personal freedoms for the promise of security. Once we have sacrificed the civil liberties that our Nation was founded on, we have allowed terrorism to defeat us. Rest assured that I will keep your views in mind as Congress considers measures regarding to the USA PATRIOT Act.
I appreciate you taking the time to contact me. I feel it is important to keep an open line of communication so I can best serve the interests of the 6th District. I hope you will continue to be in touch as the 112th Congress debates issues of importance to the United States.
Again, thanks for the benefit of your comments. Please feel free to contact me whenever I may be of assistance.
Member of Congress
I suppose you might be wondering why it has taken a little over a week for me to post this letter on this blog. After all, I’m rarely at a lack for things to say. In truth, I quickly crafted a response that was about as long as the letter itself. But, after a bit of contemplation, I decided not to air it. It was overburdened with frustration and disappointment. Even though I won’t share that version, that doesn’t mean that I’ll sit quietly in the corner.
Now why would I be troubled? If you’ve read up to this point, you already know that answer. But let me go into a bit more detail.
1. Bob Goodlatte supports the Patriot Act
One shouldn’t really be surprised here. He voted for the act when it was first created and supported its reauthorization earlier.
Even though this issue is critically important, it doesn’t upset me as much as the other two points. After all, no one should expect their elected representatives to agree with them all the time. If one were to count the minor and major variations of political opinion in this nation, they would be like grains of sand on a beach.
Nevertheless, I believe that the Patriot Act severely erodes our Constitutional protections of habeas corpus and the 4th Amendment. Although the tide is slowly turning, it is regrettable that a majority of my fellow Republicans are willing to offer up vast amounts of our liberty to the government in exchange for perceived security.
I really wish Representative Goodlatte would change his mind on this issue.
2. This response doesn’t really answer my question
Yes, it is nice to have a historical framework for the Patriot Act, but what rationale does Goodlatte give for supporting this reauthorization? He says that it gives “law enforcement officials the tools they need to wage a successful fight against terrorism”, but that statement alone presents no real tangible clues why the Patriot Act is necessary as compared to pre-Patriot Act anti-terrorist techniques.
What I want to know is, how many terrorist acts have been definitively thwarted as a direct result of the Patriot Act? Have there been any proven cases of individuals or groups that would have escaped detection if the Act had not been in place? Conversely, how many people have been wrongfully detained and/or imprisoned as a consequence of this increase in government power?
If our trade-off of liberty for security has paid dividends, can he show me? How it has done so? Or, as I suspect, are we actually worse off as a result? Unfortunately, Goodlatte addresses none of these ideas in his response. I’m sure Representative Goodlatte thinks the Patriot Act is necessary for some reason or another. However, if he cannot effectively articulate that rationale, then whether the voters happen to agree with him or not, we are left with muddled confusion.
3. The amount of time and effort required getting a response
This issue is by far the most troubling. I can understand it taking a few weeks or even a month to get a reply from my elected official. But 107 days? Is that an acceptable time frame?
What has happened to his D.C. staff? Does one need to repeatedly remind them month after month in order to get a reply? Why did I have to contact not only his D.C. office, but also his Staunton office, Harrisonburg office, and his Roanoke office before getting this email? Was I simply being ignored, misled, or some combination of the two?
Now I assume that few of his constituents are as persistent as I; I expect that most would have given up long ago, disgusted. But it shouldn’t be this way. I firmly believe that in order to enjoy effective representative government, we must have a clear discussion between constituents and their elected leaders.
In closing, let me say that my purpose is not to offend, but I feel that I must compose this letter in the hopes that doing so will prevent this situation from happening again in the future. I certainly appreciate the chance to communicate with my Representative, but this affair has left a sour taste in my mouth primarily as a result of points 2 & 3. As I’ve said, in the past his responses have been thoughtful and timely…far better than either of our two Senators, which is why this episode has been particularly disappointing.