Sanders' Patriot Act Amendment Charged With Technical Foul

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On Tuesday, July 21, civil liberty advocates received a mix of some good news and some bad news from the House of Representatives.

Rep. Bernie Sanders'

The bad news was that Rep. Bernie Sanders' (I-VT) attempt to add an amendment to the Commerce, Justice, State, and Judiciary Appropriations Bill of 2004 to deny funding for bookstore and library searches conducted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act was denied due to a technicality.

The good news was that Rep. C.L. "Butch" Otter's (R-ID) amendment to the same bill to withhold funding for "sneak and peek" searches of private property under the Patriot Act passed by an overwhelming margin.

"While we are disappointed that the Sanders' amendment did not come up for a vote yesterday, we are tremendously encouraged by the overwhelming vote to block funding for 'sneak and peak' searches," said Chris Finan, president of the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression (ABFFE). "It suggests that members of the House are far more concerned about the civil liberties threat posed by the Patriot Act than anyone imagined. Support for [Sanders' bill] the Freedom to Read Protection Act (H.R. 1157) is going to continue to grow."

At a press conference yesterday afternoon, Sanders and H.R. 1157 co-sponsors Otter and Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) announced their plans to introduce an amendment to the appropriations bill that would prohibit the Department of Justice from using any money in its budget to search a library's or bookstore's records using the sweeping powers granted under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

"The threat of terrorism must not be used as an excuse by the government to intrude on our basic constitutional rights…. Libraries and booksellers across the country fear that the Patriot Act is causing a chilling effect on their patrons," Sanders said at the press conference, as reported by Ultimately, the House parliamentarian barred the amendment from the appropriations bill, ruling that it was not in good order.

Meanwhile, Otter's amendment to Section 213 of the Patriot Act was voted into the appropriations bill by a count of 309 - 118 in favor. Better known as the "sneak and peek" provision of the Patriot Act, it allows delayed notification of the execution of search warrants. It authorizes no-knock searches of private residences, either physically or electronically. The amendment to Section 213 was co-sponsored by Representatives Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and Ron Paul (R-TX) and is the first change to the USA Patriot Act since it was passed in the wake of 9/11.

"Congress is joining the American people and coming to its senses," Otter said in a press statement. "This is just the beginning of a crusade to which more and more of my colleagues are rallying. We are committed to restoring the freedoms for which generations of American heroes have died." --David Grogan