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Context of 'January 23, 2004: Parts of Patriot Act Unconstitutional, Judge Rules'

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Federal judge Audrey Collins rules that parts of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional, specifically portions barring individuals or entities from giving expert advice or assistance to groups designated as international terrorist organizations. Collins rules that the ban on on providing “expert advice or assistance” is impermissibly vague, and violates the First and Fifth Amendments. The advice or assistance forbidden under the act “could be construed to include unequivocally pure speech and advocacy protected by the First Amendment,” Collins writes. The suit, brought before a Los Angeles court by the Humanitarian Law Project (HLP), was originally filed in 1998 by five groups and two US citizens who wanted to provide political and financial support to the nonviolent arms of two dissident organizations designated as terrorists by the United States: the Kurdish Workers Party in Turkey and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka. The suit was later amended to include the Patriot Act. The HLP argued that the plaintiffs were threatened with 15 years in prison if they provided advice to the groups. The Patriot Act, Collins rules, does not differentiate between impermissible advice on violence and encouraging the use of peaceful, nonviolent means to achieve goals. “The USA Patriot Act places no limitation on the type of expert advice and assistance which is prohibited and instead bans the provision of all expert advice and assistance regardless of its nature,” she writes. HLP attorney David Cole calls the ruling “a victory for everyone who believes the war on terrorism ought to be fought consistent with constitutional principles.” The ruling is the first judicial setback for the Patriot Act. [Associated Press, 1/26/2004; San Francisco Chronicle, 1/27/2004] The judge’s verdict will be upheld on appeal (see December 10, 2007).

Entity Tags: Humanitarian Law Project, Audrey Collins, USA Patriot Act, David D. Cole

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the USA Patriot Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 into law. The bill, which extends and modifies the original USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), was driven through Congress primarily by the Republican majorities in both Houses. However, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) cosponsored the Senate bill, numerous Democrats in both Houses voted with the Republicans in favor of the bill, and the final bill sailed through the Senate by an 89-10 vote on March 2. [GovTrack, 3/9/2006; Library of Congress, 3/9/2006] In the signing ceremony, Bush calls the Reauthorization Act “a really important piece of legislation… that’s vital to win the war on terror and to protect the American people.” He repeatedly evokes the 9/11 attacks as a reason why the new law is needed. [Government Printing Office, 3/9/2006]
Provisions for Oversight Added - One of the reasons why the reauthorization bill received such support from Congressional moderates on both sides of the aisle is because Congress added numerous provisions for judicial and Congressional oversight of how government and law enforcement agencies conduct investigations, especially against US citizens. Representative Butch Otter (R-ID) said in 2004 that Congress came “a long way in two years, and we’ve really brought an awareness to the Patriot Act and its overreaches that we gave to law enforcement.” He adds, “We’ve also quieted any idea of Patriot II, even though they snuck some of Patriot II in on the intelligence bill” (see February 7, 2003). [Associated Press, 1/23/2004]
Opposition From Both Sides - Liberal and conservative organizations joined together in unprecedented cooperation to oppose several key provisions of the original reauthorization and expansion of the Patriot Act, including easing of restrictions on government and law enforcement agencies in obtaining financial records of individuals and businesses, “sneak-and-peek” searches without court warrants or the target’s knowledge, and its “overbroad” definition of the term “terrorist.” Additionally, lawmakers in Congress insisted on expiration dates for the various surveillance and wiretapping methodologies employed by the FBI and other law enforcement agencies (see Early 2002). [Associated Press, 5/23/2005] The final bill mandates that anyone subpoenaed for information regarding terrorist investigations has the right to challenge the requirement that they not reveal anything about the subpoena, those recipients will not be required to tell the FBI the name of their lawyer, and libraries that are not Internet service providers will not be subject to demands from “national security letters” for information about their patrons. Many of the bill’s provisions will expire in four years. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/3/2006]
Reauthorizing Original Provisions - The bill does reauthorize many expiring provisions of the original Patriot Act, including one that allows federal officials to obtain “tangible items,” such as business records from libraries and bookstores, in connection with foreign intelligence and international terrorism investigations. Port security provisions are strengthened, and restrictions on the sale of over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine that can be used in the illegal manufacture of methamphetamine are imposed, forcing individuals to register their purchases of such medicines and limiting the amounts they can buy. [CBS News, 3/9/2006]
Bush Signing Statement Says He Will Ignore Oversight Mandates - But when he signs the bill into law, Bush also issues a signing statement that says he has no intention of obeying mandates that enjoin the White House and the Justice Department to inform Congress about how the FBI is using its new powers under the bill. Bush writes that he is not bound to tell Congress how the new Patriot Act powers are being used, and in spite of what the law requires, he can and will withhold information if he decides that such disclosure may “impair foreign relations, national security, the deliberative process of the executive, or the performance of the executive’s constitutional duties.” [Statement on Signing the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act, 3/9/2006; Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) says that Bush’s assertion that he can ignore provisions of the law as he pleases, under the so-called “unitary executive” theory, are “nothing short of a radical effort to manipulate the constitutional separation of powers and evade accountability and responsibility for following the law.” Law professor David Golove says the statement is illustrative of the Bush administration’s “mind-bogglingly expansive conception” of executive power, and its low regard for legislative power. [Boston Globe, 3/24/2006] Author and legal expert Jennifer Van Bergen warns of Bush using this signing statement to avoid accountability about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program, writing: “[I]t is becoming clearer every day that Bush has no qualms about violating either international laws and obligations or domestic laws. The recent revelations about the secret NSA domestic surveillance program revealed Bush flagrantly violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act which was specifically enacted to prevent unchecked executive branch surveillance. … His signing statements, thus, are nothing short of an attempt to change the very face of our government and our country.” [Institute for Public Accuracy, 3/27/2006]
Request to Rescind Signing Statement - In late March, Democratic House members Jane Harman and John Conyers will write to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales requesting that the administration rescind the signing statement, writing: “As you know, ‘signing statements’ do not have the force of law. Legislation passed by both Houses and signed by the president does. As Article 1, Section 7, of the Constitution states: ‘Every bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States; If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it.’” Bush and Gonzales will ignore the request. [US House of Representatives, 3/29/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003, David Golove, Alberto R. Gonzales, Butch Otter, Dianne Feinstein, Patrick J. Leahy, USA Patriot Act, John Conyers, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Jennifer Van Bergen, Jane Harman, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Ninth Court of Appeals in San Francisco upholds a 2004 ruling (see January 23, 2004) that portions of the USA Patriot Act are unconstitutional. The original ruling found that portions of the Act banning any advice or assistance to designated terrorist organizations is too broad and vague; the appeals court agrees, ruling that the language of the Act is too vague to be understood by someone of ordinary intelligence. Without clear language, the Act says that those who provide assistance to foreign terrorist organizations could be subject to prison terms of up to 15 years. To survive a vagueness challenge, the appeals court says, a statute “must be sufficiently clear to put a person of ordinary intelligence on notice that his or her contemplated conduct is unlawful.” Congressional amendments to the Act have not remedied the problem, the court says. [Associated Press, 12/10/2007]

Entity Tags: USA Patriot Act

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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