By: Dan Liljenquist
There will be much drama on Capitol Hill this Sunday as the United States Senate convenes to decide the fate of key aspects of the Patriot Act before they expire at 12:01 a.m. on Monday. At the fore is the Patriot Act’s controversial Section 215, which the National Security Agency (NSA) cites as the authorizing statute for its warrantless collection and storage of Americans’ phone and email “metadata.”
Demonstrating leadership and considerable legislative skill, Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee has successfully championed the bipartisan USA Freedom Act, which would end the NSA’s blanket “metadata” collection and storage activities, positioning the bill as the only politically viable alternative to a straight reauthorization of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. When the dust settles on Monday morning, I expect that we will all have Lee to thank for helping end the NSA’s unprecedented intrusion into the private affairs of all Americans.
Without being there in person, I suppose that most Utahns would not realize how effectively Lee has worked to make the USA Freedom Act a reality. Few will know how clearly he articulated the impact of Section 215 on the heretofore-sacrosanct right to personal privacy implied by the Fourth Amendment’s prohibitions on “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Few will realize how carefully he worked with his colleagues on both sides of the aisle, across both houses of Congress to establish a reform framework that most could support.
Few will grasp the precision of his legislative strategy, which resulted in the USA Freedom Act’s landslide 338 to 88 passage in the House of Representatives just 2½ weeks prior to Sunday’s Senate showdown; a strategy which tilts the scales away from a straight Patriot Act reauthorization towards a restoration of due process protections for all Americans.
And few will notice that Lee was able to accomplish all of this in the regular flow of Senate business, without drawing undue attention to himself while generously sharing the credit with his colleagues. He has illustrated the old Robert Woodruff adage that, “there is no limit to what a man can do or where he can go if he doesn’t mind who gets the credit.” Lee is a powerful, positive force in the U.S. Senate.
There are some who may criticize Lee for not going far enough, for working towards the passage of the USA Freedom Act instead of fighting for the complete repeal of the Patriot Act. This criticism is misplaced and shortsighted. Without the USA Freedom Act, a straight reauthorization of Section 215 of the Patriot Act (despite Sen. Rand Paul’s noble efforts to the contrary) would be a near political certainty. I have always subscribed to the political philosophy that 100 percent of nothing is still nothing. I am pleased that Lee chose to fight the difficult but winnable battle, understanding that the war to preserve and restore constitutional rights is never ending.
Standing up for constitutional rights is not a symbolic endeavor; it is not a hypothetical exercise; it is not a true-or-false, pass-or-fail exam with one final grade. It must certainly NOT be an all-or-nothing proposition. Standing up for constitutional rights is perpetual hand-to-hand combat where each foot of ground is valuable, worth fighting for and worth reclaiming. I trust Lee’s judgment on how to best fight that fight in the U.S. Senate.
I hope the U.S. Senate will pass the USA Freedom Act this weekend. I bet they will, in no small part because of Lee’s hard work. That is something we should all be proud of.
Dan Liljenquist is a former state senator and former U.S. Senate candidate.