Freedom to Read Measure Narrowly Fails in House; In Chaotic Vote, Congressional Republicans Violate House Rules

July 8, 2004 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – With the House floor in chaos, the Republican leadership today violated its own rules to ensure the slimmest defeat of a measure that would have protected privacy in bookstores and libraries.

“”The actions of the House Republican leadership should be an affront to every freedom-loving American from across the political spectrum,”” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office.

“”A clear majority of the House, reflecting the beliefs of the majority of Americans, was prepared to reject FBI snooping in libraries and bookstores,”” Murphy added. “”House leaders were unable to persuade enough of their colleagues to oppose the amendment on the merits and instead needed to resort to violating their own rules.””

The House vote came during consideration of the Commerce-State-Justice appropriations measure. Although the measure initially garnered a majority with almost all Democrats and 29 Republicans voting “”yea,”” by the time the vote closed more than 30 minutes later, Republican leaders had persuaded 11 members to switch their votes. The amendment, introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) then failed on a vote of 210 to 210.

The Sanders amendment would have forbidden the government from using any funds to use the Patriot Act to demand records from bookstores and libraries. It targeted the government’s new powers granted by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which gave law enforcement the ability to obtain – without an ordinary criminal subpoena or search warrant and without probable cause – a secret court order giving them access to any records or “”tangible thing,”” which include records from libraries, booksellers, doctors, financial institutions and Internet service providers.

The relatively modest Sanders measure drew a full-court press from the Bush Administration, which said that it would have vetoed the entire multi-billion spending measure if it had passed. Republican leaders also kept open the vote for nearly 30 minutes – twice the allotted time – as the leadership sought to change votes.

“”Congressional Republicans must be held accountable for their heavy-handed tactics,”” Murphy said. “”We can no longer afford to continue to pursue policies that have little benefit, but much loss of freedom to the American public.””

The ACLU’s letter on the section 215 amendment can be found at:

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