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On May 9, 2013, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) introduced H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act, which would prevent the federal government or any authority of the federal government from using economic development as a justification for exercising its power of eminent domain. This bill would also discourage states and localities from abusing their eminent domain power by denying states or localities that commit such abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years. Today, it passed in the House of Representatives 353-65.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “As part of “Stop Government Abuse Week,” I am pleased that the House once again voted to protect Americans’ private property rights and curtail the abuse of eminent domain. While most Americans oppose the taking of private property for private uses, in Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that “economic development” can be a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause – giving the government the authority to transfer property from individuals with fewer resources to those with more. This disproportionately affects the poor, churches, religious institutions, non-profitorganizations and farmers. The Private Property Rights Protection Act would rightfully restore the rights the Supreme Court took away.”

(Click image to view Congressman Sensenbrenner’s remarks on the House floor prior to passage of the bill.)

Congressmen Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent the following letter to Deputy Attorney General James Cole regarding his February 4 testimony at the House Judiciary Committee’s hearing, “Examining Recommendations to Reform FISA Authorities.”

Dear Deputy Attorney General Cole,

            At the House Judiciary Committee hearing on February 4, Congressman Issa asked whether the National Security Agency (NSA) collected information on call records from Congressional offices.  You responded, “We probably do, Mr. Congressman, but we’re not allowed to look at any of those, however, unless we have reasonable, articulable suspicion that those numbers are related to a known terrorist threat.”

            Executive Branch surveillance of the Congress is by itself troubling, but your statement was not entirely accurate, and we ask that you provide clarification for the record.

            As described in public and declassified materials, prior to the President’s announced changes to the program on January 17, the NSA’s collection process comprised four steps: (1) collection, (2) query, (3) analysis with up to 3 hops, and (4) retention.  The agency began by collecting and storing data from certain service providers in the United States.  The NSA would query that data when it determined unilaterally that there was a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the number was related to terrorism.  

The NSA would then compile a dataset of up to three “hops” from this first number.  In other words, the agency gathered the records of (1) people in contact with the seed number; (2) people in contact with the people in contact with the seed number; and (3) people in contact with the people in contact with the people in contact with the seed number.  Finally, after collecting and analyzing these call records, the NSA would transfer the results to the so-called “corporate store,” a separate database that analysts were permitted to search without any showing of particularized suspicion.  

In ruling that this bulk collection program was likely unconstitutional, Judge Leon of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia described just how many records may be implicated in a single search:

Suppose, for instance, that there is a person living in New York City who has a phone number that meets the RAS standard and is approved as a “seed.” And suppose this person, who may or may not actually be associated with any terrorist organization, calls or receives calls from 100 unique numbers, as in my example. But now suppose that one of the numbers he calls is his neighborhood Domino’s Pizza shop.  The Court won’t hazard a guess as to how many different phone numbers might dial a given Domino’s Pizza outlet in New York City in a five-year period, but to take a page from the Government’s book of understatement, it’s “substantially larger” than the 100 in the second hop of my example, and would therefore most likely result in exponential growth in the scope of the query and lead to millions of records being captured by the third hop.
In your testimony, you indicated that the Administration would look only at call records from a Member of Congress if it had a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the number was related to terrorism.  That is not accurate.  The NSA looks at individual numbers when it has low level, particularized suspicion, but it looks at millions more with no suspicion of wrongdoing whatsoever, some of whom may well be Members of Congress.

As applied to all United States citizens, this program likely violates our Fourth Amendment right to privacy and chills our First Amendment right to free association.  As applied to Members of Congress, it also raises grave Separation of Powers concerns for the executive branch to interfere with the private communications of the legislative branch without congressional knowledge.
We must insist on as much transparency and clarity as possible consistent with national security. We therefore urge you to clarify your testimony and fully disclose all of the ways in which the government conducts or may possibly conduct surveillance on Members of Congress.

By Jim Sensenbrenner

Published on February 11, 2014

Regarding your editorial "Voting Rights Rewind" (Feb. 4): Congress has repeatedly reauthorized the Voting Rights Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. The last three were signed by Republican presidents.

I joined 388 of my colleagues in the House to pass the 1982 reauthorization, and as chairman of the Judiciary Committee led the most recent reauthorization in 2006. After holding approximately 20 hearings and assembling a record of over 15,000 pages, Congress decided the VRA was still necessary. The 2006 legislation passed the House 390-33, cleared the Senate 98-0 and was signed by President Bush.

While I was disappointed by the Supreme Court's decision in Shelby County v. Holder, I see it as an opportunity to address voting discrimination and increase voter confidence in a more targeted way.

The Voting Rights Amendment Act of 2014 does this. You write that the new "formula fails to take into account broader racial progress in all of those states." This accusation ignores that, under the modernized VRA, coverage can only be based on recent voting violations. The new formula is rolling and looks back only 15 years to ensure no state is subject to coverage based on historical discrimination. It is also nationwide in application. The claim that "the liberal goal is to give national politicians more power to play racial politics in a few unfavored states" is false.

By including carve-outs that permit states to enact reasonable voter-ID laws, it recognizes that preventing voter fraud and voter discrimination are entirely consistent goals. Both are essential to the integrity of the ballot box.

Regardless of your opinion, the VRAA is needed to protect Americans' most sacred right.

View online: Wall Street Journal
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Menomonee Falls) joined the Wisconsin delegation in sending a letter to President Barack Obama regarding the propane shortage in Wisconsin.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “The current propane shortage is not only frustrating, but dangerous as extremely low temperatures sweep across our state. I commend Governor Walker for his diligence on this issue and urge President Obama to work with us to ensure Wisconsinites are protected from hazardous weather conditions by helping make propane available and affordable.”
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) responded today to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s (PCLOB) Report on the Telephone Records Program Conducted under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act and on the Operations of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

Congressman Sensenbrenner is the coauthor of the bipartisan, bicameral Leahy-Sensenbrenner USA FREEDOM Act, which has 124 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 19 in the Senate.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “As I’ve said since June, I am extremely troubled by President Obama’s misinterpretation of Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Both the president’s hand-picked panel and now the PCLOB agree that bulk collection of Americans’ phone records has come at a high cost to privacy with little to no benefit to our national security.

“Section 215 was designed to obtain business records relevant to an authorized terrorism investigation. The PCLOB acknowledges the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone records does not meet that criteria and concludes the program is not legally justifiable. It also raises Constitutional concerns, citing the First and Fourth Amendments.

“This report adds to the growing momentum behind genuine, legislative reform. The USA FREEDOM Act is narrowly tailored to strike the proper balance between privacy and security. And if brought to the floor for a vote, it will pass with broad bipartisan support. The president has failed to deliver on his promises of transparency and the protection of our civil liberties. It is up to Congress to rein in abuse and restore trust in our intelligence community.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) responded today to President Obama’s speech at the Department of Justice regarding government surveillance programs and national security. Congressman Sensenbrenner is the coauthor of the bipartisan, bicameral Leahy-Sensenbrenner USA FREEDOM Act, which has 124 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 19 in the Senate.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner: “President Obama says he’s listened to and consulted with experts and legislators and intends to enact reforms and expand executive oversight. Some of his proposals I agree with, others I don’t. But the bottom line is real reform cannot be done by presidential fiat.

“Congressional action should be taken to protect Americans’ civil liberties by reining in the NSA, ending bulk collection and making the FISC more transparent, while keeping in place the tools needed to protect our national security. The president and intelligence community have repeatedly misled Congress and the American people and lack credibility for reform. The most effective way for the president to restore trust in the intelligence community is to endorse the USA FREEDOM Act, which strikes the proper balance between privacy and security.  This bill would make permanent the good intentions of the president and address some of the omissions in his speech where Americans’ liberties need greater protection.  I remain confident that if brought to the floor for a vote, the USA FREEDOM Act will pass with broad bipartisan report.”
Following the bipartisan tradition of the Voting Rights Act, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) joined with Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Congressman John Conyers (D-Mich.) Thursday to introduce bipartisan legislation to uphold the most vital principles of the historic law.

The legislation supported by a range of civil rights groups, is a bicameral, bipartisan response to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision which struck down a core provision in the Voting Rights Act. That provision determines how states are covered under Section 5 of the law, which requires Federal preclearance to protect against discriminatory voting measures. The bill updates the coverage formula by making all states and jurisdictions eligible for coverage formula based on voting violations in the last 15 years.  States and jurisdictions that have had a clean record over the last 15 years would not be subject to coverage.

President Lyndon Johnson signed the first Voting Rights Act into law in 1965, and it has been reauthorized four times since. President George W. Bush signed the most recent reauthorization into law in 2006, after the House voted 390-33 and the Senate 98-0 in favor of the legislation.  

Sensenbrenner, who led House consideration in 2006 and who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last summer about the importance of the Voting Rights Act, said Thursday that “This legislation is a direct response to Shelby County v. Holder. When that ruling came down last summer, I knew the VRA must be fixed before the next election and any solution must be politically palatable while complying with the objections of the Supreme Court. The modernized VRA is constitutional and bipartisan. It includes strong, nationwide anti-discrimination protections and continues to permit states to enact reasonable voter ID laws. Therefore, it prevents racial-discrimination and gives states the ability to address voter fraud.”

“Through months of negotiation and compromise, Congressmen Sensenbrenner and Conyers and I have agreed on a bipartisan and bicameral proposal to restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were weakened by the Supreme Court’s decision last summer,” Leahy said.  “Our sole focus throughout this entire process was to ensure that no American would be denied his or her constitutional right to vote because of discrimination on the basis of race or color.  We believe that this is a strong bipartisan bill that accomplishes this goal and that every member of Congress can support.”

Conyers, ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who cosponsored the original Voting Rights Act in 1965, said that “Nearly fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s powerful vision of ‘jobs, justice, and peace’ inspired my first run for Congress and became the cause of my life. After being sworn in as freshman Member of the 89th Congress, the first vote of consequence that I took was for the Voting Rights Act. Although the Shelby County v. Holder decision struck at the heart of the Act, today, it is with much pride that my colleagues and I are introducing a strengthened and renewed Voting Rights Act to reaffirm our constitutional commitment to the cornerstone of our democracy: the right to vote.”

An outline of the legislation can be found here, and text of legislation can be found online.

Key provisions in the bill include:

•    A coverage provision based on current conditions.  The bill establishes a rolling nationwide trigger that covers states or jurisdictions that have a persistent record of recent voting rights violations in the last 15 years.

•    Allows our federal courts to bail-in the worst actors for preclearance.  The current law permits states or jurisdictions to be bailed in for intentional violations, but the new legislation amends the Act to allow states or        jurisdictions to be bailed in for results-based violations.

•    Greater transparency in elections so that voters are made aware of changes.  The additional sunlight will deter discrimination from occurring and protect voters from discrimination.

•    Allows for preliminary relief to be obtained more readily, given that voting rights cannot often be vindicated after an election is already over.

•    Includes modest provisions that continue to permit states to enact reasonable photo identification laws.