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Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Ranking Member John Conyers (D-Mich.), Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) and Ranking Member Bobby Scott (D-Va.) met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss his sworn congressional testimony and the search warrant for James Rosen’s emails.  After the meeting, they issued the joint statement below:

“Today we had a frank discussion with Attorney General Holder about his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and the search warrant for James Rosen’s emails.  The House Judiciary Committee intends to issue a report outlining its findings of its investigation into this matter.  We felt it was prudent to hold a private meeting with Attorney General Holder due to the pending prosecution of Mr. Kim.  The private meeting afforded us the opportunity to ask Attorney General Holder substantive questions about the ongoing prosecution and the relationship between Mr. Kim and Mr. Rosen that he would not have been able to answer in a public setting.”

(WASHINGTON) – Today, senior Members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee including F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr, (R-Wis.), John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.),  Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.), and Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) released this statement addressing the Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder that overturned the coverage formula for Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In a 5-4 decision, the Court voted "Our decision in no way affects the permanent, nationwide ban on racial discrimination in voting found in [Section] 2. We issue no holding on [Section] 5 itself, only on the coverage formula. Congress may draft another formula based on current conditions."

F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-Wis.): “The Voting Rights Act is vital to America’s commitment to never again permit racial prejudices in the electoral process. Section 5 of the Act was a bipartisan effort to rectify past injustices and ensure minorities’ ability to participate in elections, but the threat of discrimination still exists.  I am disappointed by the Court’s ruling, but my colleagues and I will work in a bipartisan fashion to update Section 4 to ensure Section 5 can be properly implemented to protect voting rights, especially for minorities. This is going to take time and will require members from both sides of the aisle to put partisan politics aside and ensure Americans’ most sacred right is protected.”

John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.): “While I am encouraged that the Court upheld the preclearance requirement of Section 5, its decision striking the coverage formula in Section 4 will do real damage to voting rights absent a swift and clear congressional legislative response.  It is unfortunate that the Court ignored Congress’ unprecedented and comprehensive legislative findings in reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006 on an overwhelming and bipartisan basis. The decision missed an opportunity to reinforce the important role that the federal government has in ensuring that all Americans have an equal right to access the ballot box and have their votes count.  I am committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure that the voting rights of all Americans are protected.”

Melvin L. Watt (D-N.C.): “My colleagues on the Judiciary Committee and I helped build a voluminous legislative record of over 15,000 pages that we believe more than justified reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and extension of the preclearance requirements of Section 5 of the VRA.  Today, the activist majority on the Supreme Court has taken the unprecedented step of taking over a uniquely legislative function in disregard of the extensive work of the legislative branch and substituting their own judgment for that of elected representatives.  The decision overturning Section 4 of the VRA leaves millions of Americans vulnerable to discrimination in the most fundamental right of citizenship—the right to vote.  I am deeply disappointed by the result they have reached and its impact on minority voters as well as the precedent they have set for disregarding the factual and political judgment of elected Members of Congress.”

Steve Chabot (R-Ohio): “I am disappointed that the Court invalidated the Voting Rights Act’s coverage formula, which has been used for decades to help protect the voting rights of millions of Americans.  However, by leaving Section 5’s pre-clearance requirements intact, the Court has given Congress the opportunity to amend the coverage formula to preserve these important protections.  I am hopeful that we will work together to enact an appropriate fix in the same bipartisan manner and spirit that we did when reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act in 2006.”

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) sent a letter to Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) offering an endorsement for H.R. 1479, to amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to remove the deduction for charitable contributions from the overall limitation on itemized deductions.

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “As always, it is an honor to have the support of the NTU. This bipartisan effort would prevent our tax-code from dissuading Americans from giving to charitable organizations, affirm our country’s rich tradition of giving and reinforce our commitment to charity. America leads the world in charitable giving. It is engrained in our moral fiber. Non-profits and charities are our country’s first safety net and can play a critical role in lessening the load on financially-strapped government programs. We should continue to encourage communities to take care of one another rather than instill ever-growing reliance on government. I look forward to further support for H.R. 1479 from those both in and outside our philanthropic sector and encourage Congress to bring it to the floor for a vote.”

Throughout my 35 years in Congress, I have fought against the expansion of government and its encroachment into the everyday lives of Americans.

The attacks on September 11th demonstrated that the threats of the 21st century require our national security professionals to possess proactive methods of investigation, ensuring we stay several steps ahead of those who wish us harm. As Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee at the time, I was tasked with passing legislation that defends our national security while protecting American civil liberties.

With this balancing act in mind, the Patriot Act was drafted and passed by the House Judiciary Committee with broad bipartisan support – including Section 215, the so-called business records provision.  

Earlier this month, the Guardian reported on the Obama Administration’s dragnet collection of phone data with rubberstamp approval by a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. The scope of the NSA’s metadata program – peering into the lives of hundreds of millions of innocent Americans – is incredibly troubling. There is no legitimate explanation for tracking the numbers, locations, times and duration of the calls of every American.The collection and retention of all telephone records coming in and out of the United States is excessive and does not fall within the guidelines of Section 215.  

I stand by the Patriot Act and support the specific targeting of terrorists by our government. However, in this instance, the proper balance has not been struck between civil rights and American security.

Recently, I have gone on record seeking to illustrate the large gap between the intention of the Patriot Act and the implementation of Section 215 by the FISA court and the Administration.  

This provision is vital and should be amended to prevent future abuses so it is not allowed to sunset in 2015. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work with my colleagues to revise it – narrowing its scope and enhancing judicial and congressional oversight.

Last Thursday, FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the House Judiciary Committee. I devoted my allotted time to discussing the lack of privacy protections implemented for national security investigations.

I commend Director Mueller for his twelve years of service. But his example of how the NSA’s ongoing phone surveillance program is instrumental to catching terrorists is not relevant to my concerns of abuse. He explained that phone records could have been used to locate Khalid al-Mihdhar, one of the 9/11 hijackers. In this instance, al-Mihdhar was already the subject of an ongoing terrorism investigation and was in contact with a known terrorist safe house in Yemen. Targeted surveillance of terrorists – not innocent Americans – is permissible.  

As Senator and while campaigning for president, Barack Obama promised to protect civil liberties, but his rhetoric does not match up with the facts.

Mueller, who has served as FBI Director under both Bush and Obama, could not point out one instance where Obama has taken action to enhance privacy protections.

Former Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Pete Hoekstra told the Washington Times, “On some of this stuff, this is really Bush on steroids. As a senator, Obama became a very harsh critic. He became president, and he took what I thought was an effective tool and put it on steroids.”

We entrust the quiet professionals of the intelligence community with defending our security and our rights. This executive overreach is unacceptable and further denigrates Americans’ trust in Washington.

A large, intrusive government – however benevolent it claims to be – is not immune from the simple truth that centralized power threatens liberty. Our government’s legitimacy rests on its accountability to the people. And Americans are increasingly weary that Washington is invading the privacy rights guaranteed to us by the Fourth Amendment.

The House of Representatives today passed H.R. 1960, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2014, with bipartisan support. The NDAA includes an amendment by Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and Ron Kind (D-WI). The amendment authorizes an award of the Medal of Honor to First Lieutenant Alonzo H. Cushing for Acts of Valor during the Civil War.  

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “The NDAA has been signed into law for 51 straight years – proof of America’s unfettered commitment to national security and our brave men and women in uniform. I am very pleased our bipartisan amendment to honor First Lieutenant Alonzo Cushing – a Civil War Hero of Delafield, Wisconsin who played a pivotal during the battle of Gettysburg – is included in the bill. Lt. Cushing was a courageous leader who gave his life to protect our sovereign nation. This brave Wisconsinite should be awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic service.”
The House Judiciary Committee today approved legislation by voice vote that prohibits state and local governments that receive federal economic development funds from using eminent domain to transfer private property from one private owner to another for the purpose of economic development, the Private Property Rights Protection Act (H.R. 1944).  This legislation is in response to the 2005 Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. City of New London, which gives local governments broad authority to seize private property under the guise of economic development just to generate tax revenue. The Private Property Rights Protection Act passed the House of Representatives in the 109th and 112th Congresses.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), chief sponsor of the Private Property Rights Protection Act, praised today’s Committee vote.

Chairman Goodlatte: “Private ownership of property is vital to our freedom and prosperity, and is one of the most fundamental principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution; however, the 2005 Supreme Court decision issued in the Kelo vs. City of New London case jeopardizes the protection of private property from government seizure guaranteed by the Constitution. The Private Property Rights Protection Act will help to limit the negative impact of this damaging Supreme Court decision.

“Families all across our nation continue to fight hard and make the tough decisions necessary to keep their homes, farms and businesses in these challenging economic times.  It is simply wrong to allow the government to sweep in and grab hardworking Americans’ property just to hand it over to someone else the government thinks should have it.”

Congressman Sensenbrenner: “American citizens have a fundamental right to use their property for whatever lawful purpose they choose. Congress should protect private property rights and reform the use and abuse of eminent domain. As a result of Kelo v. City of New London, farmers in Wisconsin are particularly vulnerable because farmland is less valuable than residential or commercial property. This bill would restore the rights the Supreme Court took away and provide Americans with the means to protect their private property from inappropriate claims of eminent domain.”

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) prepared the following statement for today’s House Judiciary Committee markup on H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013:

I thank the Chairman for putting H.R. 1944, the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2013, on today’s calendar.  This legislation has been around for a number of years, and I am pleased that has enjoyed support from both sides of the aisle. 

This legislation was originally drafted in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. City of New London.  In this 2005 decision, the court held 5-4 that “economic development” can be a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, justifying the government’s taking of private property. This ruling justified the government’s taking of private property from one small homeowner and giving it to a private business for use in the interest of creating a more lucrative tax base.  

Kelo grants the government significant power with virtually zero accountability to the “public use” requirement in the Fifth Amendment’s Taking Clause. The implications of this decision transformed the original purpose of the “public use” limitation. Kelo permits the government to force individuals to forfeit their private property to a large corporation. 

The dissent Kelo protested this over-reaching power and modification of the takings clause.  Former Justice O’Connor stated, “The government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.  The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result.”

Other groups including the AARP and NAACP also opposed Kelo, noting that “The takings that result [from the Court’s decision] will disproportionately affect and harm the economically disadvantaged and, in particular, racial and ethnic minorities and the elderly.”  Furthermore, representatives of religious organizations have stated that “Houses of worship and other religious institutions are, by their very nature, non-profit and almost universally tax-exempt. These fundamental characteristics of religious institutions render their property singularly vulnerable to being taken under the rationale approved by the Supreme Court.”  

In 2005, I first introduced a version of this bill to restore to all Americans the property rights the Supreme Court took away. That bill, H.R. 4128, passed with the clear support of this House by a vote of 376-38. Since Kelo, more than 40 states have passed laws to rein in eminent domain power. Yet, these laws exist on a varying degree, and the need to ensure that property rights are returned to all Americans is as strong now as it was when Kelo was decided.  

The Private Property Rights Protection Act enhances the penalty for states and localities that abuse their eminent domain power by denying states or localities that commit such abuse all federal economic development funds for a period of two years.  Specifically, if a state or political subdivision of a state uses its eminent domain power to transfer private property to other private parties for economic development, the state is ineligible to receive federal economic development funds for two fiscal years following a judicial determination that the law has been violated.  Additionally, the bill prohibits the federal government from using eminent domain for economic development purposes.

The protection of property rights is one of the most important tenets of our government.  I am mindful of the long history of eminent domain abuses, particularly in low-income and often predominantly minority neighborhoods, and the need to stop it.  I am also mindful of the reasons we should allow the government to take land when the way in which the land is being used constitutes an immediate threat to public health and safety.  I believe this bill accomplishes both goals. 

I urge my colleagues to join me in protecting property rights for all Americans and limiting the dangerous effects of the Kelo decision on the most vulnerable in society.  I yield back the balance of my time.