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.
We've gotten used to what "Big Government" looks like – Washington's unchecked deficit spending, the Obama administration's policing of the press and the IRS's targeting of conservative groups. But the problem is bigger than we thought. "Big Brother" is watching. And he is monitoring the phone calls and digital communications of every American, as well as of any foreigners who make or receive calls to or from the United States.
Last week, the Guardian reported that the Obama administration is collecting records of every call made to, from or within the US, as well as records of many digital communications. President Obama has tried to deflect criticism by claiming "every member of Congress has been briefed on this program." While some members of Congress were briefed – particularly those on the intelligence committees – most, including myself, were not.
The administration claims authority to sift through details of our private lives because the Patriot Act says that it can. I disagree. I authored the Patriot Act, and this is an abuse of that law.
I was the chairman of the House judiciary committee when the US was attacked on 11 September 2001. Five days later, the Justice Department delivered its proposal for new legislation. Although I, along with every other American, knew we had to strengthen our ability to combat those targeting our country, this version went too far. I believed then and now that we can defend our country and our liberty at the same time.
I immediately called then-House Speaker Dennis Hastert and asked him for time to redraft the legislation. I told the speaker that if the legislation moved forward as drafted, I would not only vote against it, but would actively oppose it.
The country wanted action, and the pressure from the White House was intense. To his credit, Speaker Hastert gave us more time. There were endless meetings and non-stop negotiations with the White House, the FBI and the intelligence community. The question could not have been more fundamental: how could we defend our liberty and protect the American people at the same time?
The legislation had to be narrowly tailored – everyone agreed that we could not allow unrestrained surveillance. The Patriot Act had 17 provisions. To prevent abuse, I insisted on sunsetting all the provisions so that they would automatically expire if Congress did not renew them. This would allow Congress to conduct oversight of the administration's implementation of the act.
In 2006, Congress made 14 of the provisions permanent because they were noncontroversial. The three remaining provisions, including the so-called business records provision the administration relied on for the programs in question, will expire in 2015 if they are not reauthorized.
The final draft was bipartisan and passed the judiciary committee unanimously. The Patriot Act has saved lives by ensuring that information is shared among those responsible for defending our country and by giving the intelligence community the tools it needs to identify and track terrorists.
In his press conference on Friday, President Obama described the massive collection of phone and digital records as "two programs that were originally authorized by Congress, have been repeatedly authorized by Congress". But Congress has never specifically authorized these programs, and the Patriot Act was never intended to allow the daily spying the Obama administration is conducting.
To obtain a business records order like the one the administration obtained, the Patriot Act requires the government to prove to a special federal court, known as a Fisa court, that it is complying with specific guidelines set by the attorney general and that the information sought is relevant to an authorized investigation. Intentionally targeting US citizens is prohibited.
Technically, the administration's actions were lawful insofar as they were done pursuant to an order from the Fisa court. But based on the scope of the released order, both the administration and the Fisa court are relying on an unbounded interpretation of the act that Congress never intended.
The released Fisa order requires daily productions of the details of every call that every American makes, as well as calls made by foreigners to or from the United States. Congress intended to allow the intelligence communities to access targeted information for specific investigations. How can every call that every American makes or receives be relevant to a specific investigation?
This is well beyond what the Patriot Act allows.
President Obama's claim that "this is the most transparent administration in history" has once again proven false. In fact, it appears that no administration has ever peered more closely or intimately into the lives of innocent Americans. The president should immediately direct his administration to stop abusing the US constitution.
We all know the saying "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." We are seeing that truth demonstrated once again.
Our liberties are secure only so long as we are prepared to defend them. I and many other members of Congress intend to take immediate action to ensure that such abuses are not repeated.
By my count, Attorney General Eric Holder said some version of "I don't know" 30 times in response to questions at the House Judiciary Committee's recent hearing. His evasive testimony epitomized what has seemed like an almost compulsive effort at the Justice Department to avoid accountability.
On May 3, 2011, Holder testified that he "probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks." House investigators soon realized, however, that updates on the Fast and Furious program were included in weekly briefings to the attorney general beginning at least 10 months earlier in July 2010. The attorney general nonetheless maintained that he had not read the briefings and his testimony was "truthful and accurate."
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) then noted he had personally handed the attorney general a letter on Fast and Furious over three months before the hearing. Faced with this, Holder conceded, "I probably could've said 'a couple of months.'"
This game of who-knew-what-when sounds like political gotcha, but Congress is charged with overseeing the administration, and oversight is impossible when the attorney general claims to be unaware of everything that happens under his watch.
Consistent with this policy of "see no evil, hear no evil," on May 15, 2013, Holder told the House Judiciary Committee: "In regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material — this is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy."
The attorney general was right that it was not a wise policy, but unfortunately, everything else he said was misleading. Holder's testimony was in response to questions about the department's shockingly broad subpoenas of the Associated Press's phone calls. Holder had recused himself from the AP investigation — though the details of when and why he recused himself remain vague — so he believed he was insulated from accusations of wrongdoing. Soon after the hearing, however, it became public that the department had secured a warrant to obtain email records of Fox News reporter James Rosen, and this time, the attorney general was involved in the decision to issue the warrants.
The Department of Justice rallied to defend its attorney general. A department official told the Huffington Post: "To our knowledge, the Department of Justice has never prosecuted a reporter. No reporter has ever been charged by the Department of Justice simply for publishing information obtained through an illegal leak of classified information by a government official."
Except Holder did not say he had no knowledge of prosecutions, he said he had no knowledge of potential prosecutions. Why is the Department of Justice swearing under oath that it had probable cause to believe James Rosen violated the Espionage Act if it was not considering a prosecution for the crime? Why was it subpoenaing AP records from 20 phone lines if it was not considering prosecuting AP reporters?
The scope of the department's warrant is also inconsistent with its contention that it was not investigating Rosen. The department's warrant granted access not only to Rosen's communication with the State Department's Stephen Kim, who the department is prosecuting for disclosing classified information, but also to "[a]ny document, image, record, or information concerning the national defense ...and other Department of Defense, U.S. military, and/or weapons material... and any communications concerning such documents, images, records, or information."
Further, the department argued to three federal judges before it finally convinced a judge to allow it to keep its warrant for Rosen's emails a secret. The secrecy was important to the department because it wanted to continue monitoring Rosen's email over an extended period of time.
With both Fast and Furious and the press investigations, if the attorney general is telling the truth, the truth is probably worse than the lie. If the attorney general first heard of Fast and Furious from Grassley, whistleblowers had to reach out to Congress to get the attorney general to notice wrongdoing within his own department. If the Department of Justice has truly never considered a potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, then the attorney general believes it is appropriate for the government to access reporter's personal records even if he believes they have done nothing wrong.
Holder's lack of accountability and control over his department has lost him the trust of both Congress and the American people. He should resign — a small step toward a renewed trust in a broken Washington plagued with scandal, debt and political games.
Did Eric Holder lie to Congress? It's my turn to say, "I don't know," but I might have more confidence in his leadership if we find out he lied because the alternative suggests gross mismanagement and a complete lack of respect for the First Amendment.
Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) today sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s application for a top secret court order to collect the phone records of essentially every call made by millions of Verizon customers.
Congressman Sensenbrenner: “As the author of the Patriot Act, I am extremely troubled by the FBI’s interpretation of this legislation. While I believe the Patriot Act appropriately balanced national security concerns and civil rights, I have always worried about potential abuses. The Bureau’s broad application for phone records was made under the so-called business records provision of the Act. I do not believe the broadly drafted FISA order is consistent with the requirements of the Patriot Act. Seizing phone records of millions of innocent people is excessive and un-American.”
Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder on May 29th. The letter sought answers to the discrepancies between his sworn testimony before the House Judiciary Committee and his role in obtaining a search warrant for the emails of James Rosen of Fox News. Last night, Attorney General Holder sent his response. Unsatisfied with his response, Judiciary Committee Republicans today sent another letter to Attorney General Holder requesting that he appear before the Committee on June 18, 2013, or some other time before the July 4th recess.
Congressman Sensenbrenner: “I appreciate the response from the Attorney General. However, serious questions remain. Why did the Attorney General tell the Committee he had no knowledge of potential prosecutions even though he signed off on the Rosen warrant? And why were the AP subpoenas and the Rosen warrant from the Department so broad? I hope the Attorney General will return to the Committee to address these questions on the record. If he does, and if his responses are satisfactory, we can at least put an end to questions about whether the Attorney General misled Congress.
“In his response, Holder stated that he’s initiated a review of the Department’s policies related to investigations of the media. That’s the fox guarding the hen house. Holder refuses to hold himself accountable. The fundamental question is whether the Department can be trusted to police itself. I am not convinced the chilling effect this has had on unfettered investigative journalism can be rectified under this Attorney General.”