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 that we stay one step 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 with bipartisan support.
As the author of the Act, I am troubled by the ongoing dragnet collection of data by the NSA, as it is a misapplication of Section 215, the so-called “business records provision.” Quite simply, it is an overly broad interpretation of the law. Over the weeks and months ahead, my colleagues and I will work to rein in this abuse and, if necessary, revise Section 215 to prevent further executive overreach before the provision sunsets in 2015.
I value Americans’ right to privacy. I also recognize that there are legitimate threats to our national security. The Patriot Act must be properly applied to reflect these dual concerns.
The Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing on oversight of the Administration’s use of FISA Authorities for Wednesday, July 17. I look forward to a public discussion on this issue.
As a senior member and former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, I have been at the forefront of our nation’s immigration debates for the past thirty-five years.
In 1986, Congress passed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to 3 million illegal immigrants. Although this bill promised enhanced border security, there are currently between 10 and 20 million illegal immigrants living within our borders. Clearly, this bipartisan legislation failed, and repeating those same mistakes is an exercise in lunacy.
During the 109th Congress, I authored the Border Protection, Anti-Terrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act, seeking to rectify the mistakes of the past, while also updating our immigration law for the new threats of the 21st century, like transnational terrorism and drug trafficking. Apart from its border security provisions, this legislation would have also created an employment eligibility verification system to counteract the magnet that draws illegal immigrants to our country. While the bill passed in the House, it died in the Senate.
Immigration reform is not simply about adhering to the principles of opportunity and liberty. There are very serious national security, law enforcement and economic repercussions of immigration policy. Only after stemming the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States through stricter employee verification and enhanced border security can an honest discussion on citizenship begin.
We must learn from the policy failures of the past and craft reform in a measured, step-by-step fashion. As part of this piece-meal approach, the Judiciary Committee recently approved H.R. 1772, the Legal Workforce Act, which would expand our nation’s E-Verify system, and H.R. 2131, the SKILLS Visa Act, which would allocate green cards to foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. In a continued effort to address the problems with our immigration system in a systematic way, the Judiciary Committee will also consider bills on border security and low-skilled visas in the weeks ahead.
Voting Rights Act
The Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in the wake of the Civil War, prohibits the federal and state governments from denying a citizen the right to vote on account of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” Despite its passage, the Fifteenth Amendment failed to stem the widespread disenfranchisement of minorities in the United States. Local and state ordinances that erected barriers to voting, like literacy tests, marginalized the African American population. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA)—passed nearly a century after the Fifteenth Amendment—took steps to rectify this systemic disenfranchisement.
Throughout my tenure in Congress, I have fought to protect this landmark piece of legislation. As Judiciary Committee Chairman, I introduced the reauthorization of the VRA, the Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, and Coretta Scott King Voting Rights Act Reauthorization and Amendments Act of 2006. After approximately 20 hearings, the measure passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision of this law.
The VRA is a bulwark against racial prejudices in the electoral process, the most sacred institution in our democracy and the key privilege of citizenship. In the weeks and months ahead, I will work closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to update the VRA, so it can serve its function of protecting this most sacred democratic right. Any solution must be completely bipartisan and comply with the objections of the Supreme Court, which will take time and careful consideration.
This week, our work on updating the VRA begins in earnest. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) has called a hearing entitled “From Selma to Shelby County: Working Together to Restore the Protections of the Voting Rights Act.” I have been called to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee alongside Congressman John Lewis (D-GA) on Wednesday, July 17 to offer my analysis and reaction to the Supreme Court decision.
On Thursday, July 18, the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing to examine potential legislative solutions to protect Americans' most sacred right.
As the former Chairman of the House Science Committee, the former Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming and the Chair of the congressional delegation to the Kyoto Conference, I am very familiar with the debate on climate change. I have seen ambitious, and often naïve, proposals meet their demise once the American people realize the economic implications.
While I care about the environment—Wisconsin has some of the most beautiful hills, lakes and farmland in the country—I also believe we should not enact environmental policies that come at the expense of jobs and economic growth. For this reason, I reject President Obama’s position on climate-change.
The President claims to promote market-based solutions to climate change. This assertion is misleading. His “Cap and Tax” proposal would have artificially created a market for companies to trade emissions allowances. The American people rejected this proposal because of its detrimental effects on businesses and consumers in an already struggling economy.
Rather than relying on talking points from the Environmental Defense Fund, which result in inflexible, overreaching policy prescriptions, the President should work with businesses and other affected stakeholders to craft workable solutions to climate change.