Sunday, June 12, 2005

Democracy thwarted at Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Patriot Act

US House of Representatives
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
Press Release

Democracy thwarted at Judiciary Committee Hearing on the Patriot Act
Chairman silences Democrats at a hearing on the Patriot Act by cutting the microphones

(Adjourns illegally at 1:50:00)

June 10, 2005
(Washington, DC) --

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, in her new role as a member of the Judiciary Committee today, witnessed first hand the disrespectful conduct of the Republican majority at a Committee hearing today, requested by the Democratic minority, to hear testimony on civil rights and civil liberties abuses resulting from the USA Patriot Act.

The majority acted shamefully today, attempting to silence Democrats at the Judiciary Committee hearing this morning on the impact of the Patriot Act. Throughout the hearing, run by Judiciary Committee Chairman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, witnesses and members were cut-off in mid sentence, the Chairman refused to yield to Democratic members points of order, or points of personal privilege. Finally, the hearing was adjourned by the Chairman, in violation of the Rules of the House and cutting off the microphones of Democratic members while they attempted to speak.

Sixteen provisions of the USA Patriot Act automatically sunset (expire) at the end of the year unless reauthorized by Congress. As such, the Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act.

The hearing this morning was the first time in roughly ten years that the minority on the Judiciary Committee has been forced to invoke its right to continue hearings in order to have its own witnesses.

Earlier this week, the Chairman, scheduled a series of hearings on the reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act, however, many of the hearings were on non-controversial parts of the Act. The hearings did not address some really obvious and important issues like section 215, which authorizes FBI access to library records and racial profiling. In an amazing slight, the only witness the Chairman would allow was the Deputy Attorney General of the United States who, of course, supports the permanent enactment of the Act. THE MINORITY DID NOT GET TO CALL A SINGLE WITNESS.

In response, the Judiciary Committee Democrats invoked Rule11 of the House rules allowing us to request our own hearing, which the Chairman held this morning, on a Friday, even though the House adjourned on Thursday and most members had returned to their districts.

Particularly shameful acts of the majority Republican during this morning’s Judiciary Committee Hearing:

1. The most egregious abuse was that the Chairman clearly violated the Rules of the House by adjourning the hearing based solely on his own authority. In order to end a hearing, the Chair must make a Unanimous Consent request or a motion to adjourn. Mr. Sensenbrenner did neither. Additionally, he adjourned the hearing based solely on his own authority while Mr. Nadler was attempting to raise a point of order (arguably to highlight this fact), which constitutes a clear abuse of House Rules. Subject to our discretion, this could constitute a privilege to be raised on the House floor. It can also be argued that this violation was particularly egregious given that this was the Minority’s day of hearings. (begins at 1:51:00 on video)

2. After the Chairman illegally adjourned the hearing, the Majority then attempted to cut the microphone of Mr. Nadler who was attempting to raise a point of order about the adjournment. (begins at 1:52:25 on video)

3. The Chairman refused on numerous occasions to recognize Members attempting to raise Points of Order or Points of Personal Privilege. For example, he refused to recognize both Ms. Jackson-Lee Ms. Wasserman-Schultz at the beginning of the hearing. (begins at 17:45 on video or 19:15)

4. During the hearing, the Chairman clearly referred to comments that had just been made by Ms. Jackson-Lee, calling them “irresponsible.” (begins at 1:49:57 on video)

5. The Chair gave one of the witnesses an order for information he wanted submitted to the Committee and gave a deadline of one week even though other witnesses in previous hearings have not been given such deadlines. (begins at 1:50:45 on video)

6. The Chairman at the beginning of the hearing read a list of Members – calling them by name – who signed the letter requesting an additional day of hearings but were not present at that moment at the hearing. The Rules of the House clearly state that Members cannot be disparaged on the record by name. Additionally, a number of the Members so disparaged were present at that moment and some had been present from before the hearing even began. (begins 5:30 on video)

7. The Chairman instituted a policy of cutting off witnesses responding to questions by Members in mid-sentence. Additionally, he would not let witnesses answer questions that were posed to them by Members before the Member’s five minutes ended (begins at 1:32:30 on video). While not a violation of the Rules, these actions clearly violated the Traditions and Practices of the House Judiciary Committee. Chairman Sessenbrenner usually allows witnesses to finish their sentences – and usually their broader point – before moving to the next Member. In addition, the usual practice is to allow witnesses to briefly respond to questions posed to them, even if the five minutes of the Member expired before they began to answer (begins at 1:47:00 on video).

8. The Chairman also suggested that he might strike from the record any testimony that was not directly related to the 16 expiring provisions of the PATRIOT Act. At no time has it ever been suggested or threatened that a witnesses testimony (or a Member’s statements) would be stricken from the record. Additionally, in previous hearings, the Majority’s witnesses, as well the Majority Members have made statements that were technically outside the bounds of the hearing topic.

(Adjourns illegally at 1:50:00)