The Tea Party's First Test?

The House may vote tomorrow to extend three provisions of the PATRIOT Act and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act that allow the government to conduct domestic surveillance of Americans.

The 112th Congress began with a historic reading of the U.S. Constitution. Will anyone subscribe to the First and Fourth Amendments tomorrow when the PATRIOT Act is up for a vote? I am hopeful that members of the Tea Party who came to Congress to defend the Constitution will join me in challenging the reauthorization.

It is clear that more than eight years after the passage of the PATRIOT Act, Congress has failed to do its job: act as a co-equal branch of government exercising checks and balances over Presidential power. Who will and protect the American people from infringements on their most basic constitutional rights if Congress continues to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act?

The passage of the PATRIOT Act in 2001 constituted an unprecedented expansion of executive power and placed basic civil liberties at grave risk. Provisions scheduled for extension, such as Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to order any person or business to turn over "any tangible things" with vague reason.

Orders executed under this provision constitute a serious violation of First and Fourth Amendment rights by allowing the government to demand access to records often associated with the exercise of First Amendment rights, such as library or medical records.

As Members of Congress, we are obligated to protect the rights and civil liberties afforded to us by the Constitution and to exercise our oversight powers fully. Despite years of documentation evidencing abuse of these provisions by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, they may extended without any meaningful debate or opportunity to implement common-sense reforms to ensure that the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans are fully protected. Our failure to do so makes Congress complicit in these violations of basic constitutional rights.