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The Madison Capital Times (Wisconsin)

Feingold to Filibuster Warrantless Wiretapping Bill

John Nichols

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., will take steps this week to filibuster a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) reform proposal that provides retroactive immunity to telecommunications corporations that violate the privacy rights of customers by sharing information with illegal spying programs.0625 06 1

Feingold and Connecticut Sen. Chris Dodd -- both longtime critics of the immunity provision -- indicated they would take steps to block the bill after members of groups such as on Tuesday urged senators to use all procedural strategies available to them to stall the rapid progress of Bush administration-backed legislation that would bar consumer lawsuits against telephone companies that are guilty of spying on Americans.

"This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name," declared Feingold and Dodd. "We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called 'compromise' legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President's warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

"If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans' civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called 'compromise' legislation."

Speaking with Amy Goodman on the radio program "Democracy Now!," Feingold elaborated on the plan to fight the immunity scheme.

"We are going to resist this bill," he said. "We are going to make sure that the procedural votes are gone through. In other words, a filibuster is requiring 60 votes to proceed to the bill, 60 votes to get closure on the legislation. We will also --- Senator Dodd and I and others -- will be taking some time to talk about this on the floor. We're not just going to let it be rubber-stamped."

Goodman pressed Feingold, specifically asking him to confirm that he would attempt a filibuster.

"That's what I just described," said the Wisconsinite, who chairs the Constitution subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

To be maintained, a filibuster must be supported by more than two-fifths of the 100 senators. If opponents of a filibuster can muster 60 votes, Feingold and Dodd will fail -- a distinct possibility as key Democrats in the Senate have made moves to compromise with the Republican White House on this issue. (Dodd's attempt to filibuster an earlier version of the legislation in February gained only 29 supporters, far less than the 41 required to prevent a bill from advancing.)

But the news that a filibuster effort would be made was cause for celebration among activists who were worried that no senators would be willing to take extraordinary steps to battle an extraordinary assault on the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

"We spoke; they listened," TrueMajority online director Matt Holland said of the decision to filibuster. "Senators Dodd and Feingold understand that we don't have to break the law to keep America safe. It doesn't take secret surveillance to understand that the greatest threat to our liberty comes not from foreign elements but rather from those would undermine the basic principles and values that keep our nation strong."

Holland explained that "the White House guarding our right to privacy is like the fox guarding the hen house. We're pleased that Senators Dodd and Feingold are standing up to this inanity. Now it's time for others in the Senate to join them and remove the immunity provision. Americans just don't like being spied on."

TrueMajority had urged Feingold, Dodd and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. -- all past champions of efforts to block the immunity provision and related assaults on the ability of citizens -- to challenge corporate and governmental abuses.

Abandoning a previous commitment to lead the fight to protect privacy rights, Obama has indicated that he will vote with the Bush administration to undermine those rights.

Feingold describes Obama's choice as a "wrong vote" and "regrettable."

Instead of aiding George Bush's attack on the Fourth Amendment, Feingold said of Democrats in the Senate: "We should be standing up for the Constitution."

© 2008 The Madison Capital Times

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