Barr Answers Gonzales' Call to Make Patriot Act Permanent: Says Law's Problems More About Boosting Presidential Power

Statement of Former Congressman Bob Barr

March 8, 2005

ATLANTA – "With due respect to Attorney General Gonzales, his remarks yesterday before the legislative conference of the National Association of Counties fundamentally ignore the primary reason why many conservatives are concerned about the USA Patriot Act.

Sprinkled throughout the Patriot Act are a series of provisions that are not about terrorism at all. They are about breaking down traditional checks and balances on presidential and executive branch authority, put in place by the Founding Fathers to block the rise of kings in America. In particular, these problematic provisions in the Patriot Act are about stripping independent courts of their ability to serve as a check on the use of executive branch power for federal surveillance, searches or detentions.

Conservatives believe in limited government, not unlimited government, and, in the words of Ronald Reagan, that too often government is the ‘problem, not the solution.' There are some, however, who feel this limited government conservatism should not apply to the president and White House. I disagree. In all contexts, government power is, at best, a necessary evil. This is no less true in the context of the Patriot Act. It grants far too much authority to the FBI and other federal law enforcement agents, without making sure that someone is guarding the guardians.

The Patriot Act should be amended to address these concerns. In particular, there should be more aggressive judicial and Congressional oversight of the government's Patriot Act search and surveillance authority. I urge Congress to ensure that the Patriot Act's expansive and extraordinary powers are being used exclusively against terrorists, and not as a way to cut corners in garden-variety criminal investigations and evade the protections required by the Constitution. A Mohammed Atta is an entirely different creature than a Martha Stewart.

Attorney General Gonzales should be applauded for his efforts to protect the American people in his first month on the job, but he should not be permitted to use the phrase ‘national security' as a shield for policies that are fundamentally about making the executive branch more powerful at the expense of the careful structure established by the Constitution's checks and balances. Conservatives, in particular, across America should be deeply concerned about the sweep of such far-reaching powers, which can be wielded by a president on either side of the ideological divide."