Sen. Russell Feingold yesterday defended and drew great applause for casting the only vote in the Senate against President Bush”s anti-terrorism bill in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Feingold (D-Wis.), addressing an audience of about 300 students and community members at the Michigan Union Ballroom, stressed the need to maintain civil liberties when the security of American citizens is in question.
The legislation passed by Congress and signed by Bush, he said, “upsets the critical balance between law enforcement and big government and the need to protect civil liberties.”
Feingold equated the legislation with the Alien and Sedition Act, the blacklisting of suspected Communist sympathizers during the 1950s, harassment and surveillance of Vietnam War protesters and internment of German and Japanese Americans during World War II.
“Well tell them it”s OK to violate the constitution for four years and then stop,” he said.
One example, Feingold said, is that law enforcement officials, upon finding that a student who is not linked to terrorism in any way violated one of the provisions of the act, could then order the school”s administration to let the government monitor all the student”s e-mail and telephone calls.
The ability of the police to conduct warrantless searches of residences without the owner”s consent or knowledge is also expanded, he said.
The fact that the law expires in four years does not justify passing it, he said.
In the speech, which kicked off his “college listening tour,” Feingold said his generation would be making a mistake if it were “not to tap into the enthusiasm and energy of young people” and that the generation of students in college today had warned of organizations that exploited poverty and misery in order to become wealthy and further their causes.
He said students had, to little avail, pointed out the diamond trade in war-ravaged and impoverished Sierra Leone and its connection to Osama bin Laden”s al- Qaida terrorist network.
Students, he said, had also stressed the need to force pharmaceutical companies to offer discounted drugs to AIDS and HIV sufferers in Africa, many of whom cannot afford the drugs at their current prices.
“No place on Earth can be overlooked in the fight against terrorism,” he said.
But the two-term senator said domestic concerns that were of top priority before the attacks should not be put aside after the attacks.
He spoke of the need to end racial profiling and a bill to do just that, which he sponsored along with Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) a bill he co-sponsored with Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) to end the death penalty and campaign finance reform.
Feingold”s campaign finance reform legislation, co-sponsored with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), was passed by the Senate earlier in the year but remains stuck in the House of Representatives. Feingold has been working to get the required 218 signatures of House members in order to force his bill to a vote in that chamber.
In a meeting with reporters immediately following the event, Feingold said he was seven signatures short, but was confident that he and McCain could get the necessary signatures as soon as they decided it was prudent to do so, given Congress” need to focus on other matters following the terrorist attacks.
“It”s really just a delay game,” he said.
Feingold also said he did not regret being the only Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to recommend the confirmation of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
“I believe the president of the United States, whoever it is, has the right to pick his Cabinet members,” unless they are unqualified or there are ethical questions surrounding those individuals, he said.
Ashcroft, he said, was willing to make some of the changes Feingold wanted in the anti-terrorism bill, but “the White House put the hammer down and said no.”
Christopher Johnson contributed to this report for the Daily.