An amendment to the Patriot Act that would have limited the surveillance powers of the NSA, failed to pass the House last week by a vote of 205-217 with 12 not voting.
The amendment, sponsored by Justin Amash (R-Michigan), would have modified section 215 of the Patriot Act to force the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to demonstrate that targeted records were relevant to the case against a person under investigation. The amendment received widespread support from civil liberties advocates on both sides of the aisle, but was opposed by established party leaders.
In California, a majority of representatives supported the proposed legislation, with 58 percent voting yes. Of California’s 38 Democratic representatives, 27 voted in favor of the amendment (71 percent), a much higher rate than the Democrats nationally (55 percent).
However, the vote was deeply divided along party lines. Four of 15 California Republican representatives voted for the amendment (27 percent). A much lower percentage than the Republican representatives overall (40 percent).
Despite being sponsored by Amash, a Republican, the bill received more yes votes from Democrats than it did from Republicans. This is especially remarkable considering the Democratically controlled White House issued a statement openly condemning the legislation before the vote.
The lack of Republican support for Rep. Amash’s amendment was not unexpected. Amash votes against his own party more than any other member of Congress, and has developed a reputation as being an unreliable ally in the eyes of the Republican establishment.
His outspoken positions on to the protection of civil liberties and privacy rights has countered efforts by the White House, the intelligence community, and the military. Yet, consequently, these positions have garnered support and cooperation from liberal Democrats.
Though the amendment failed to pass, Amash’s actions are largely considered to be a victory. Recent polls show little support for increased surveillance powers, especially in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. Amash seems to be at the cutting edge of representative government as it catches up to public opinion (as are the representatives in California).