Judiciary Committee Tries to Assert Jurisdiction on FISA Rewrite

Goodlatte is the chairman of the judiciary committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Goodlatte is the chairman of the judiciary committee. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted March 28, 2014 at 11:42am

Republicans and Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are trying to assert jurisdiction over legislation revamping the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs — days after the bipartisan leadership of the Intelligence Committee outlined its own plan .  

Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte, R-Va., ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., and Robert C. Scott, D-Va., issued a cautionary joint statement about President Barack Obama’s latest proposal to end the government’s bulk collection of telephone records and make other changes to intelligence gathering.  

Here’s the statement:

“President Obama has outlined many good ideas to reform our nation’s surveillance programs, including ending the bulk telephone data collection program. However, these ideas need to be implemented through legislation that protects our privacy. As the Committee of primary jurisdiction, we look forward to continuing to work on legislation with members from both sides of the aisle on the House Judiciary Committee to strengthen some of the ideas put forth by the President. It’s imperative that we reform our nation’s intelligence-gathering programs so that we better protect our civil liberties and regain the trust of the American people.”

Sensenbrenner, now a subcommittee chairman, helped author the Patriot Act but has since accused the government of overstepping its bounds and has sought to roll back some of the NSA’s surveillance programs. He and Conyers have co-authored an overhaul of their own.  

The jurisdictional scrum sets up a potential fight with retiring House Intelligence Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich., who outlined a plan that tracks with the White House proposal alongside ranking Democrat C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland.  

On Wednesday, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, a member of Judiciary, said in a statement on the rewrite of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that the panel should have primary jurisdiction.

“As we move forward on FISA reform, I continue to endorse the approach taken in the Sensenbrenner-Conyers (USA FREEDOM) Act, which, among other reforms, ends the bulk and indiscriminate collection of data and restores our intent that data collection be done only with individualized suspicion and judicial supervision. The Rogers-Ruppersberger bill, now before the House Intelligence Committee, fails to adequately ensure either. While I am heartened by what I have heard about the President’s proposal, the specific details remain unclear and will require close examination. And as the Congress does so, the House Judiciary Committee must be the primary Committee at the center of this reform.

“The House Judiciary Committee, not the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, has always been the primary forum to debate the appropriate scope of government surveillance. This Committee has long taken the lead, and held responsibility, for ensuring that our national security needs do not trump our core Constitutional freedoms. I am deeply concerned that today, for what appears to be the first time ever, a FISA reform bill has been sent first to the House Intelligence Committee. The House Judiciary Committee must assert its critically important role with regard to FISA reform efforts so as to ensure that our Constitutional liberties are properly protected as we seek to promote national security.”

But the trump card in any jurisdictional dispute is the speaker’s gavel. And John A. Boehner, a hawk on national security, appears on board with Rogers and Ruppersberger. See video here .