Leahy: A Profile
March 20, 2002
By Richard Prasad
For 28 years, Patrick Leahy has toiled in the Senate. Yet,
he is one of the least reported about and most under appreciated
Senators in the Senate today. This is a profile of his career
in the Senate.
Leahy's name was in all the newspapers recently, for leading
the Democratic charge against Judge Charles Pickering. He
was vilified by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee,
for his treatment of Pickering, but what Republicans fail
to point out is that Pickering got a hearing, many Clinton
judicial nominees did not. Despite the recent notoriety, Leahy
still works in relative anonymity.
Patrick Leahy joined the Senate in 1974, after distinguishing
himself as a prosecutor in Vermont. Leahy has set himself
apart in the Senate by being a leading opponent of the production,
export and use of landmines. In 1992, Leahy wrote an amendment
to ban the US export of landmines, the amendment passed 100-0
in 1993, and in 1997, it was adopted as permanent US policy
by President Clinton. As part of that amendment in 1992, the
Leahy War Victims Fund was created, which helps fund hospitals
that serve war victims around the world.
Another area that Leahy has made a name for himself in is
the area of cyberspace. In July 2001, the Business Software
Alliance gave Senator Leahy a Cyber Champion Award. As co-chair
of the Senate Internet Caucus, he fought to liberalize the
rules on the export of encryption devices. In other words,
he made it easier to sell encryption devices abroad. Encryption
devices ensure cyber privacy. Leahy was also integral on the
passage of the No Theft Act, and the Digital Millennium Copyright
Act, which protected software copyrights. Not a lot of liberals
are honored by business groups, never mind software business
groups. Think of the antipathy between Clinton and Microsoft.
He his not always made friends with his views on cyberspace.
Leahy opposed Senate Bill S2448, a cybercrime bill which was
cosponsored by two members of the Judiciary Committee, Chuck
Schumer, and Orrin Hatch. Leahy said the bill criminalized
too many minor offenses, and federalized crimes that were
already covered by state law, making it redundant.
On a personal note, I visited Senator Leahy's website to
write him a note recently. The website is easy to use, much
more user friendly than other Senators websites I've visited.
I hit a link and the link addressed my e-mail, and I was ready
to write, unlike other Senators websites who ask you to fill
out a form of endless questions and then type a comment in
a box. Senators, learn a few lessons from the Cyber Senator.
Leahy has clearly staked out positions that protect civil
liberties, even in the midst of the war on terrorism. On December
6th 2001, Leahy called Attorney General Ashcroft in front
of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Leahy was generally concerned
that the September 11th eroded the oversight power of the
Congress, giving more power to the Executive branch.
The Senator form Vermont was specifically concerned about
the broad powers given to the President, when President Bush
signed an executive order approving the use of military tribunals.
For his efforts to try to clarify the use of military tribunals,
Leahy and it seems anyone who questioned the President, was
called "soft on terror" by Ashcroft. But because of Leahy's
oversight work, the final draft on military tribunals will
have many more constitutional safeguards than Ashcroft, the
person in charge of protecting the Constitution, envisioned.
The soft on terror label doesn't really apply to Leahy. It
was Leahy, after all that the second anthrax letter had been
addressed to. That letter according to Leahy had enough spores
in it to kill over 100,000 people, according to a November
26 article on CNN.com. To call Leahy 'soft on terror' when
he has experienced it first hand, is a weak and specious argument.
Leahy is just showing his overarching concern of civil liberties,
and for that he should not be pilloried
Patrick Leahy's concern for civil liberties doesn't only
extend to liberal causes, however. During a July 18th 2001
hearing concerning reforming the FBI, Leahy chastised the
FBI for not disciplining their own officers involved in the
Ruby Ridge incident. His committee reported on repeated instances
of friends reporting on friends in the FBI, and that form
of internal discipline would simply not pass muster.
Going against the grain like this, Leahy has seemed to alienate
both Democrats and Republicans. Some Democrats call Leahy
"imperious" and a "pain to work with", according to a New
Republic article from November 8th 2001. I'd prefer to think
of Leahy's behavior as principled. He cares more about certain
issues, civil liberties, cyberspace and landmines, than he
cares what his Senate colleagues think of him. When Republicans
stand on principle, they are honored by their colleagues,
when Democrats stand on principle, they are stabbed in the
back by colleagues. That has got to change.
Republicans take their shots at Leahy too, Alabama Senator
Jeff Sessions even criticized Leahy for supposedly removing
"In God We Trust" from the oaths administered to witnesses
before the Judiciary Committee, according to an August 2nd
2001 article in National Review, but these are the petty,
small-minded arguments Republicans are famous for.
Patrick Leahy is not the most well known member of the Senate
by far. His name does not carry the cache of Hillary Clinton,
or Ted Kennedy. He has no presidential aspirations, like John
Edwards, John Kerry, or Joe Biden. But on issues like cyberspace,
civil liberties, and especially the future makeup of the judiciary,
Leahy is vitally important. So in honor of St. Patrick's Day,
Senator Leahy, I salute you. May your Irish eyes always be