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Patrick 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 smilin'.

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