Opinion
Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Facebook) Michigan Republican Rep. Justin Amash (Facebook)  

The Amash amendment failed, but civil libertarians won on Wednesday

Photo of Julie Borowski
Julie Borowski
Policy Analyst, FreedomWorks

Wednesday’s vote on NSA funding was a big victory for civil liberties.

That may sound like an odd statement since the Amash amendment to stop all funding for the NSA’s warrantless spying programs ultimately failed. Yet in politics, success shouldn’t be determined solely by the final outcome of legislation. There are several reasons why civil libertarians should be encouraged by the debate over the Amash amendment — and the vote count. We just need to examine the big picture.

The fight to restore the Fourth Amendment is winning on multiple fronts. First, the majority of Americans are now outraged that the NSA is infringing on our privacy rights. According to a McClatchy-Marist poll, 56 percent of Americans believe that the government has gone too far in its collection of personal data. Judging by public opinion polls and social media activism, it is probably safe to say that most Americans support efforts to defund NSA spying programs.

It may just be a matter of time before Congress votes to rein in the NSA’s surveillance activities. Washington tends to lag behind public opinion. It takes Congress a while to catch up to the rest of the nation. That’s why it is so important for grassroots activists to contact their representatives and put pressure on them to vote the right way.

There is little doubt that a similar amendment will ultimately pass as long as public opinion strongly opposes NSA surveillance. The vote on the Amash amendment was remarkably close: 205-217. That’s a difference of only 12 votes. Behind closed doors, the GOP establishment was twisting arms to get Republican votes against the amendment. Ninety-four Republicans still voted to reaffirm the Fourth Amendment.

There are still Republican institutions that support sacrificing privacy for government surveillance under the guise of public safety. But that is beginning to change. Many Republicans are finally realizing that the surveillance state is at odds with their political philosophy. A federal government with the unrestricted power to spy on U.S. citizens is the exact opposite of limited government.

During the debate, the NSA was in full panic mood. NSA Director Keith Alexander spent time on Capitol Hill lobbying legislators to vote against it. This is a great sign that the NSA is legitimately scared that their unconstitutional spying capabilities will be taken away. And that’s right where we want them.

There is absolutely no way that the amendment would have received that many votes just a few short years ago. Most likely, the amendment would never have even made it to the House floor. If it did, it would have been defeated in a landslide with no serious debate. Anyone that voted for it would be automatically chastised for being ‘weak’ on the war against terrorism.

A few days ago, it was uncertain whether the amendment would even be voted on. GOP House leadership played political games and used procedural maneuvers to block it from coming to the floor. They would have probably gotten away with it a short while ago. Barely anyone would care. The difference now is that American people are proactively fighting for civil liberties and a return to constitutional principles.