"We commemorate the historic steps taken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President Lyndon Johnson and other leaders of that era who worked to guarantee equal opportunities for all citizens. We best honor the struggle of the civil rights movement by keeping vigilant in our efforts to build a society that reflects our values of fairness and liberty." - Rep. Adam Schiff on the 40th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act
Protecting Our Civil Liberties
As we work to prevent future terrorist attacks from occurring on our soil, we must also work to guard our civil liberties and not allow the terrorists to undermine our democracy by an unduly invasive response.
In response to reports exposing the Administration's domestic surveillance program, Congressman Schiff has introduced the NSA Oversight Act - bipartisan legislation to modernize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to respond to changes in technology and new threats, but that will retain court supervision over domestic electronic surveillance.
Electronic surveillance of those seeking to harm our country must be targeted and aggressive. It must also be constitutional and respect the privacy of law-abiding Americans. Congressman Schiff secured passage of an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2008 that reiterates that a court order is required by law in order to engage in domestic electronic surveillance. Congressman Schiff has repeatedly spoken on the House floor in support of greater oversight - you can read his remarks from January 2007 here.
Engaging in Congressional Oversight Responsibilities
While Congress has an important legislative function; it has an equally vital role in providing oversight of the executive branch. Past Congresses have not done enough to question the actions of this Administration. The new majority in the House has already proven that vigorous review of the conduct of the Administration will be a core mission during the 110th Congress.
The Founding Fathers of our country wrote the Constitution with the intention that no one branch of government should become too powerful. That is why we have a separation of powers with a system of checks and balances. The executive branch is an extraordinarily powerful one; in order for the checks and balances to function properly, both Congress and the Courts must resist an excessive assertion of executive power that is at odds with the interests of the American people or violates the Constitution.
One area which requires congressional oversight and action involves the controversial firings of at least eight U.S. Attorneys. This investigation has already uncovered evidence that accomplished federal prosecutors may have been inappropriately discharged to make room for favored appointees or for not using their office to advance the Administration's political or partisan agenda.
As a former Assistant U.S. Attorney himself, Congressman Schiff is concerned with the mismanagement of the Department of Justice by Attorney General Gonzales. In light of this and his misleading and incomplete answers to Congress, Congressman Schiff has introduced legislation that formally expresses that the House of Representatives lacks confidence in Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and requests the President to ask for his resignation. H.Res. 417 now has over 119 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee, where it awaits further action.
When Attorney General Gonzalez testified before the House Judiciary Committee in May 2007, Congressman Schiff questioned him on several topics. You can watch their exchange, and read some of Congressman Schiff's thoughts on the subject, on his blog.
Preventing Hate Crimes and Discrimination
Congressman Schiff is an original cosponsor of the bipartisan Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2007. This legislation is a constructive and measured response to a problem that continues to plague our nation--violence motivated by prejudice. These crimes are especially destructive because their perpetrators seek not only to harm the individual victim, but to make a statement to an entire community. This legislation will remove these hurdles so the federal government will no longer be constrained to wage the fight against hate crimes with one hand tied behind its back. The House passed this bill in May 2007 and is awaiting further action in the Senate.
In working to address violence motivated by prejudice, we must also seek resolution of past injustices. Congressman Schiff is an original cosponsor of the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act, introduced by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), a leader from the civil rights movement. The bill would create two new offices within the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute unsolved Civil Rights murders. This office will make certain those who have committed these murders are brought to justice.
Congressman Schiff also supports equal rights for women and non-discrimination in the workplace. He is a cosponsor of the Paycheck Fairness Act to help eliminate the gender wage gap. The wage gap affects women of all ages, of all races, and of all education levels. This legislation works to eliminate gender-based wage discrimination, requires that employees be educated about wage discrimination, and permits women to seek recourse under the Equal Pay Act. Congressman Schiff is also an original cosponsor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2007. This legislation extends federal employment discrimination protections that are currently provided based on race, religion, gender, national origin, age and disability, to sexual orientation.