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Cohen Bill to Bring Balance and Transparency to FISA Court Gains Bipartisan Support in House

Press Release

Location: Washington, DC

Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced today that his legislation to bring transparency and balance to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA Court, has gained the bipartisan support of eleven Members of Congress. The FISA Court Accountability Act would give the American people, through their elected representatives, a voice in who serves on the court we entrust to balance our nation's need for national security with every American's right to personal privacy.

"This immensely powerful court can act as an important check on Executive Branch overreach," said Congressman Cohen. "But it is unlikely to be an effective check if the vast majority of its members share similar views on personal privacy. Congress must do a better job of balancing appointments to and requiring transparency from the FISA Court. My legislation will go a long way towards achieving that goal, and I am glad to have the bipartisan support of my colleagues."

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts is currently solely responsible for all appointments to the FISA Court, which rules on whether or not the National Security Agency and other agencies can conduct surveillance and search activities, among other responsibilities. All 11 judges currently serving on the court were appointed by Chief Justice Roberts, and only one was first nominated to the federal bench by a Democratic President.

"I applaud Rep. Cohen for introducing this legislation that would bring much needed transparency and accountability to the secretive FISA Court," said Congressman Matt Cartwright (PA-17). "Given the recent events surrounding the practices of the NSA, I urge my colleagues to support this legislation and pledge to bring openness to the process."

"We need to keep our country safe, but our privacy also has to be protected," said Congressman Jim Cooper (TN-05). "It's a difficult balance, and this bill is important and necessary to strengthen government accountability."

"Increasing bi-partisan oversight over the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court is long overdue," said Congressman Jared Polis (CO-02). "I am proud to join Representative Cohen as a cosponsor of the FISA Court Accountability Act, which would require more diversity among those who appoint FISA judges rather than placing it all in the hands of one individual and thus bringing greater accountability and credibility to the FISA Court."

"For those of us who oppose the Patriot Act, the recent revelations of NSA surveillance activity confirm many of our worst fears," said Congressman Peter Welch (VT-AL). "I believe we can protect Americans from harm while also protecting their privacy. This bill helps restore the balance between these two imperatives."

Congressman Cohen's legislation would ensure differing points of view on the court by dividing appointments between the Chief Justice, who would still select 3 of the 11 judges, and the bipartisan leadership in Congress--the Speaker of the House, House Minority Leader, and the Minority and Majority Leaders in the Senate--who would each appoint 2 judges.

The FISA Court Accountability Act would also require that when all 11 judges meet to decide on a case at least 60% of them agree with the ruling and that, in cases where the government's argument is rejected by the court, the appeals panel be unanimous to overturn rulings against the government. Additionally, the legislation would require the court to disclose all decisions, orders, and opinions to Congress in both classified form and in unclassified summaries.

Cosponsors of the FISA Court Accountability Act's now include: Representatives Matt Cartwright (PA-17), Emanuel Cleaver (MO-05), John Conyers, Jr. (MI-13), Jim Cooper (TN-05), John J. Duncan, Jr. (TN-02), Keith Ellison (MN-05), George Miller (CA-11), Chellie Pingree (ME-01), Jared Polis (CO-02), Peter Welch (VT-AL), and John A. Yarmuth (KY-03).

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