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In the wake of the devastating terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the administration of President George W. Bush sought new legal tools to fight terrorism and ward off future attacks. The first move to introduce new tools and expand the federal government’s powers took the form of the USA PATRIOT Act, introduced in the House of Representatives on October 23, 2001.
Commonly known as the PATRIOT Act, the bill contained provisions aimed at expanding the federal government’s ability to gather intelligence, engage in domestic surveillance and secret searches and detain immigrants with little restraint. The provisions in the PATRIOT Act became immediately controversial, as civil liberties groups argued that these provisions gutted constitutional protections provided to citizens for generations.
The bill was brought to the floor of the House of Representatives on October 23, the same day it was introduced. Many Democrats expressed extreme displeasure over the hurried nature of the process. Rep. Bobby Scott said, “I think it is appropriate to comment on the process by which the bill is coming to us. This is not the bill that was reported and deliberated on in the Committee on the Judiciary. It came to us late on the floor. No one has really had an opportunity to look at the bill to see what is in it since we have been out of our offices.” Representative John Conyers, the ranking member of the Judiciary Committee, declared, “we are now debating at this hour of night, with only two copies of the bill that we are being asked to vote on available to Members on this side of the aisle.” Conyers was later famously pictured in the Michael Moore documentary “Fahrenheit 9/11” (explaining that no lawmaker reads all the bills in Congress. The bill passed on October 24 by a vote of 357-66.
The Senate passed the bill the very next day and the president signed the bill on October 26, 2001. Prior to consideration in the House, the bill was not made publicly available through common channels such as the Government Printing Office (GPO) or the THOMAS legislative database.