"WASHINGTON — Americans who say civil liberties have been marginalized or are even under attack during the Republican-dominated, post-Sept. 11 era have some newly empowered champions for their cause now that Democrats are taking over Congress next year.
Democrats taking the majorities in the House and Senate will be in charge of the legislative committees, including the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the Department of Justice, home to the FBI, and other agencies responsible for enforcing civil rights.
"This election was an intervention," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the next Judiciary Committee chairman.
Under Leahy's seniority, the panel plans to consider, among other issues, ways to put a leash on President Bush's warrantless surveillance program at the National Security Agency, which critics say invades the privacy of innocent individuals in the U.S. who merely want to communicate with family and friends abroad.
"Security and liberty are not mutually exclusive values in America," Leahy said. "We should have both, and we can have both with adequate checks and balances and with the extra effort it takes to chart the right course."