With New Power, Real Oversight?

Even if you had somehow been able to ignore the build-up to the midterm elections, you could not ignore the momentous shift that took place across our country on Tuesday. Americans headed to the polls in droves to exercise their right to vote -- and vote for change.

In several congressional races, voters rejected the Republicans’ strategy to paint national security as a polarizing issue. Voters are tired of being told that the public is the enemy and that the government should be allowed to snoop without any judicial check. In Ohio, Representative Sherrod Brown beat incumbent Senator Mike DeWine - DeWine is the author of a horrible NSA warrantless wiretapping bill. In Montana, Jon Tester beat three-term Senator Conrad Burns. In both advertisements and in debates Tester challenged Senator Burns' support for the Patriot Act - the ad said that Montanans do not want the government prying in their personal lives. And, in New Mexico, Congresswoman Heather Wilson remains in a race too close to call. She is the author of the House bill that would not only authorize the NSA spying program, but would also would give the president wide latitude to suspend our constitutional rights.

Across the country, voters spoke out in favor of civil liberties. South Dakotans rejected a proposal to ban virtually all abortions in the state, while Oregonians and Californians blocked measures to limit teenagers' access to seek an abortion. Arizona voters rejected an attempt to deny gay and lesbian Americans marriage equality. And while voters in seven other states passed such measures, most passed by close margins. The ACLU played a leading role in the South Dakota victory and had activists all over the country working to ensure civil liberty for all on election day and beyond.Looking forward to the 110th session of Congress, the ACLU is urging Members of Congress to reinvigorate their role in oversight. As proven on election day, Americans are tired of a rubber-stamping Congress. Congress should start by investigating the scope of President Bush's illegal spying program. Congress will have its hands full undoing some of the damage of the past six years. The rule of law and habeas corpus must be restored, especially in light of the recent passage of the Military Commissions Act. Those responsible for allowing these abuses of our Constitution must be held accountable. There has been little progress on racial justice issues in the past six years beyond the one victory of reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act. It is time for legislation to end the practice of racial profiling, which undermines our justice system. Employment discrimination laws must be expanded to include the millions of gay, lesbian and transgender Americans in our workforce. Freedom and equality must not just be a sound bite on the campaign trail.

For too long, we have been straying from the ideals that make this country great. Hopefully, all that is about to change. There is much to be done but as the world witnessed on November 7, Americans are eager and ready for a revolution. However, the ACLU knows that a change in Congressional leadership does not guarantee the protection of civil liberties. As Thomas Jefferson said - "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."