Each year, The Constitution Project present its Constitutional Champion Award to individuals and organizations who have dedicated themselves to defending our Constitution and the principles it embodies. This year, TCP President Virginia Sloan announced the group will add Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Twitter, Inc. to an ever-increasing list of eminent Champions, honoring them for their inspiring efforts to defend the American ideals of liberty, justice, and democracy.
As Sloan explained in a recent column in The Huffington Post, Senators Leahy and Paul exemplify an increasingly-rare willingness to work with others “across the aisle” in order to advance good public policy. For example, as bipartisan support for addressing our broken criminal justice system grows, they joined together to sponsor the Justice Safety Valve Act, which would give federal judges the ability to impose sentences below mandatory minimums in appropriate cases and based upon mitigating factors, returning to judges their proper constitutional role.
Both senators have also been leaders in the battle against the erosion of constitutional rights and principles in the name of national security, attempting to rein in the vastly expanded search and surveillance powers Congress gave domestic law enforcement and foreign intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Sen. Leahy teamed up with Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), one of the original authors of the Patriot Act, to introduce the USA Freedom Act, legislation designed to rein in warrantless spying by the National Security Agency and to bring greater transparency to the intelligence community. Sen. Paul has also been a vocal critic of NSA surveillance, and has vowed to vote against any extension of the Patriot Act. Because these two statesmen have stood for fairness, liberty and constitutional principles, TCP recognizes them as this year’s Constitutional Champions.
For reasons Sloan outlined in another Huffington Post column, TCP will also honor Twitter for its strong defense of the First Amendment. As a result of classified documents that Edward Snowden leaked to the media, we learned in 2013 that the U.S. government had compelled many of America’s largest technology providers to participate in its surveillance efforts, requiring them to give officials access to millions of people’s private data housed with these services. The public was justifiably outraged. Many of the technology companies, which were already publishing transparency reports on broader law enforcement data requests, were quick to respond, seeking to add statistics about these national security data requests to their reports. When the government refused to let Twitter disclose information in the manner it believed would be most useful to its customers, the company filed suit in federal court, arguing that the government’s actions were an unconstitutional prior restraint of speech. Because of its strong, principled efforts to protect freedom of speech and of the public’s right-to-know, The Constitution Project is also proud to honor Twitter, Inc. as one of this year’s Constitutional Champions.
Sen. Leahy and Sen. Paul, along with Twitter, will accept the award at TCP’s annual gala on April 22 at the offices of Jones Day in Washington, D.C.