Rand Paul's mixed civil liberties track record

His filibuster focused on drone strikes against U.S. citizens, but what other positions has Paul taken?


Jillian Rayfield
March 7, 2013 10:43PM (UTC)

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., has been having a good day, getting heaps of praise for drawing attention to the Obama administration's drone policy with an almost 13-hour filibuster of John Brennan's nomination to the CIA. Republicans and conservatives (several of whom have been no friends to civil liberties) rallied around him during the filibuster. Michelle Malkin said he might have helped the Republican Party's "tarnished brand." Even liberals like Van Jones, Rachel Maddow and Jon Stewart praised him, with the latter two devoting full show segments to it.

But his record on other civil rights and civil liberties issues has been mixed:

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  • Guantánamo Bay: Paul reversed his position and now opposes closing down the prison, and has said he supports military tribunals: "Foreign terrorists do not deserve the protections of our Constitution ... These thugs should stand before military tribunals and be kept off American soil. I will always fight to keep Kentucky safe and that starts with cracking down on our enemies."
  • PATRIOT Act: Paul has consistently opposed the PATRIOT Act, even going head-to-head with Harry Reid over the renewal of three provisions of the law back in 2011.
  • "Ground Zero Mosque": In 2010, Paul said that he opposed the controversial plans to build an Islamic Center near ground zero: "While this is a local matter that will be decided by the people of New York, I do not support a mosque being built two blocks from Ground Zero. In my opinion, the Muslim community would better serve the healing process by making a donation to the memorial fund for the victims of September 11th."
  • Free Speech: He said that he might support imprisoning people who attend "radical" speeches: "You might have to indirectly take into account whether or not they’ve been going to radical political speeches by religious leaders. It wouldn’t be that they are Islamic. But if someone is attending speeches from someone who is promoting the violent overthrow of our government, that’s really an offense that we should be going after. They should be deported or put in prison."
  • Surveillance: Paul said that he supports monitoring foreign exchange students from the Middle East: “I do want them going after, for example, let’s say we have a 100,000 exchange students from the Middle East — I want to know where they are, how long they’ve been here, if they’ve overstayed their welcome, whether they’re in school.”
  • Civil Rights Act: When he was running for Senate in 2010, Paul said that he opposes the part of the Civil Rights Act that forced private businesses to end segregation, though in the ensuing media frenzy he clarified that he would oppose efforts to repeal it.

Adam Serwer summed it up for the American Prospect back in 2010:

It should be said that Paul appears to have a fairly consistent -- if nativist -- constitutional philosophy: The Constitution grants certain inalienable rights to Americans but not to foreigners. That shouldn't be mistaken for Constitutional fidelity, the Constitution distinguishes between "citizens" and "persons" for a reason, and foreigners charged with crimes in the U.S. have always been given the same due process rights as anyone else, precisely because freedom is as much about what government is allowed to do to you as much as it is about what you are allowed to do.


Jillian Rayfield

Jillian Rayfield is an Assistant News Editor for Salon, focusing on politics. Follow her on Twitter at @jillrayfield or email her at jrayfield@salon.com.

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9/11 Civil Liberties Drones Filibuster Guantanamo Bay Rand Paul




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