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On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the nation still struggles to find a balance between national security and personal freedom, said former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold Tuesday during Lakeland College's Constitution Day lecture.
In October 2001, Feingold was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act, and he reiterated that stand Tuesday, noting that he was one of the few lawmakers who took the time to read the bill's details prior to the vote.
He said the threat of terrorism is not a reason to erode protections provided in the U.S. Constitution. He noted that the Constitution was written at another time when the nation was being threatened.
Feingold is one of the co-chairs for President Obama's re-election campaign, and his support for Obama Tuesday was clear. But he said the Obama administration has had plenty of chances to address problems with the Patriot Act and failed to follow through, and he reminded the audience that a Congress controlled by Democrats passed the Act. He said he will continue to press for changes.
Feingold spoke before a packed Bradley Theatre, and the college had to provide additional seating in the lobby for students and community members to hear his address.
Feingold, a member of the U.S. Senate for 18 years before losing to Republican Ron Johnson in 2010, has spent his time with some higher education teaching opportunities and he authored "While America Sleeps: A Wake-Up Call for the Post-9/11 Era." The book describes America's situation post-9/11 and Feingold critiques what he feels are missteps taken by the country's leadership.
He took a number of questions, including one about college financial aid which led him to voice his support for the need for continued funding for Pell Grants, an important source of financial aid for college students.
In response to another question about campaign finance reform, he said the recent Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that allows corporations and unions to donate unlimited sums of money to their own political action groups undermines the good that came from the campaign finance reform he co-authored with Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).
Feingold joins an impressive list of speakers at Lakeland's Constitution Day, which is organized by Offenhiser Associate Professor of History and Political Science Richard Wixon. Last year, Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson was the featured speaker and Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen spoke in 2010.
In 2004, a federal law designated Sept. 17, the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, as Constitution Day and Citizenship Day in the U.S.