Thursday, June 29, 2006

Score one for the rule of law!

Fantastic news! The Supreme Court's ruled this morning that military tribunals are illegal. This is a huge victory that could have much wider implications, as the Court held that the Geneva Convention actually does apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda.

Marty Lederman on has an interesting analysis: "This [ruling] almost certainly means that the CIA's interrogation regime is unlawful, and indeed, that many techniques the administration has been using, such as waterboarding and hypothermia (and others) violate the War Crimes Act (because violations of Common Article 3 are deemed war crimes)."

The vote was 5-3. The dissenters were (surprise!) Alito, Scalia, and Thomas. According to the AP,
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a strongly worded dissent and took the unusual step of reading part of it from the bench — something he had never done before in his 15 years. He said the court's decision would "sorely hamper the president's ability to confront and defeat a new and deadly enemy."

The ruling can be found here (I warn you, it's long). I haven't had a chance to read through it, but I'm looking forward to it.

The ACLU press release, along with a copy of the amicus brief we filed in the case, can be found here.

All I can say is "Woo hoo!"

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Is this YOUR America?

Okay, now that I depressed you with my previous post, I felt I should write something to cheer you up. So I'm going to encourage you to attend one of five town hall meetings we're holding across the state on the abuse of executive power issue. We'll talk about how torture, kidnapping, and illegal spying are NOT what this country is supposed to be about. It's a great chance to 1) get even more outraged, 2) meet your fellow civil libertarians who are also pissed off, and 3)get some ideas for fighting back.

Here's the schedule:

July 11 - Harrisburg - Speakers: Lisa Graves, Senior Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Spero T. Lappas, Esq., Civil rights and criminal defense attorney; & Kathleen Lucas, human rights organizer

July 12 - Philadelphia - Speakers: Caroline Frederickson, Legislative Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Michael Coard, Esq., Host of "The Radio Courtroom" on WHAT 1340 AM; Bal Pinguel, Coordinator, Peacebuilding & Demilitarization Program, AFSC; Signe Wilkinson, Editorial Cartoonist, Daily News.

July 13 - Allentown - Speakers: Matt Bowles, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Malcolm J. Gross, Esq., Gross, McGinley, LaBarre & Eaton, LLP.

July 19 - Erie - Speakers: Matt Bowles, Field Organizer, ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Jim Fisher, Dept. of Political Science and Criminal Justice, Edinboro University; Bob Rhodes, Dept. of Political Science (Emeritus), Edinboro University.

July 20 - Pittsburgh - Speakers: Greg Nojeim, Associate Director and Chief Legislative Council, ACLU Washington Legislative Office; Doug Shields, Pittsburgh City Councilman, Co-sponsor of anti-PATRIOT Act Resolution.

Check out our website page for more information about times and locations for each town hall.

Hope you come, and bring people. Because frankly, my friends, this is a damn scary time in this country.

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State Secrets, State Shame

It must be pretty easy being a lawyer for the government these days. Instead of coming up with an actual legal argument to defend some pretty indefensible actions, they just cry "state secrets!".

I guess you can't really blame them, since the strategy seems to be working. The government has invoked this privilege in a number of our cases lately in an effort to short circuit the judicial process and stymie an investigation. Just two examples where it was used successfully:

In el-Masri v Tenet, the government stopped an attempt by Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen born in Kuwait, to seek redress after he was erroneously kidnapped by the CIA and transported to a secret prison in Afghanistan, where he was tortured.

In Edmonds v. DOJ, the court dismissed the case of Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator who was fired in retaliation for reporting security breaches and possible espionage within the Bureau.

The government is now trying to cite state secrets in the ACLU's challenge to the NSA's warrantless wiretap program.

In the past, the state secrets privilege was used very narrowly, and it when it was used successfully, the case would simply go forward without the specified evidence. Now the Bush Administration routinely invokes the state secrets privilege at the very beginning of a case in an effort to get the whole case dismissed.

Want to know a little bit more about this origins of this dubious legal strategy? I knew you did. This is from those helpful folks in our national office.

Nothing demonstrates the dangers of the state secrets privilege better than United States v. Reynolds, the Supreme Court's first and last comprehensive statement on the "state secrets" privilege. In October 1948 Al Palya and eight other men died when their military plane crashed into a Georgia field. Palya's widow and two others filed a lawsuit against the Air Force alleging that shoddy maintenance had led to the crash. The government insisted that disclosing the accident report would harm national security, and the Supreme Court ruled in their favor. However, when the military finally declassified old reports in 2004, the family learned what they suspected all along: the report contained no secrets, but did expose the Air Force's failure to make needed repairs to its B-29 fleet. The state secrets privilege was born on a lie.

Depressed yet?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Geno's Law?

This just in - our legislative director just called to tell us that two administrative bills in the state House up for a vote tomorrow will be amended to include a provision that would make English the official language of PA. (For those who might want to call your representatives, the bills being amended are HB 1569 and SB 810, both in the House.)

(I know one cheesesteak seller in Philly who must be pretty happy right now...)

Newfound use for the American flag

Not only does Old Glory work on a pole outside your business, as a tie, or, my personal favorite, as underwear (here, here, and here, (DISCLAIMER: A) Some of the pics might not be appropriate for young eyes and B) no, we're not trying to sell you's just funny)), but the U.S. Senate has found yet another use for the Stars & Stripes: Cover up the real issues facing the country!

Debate on amending the U.S. Constitution to ban flag burning started yesterday with our own Arlen Specter, self-proclaimed great defender of the Constitution, leading the charge:
"I think of the flag as a symbol of what veterans fought for," Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said as he opened the debate yesterday, "what they sustained wounds for, what they sustained loss of limbs for and what they sustained loss of life for."

In pursuit of this urgent matter, floor leader Specter mustered all manner of argument: the military service of his brother, Morton; his brother-in-law's service in the Pacific; his father Harry's service in the Argonne; his mother's emigration from Ukraine; his own stateside service during the Korean War; a pickup-truck accident his father once had with his sister; bicycle rides he took as a 7-year-old in Kansas; the "treachery of Mussolini"; the light casualties sustained during the Persian Gulf War, and a trip he made to VA hospitals 15 years ago.

"I think it's important to focus on the basic fact that the text of the First Amendment, the text of the Constitution, the text of the Bill of Rights is not involved," Specter argued. The Judiciary Committee chairman did not explain how he could add 17 words to the Constitution without altering its text.

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post also points out that incidents of flag-burning shockingly escalated last year by 33%...from three incidents to four.

Meanwhile, the NSA continues to conduct surveillance without a search warrant, the PATRIOT Act continues to allow the FBI to get warrants from the FISA court without showing a shred of evidence for why they suspect the subject of the search of a crime, and a whole of host of important non-civil liberties issues continue to smolder out here in the hinterlands. Thanks, Senate...for nothin'.

UPDATE, 8:54PM: In the Senate, the amendment went down in flames. *Ba-dump-ching* Ah, I've got a million of 'em. Seriously, it failed by one vote. Kudos to the 34 senators who had the chutzpah, the gumption, and other less appropriate terms to vote against this tom-foolery. In particular, it must be pointed out that Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Bob Bennett, R-Utah, both voted against it, along with usual suspect Lincoln Chafee, R-RI, a moderate R. Both McConnell and Bennett typically do not buck the party line. In a written statement, McConnell said this:
"No act of speech is so obnoxious that it merits tampering with our First Amendment." Doing so, he said, "could also set a dangerous precedent for the rest of the Bill of Rights."

Andy in H-burg

All rights reserved

Today the Senate Judiciary Committee is supposed to be holding hearings on presidential signing statements - the administration's equivalent of holding crossed fingers behind one's back while signing something into law.

From today's New York Times:

...[A]ccording to the White House... [a] law is not binding when a president issues a separate statement saying he reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard it on national security and constitutional grounds.

That's the argument a Bush administration official is expected to make Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who has demanded a hearing on a practice he considers an example of the administration's abuse of power.

I can see the White House's point. I mean really, it would make things so much easier if the president could just interpret the constitutionality of a law rather than the judiciary branch. Who needs those activists, anyway? The money we could save on black robes alone! Of course, we could really streamline government if the executive branch got to write laws, too.

ADDITION TO POST: You can read the testimony from the hearing on the Senate Judiciary Committee webpage. Leahy was clearly pissed that the Administration didn't send someone high up to talk to them.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Memorializing Narrow Minds

On Monday, the PA House was considering a concurrent resolution on immigration. To be precise: "Memorializing the President of the United States and the United States Congress to secure all borders of this nation to protect American citizens from the dangers of unlawful invasion and illegal immigration" (House resolution #799). Glad to know our lawmakers are concerned about protecting us not only from unholy marriages, but from unlawful invasion.

What really struck me about this resolution, though (being a little bit of a word junky) was the use of the term "memorializing." For me, it instantly conjured up a picture of folks in black garb standing around saying solemn and significant things. Made me want to ask, "Who died?" And then I got out the OED (that is, the Oxford English Dictionary, of course) and looked it up. Buried (pardon the pun) deep in the definition of the word "memorial" was this: "7. A statement of facts forming the basis of or expressed in the form of a petition or remonstrance to a person in authority, a government, etc." (OED, p.1767).

While the above definition allows me to make more sense of the House's proposed resolution, it's limiting to the imagination. I prefer to muse over what we're memorializing in our state and our country with such a resolution - in this instance, applying the first definition of the word, which is: "To preserve the memory of; commemorate" (OED, p.1768). Writing such a resolution at the state level - and encouraging protectionist and enforcement-based policies at the national level - will make our laws memorials to a time of narrow-mindedness. A time when we couldn't see how immigrant "invasions" are spurred on by a global economic system that powerful countries largely control. A time when the drive for security trumped both compassion and broad analysis of our global realities to the detriment of citizens and newcomers alike.

The Statue of Liberty - a memorial of the U.S. fight for independence - holds a poem about immigrants - "your tired, your poor, your tempest-tossed." I don't need to trifle with anyone's intelligence here. But where is this sentiment memorialized in our current laws? Lazarus's poem reminds us of and inspires us to our better selves - as any decent memorial ought to do. This resolution, on the other hand, doesn't do us justice.

Jess in Philadelphia
(with thanks to J.Rat for creative input)

House Judiciary Committee Keeps Us Guessing

Just when you think you know them, that wacky House Judiciary Committee goes and does this. According to our national office's press release today, the committee "unexpectedly adopted a 'resolution of inquiry' to formally seek any and all documents held by the president and attorney general relating to warrantless requests made by the National Security Agency and other Federal agencies to telephone service providers regarding the records of their customers' calls."

Wow. I just don't know what to say. Except that you rock, House Judiciary Committee.

What's the Matter with Kansas? (Part II)

This post goes out to the Supreme Court for their almost uncannily bad timing (with a special shout out to Alito).

On the heels of a major story (broke by the Chicago Tribune) indicating that Texas likely executed an innocent man in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the bizarre death penalty law in Kansas (which says that juries should impose death sentences if aggravating evidence of a crime's brutality and mitigating factors explaining a defendant's actions are equal in weight). The vote was 5-4, with Alito tipping the scale.

According to the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, the recently released Chicago Tribune story is the fourth time since December 2004 that a major U.S. newspaper, though investigative reporting, has seriously called into question the guilt of a person who has been executed. The others:

-- In December 2004, a Chicago Tribune series on junk science concluded that Cameron Todd Willingham, executed earlier that year, had been convicted on the basis of discredited arson analysis. A recent report by the Innocence Project, conducted by a team of leading arson experts, supports the Tribune story.

-- In May 2005, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Larry Griffin, executed June 21, 1995, for the murder of Quinten Moss, may well have been innocent. A man wounded in the shooting said Griffin was not the gunman. A police officer on the scene revised his account, first given at trial. And St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce has re-opened an investigation of the case.

-- In November 2005, the Houston Chronicle reported on the case of Ruben Cantu, executed in 1993. The Chronicle reported that the person who identified Cantu said that he only did so because he believed the police wanted him to select Cantu. Sam Millsap, the Bexar County District Attorney when Cantu was prosecuted, has said that he has no reason to doubt the recantation, and regrets that a death sentence was sought in the case. The current Bexar County district attorney is investigating the case.

"The execution of one innocent person is too many and now we are dealing with four very disturbing reports in the past 19 months," said Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. "We see common themes in these wrongful executions, which tell us exactly the wrongs we need to right. Prosecutorial and police misconduct, ineffective assistance of counsel and flawed testimony characterized each of these cases, and faulty eyewitness identification and lack of credible evidence were factors in at least three of the four."

You'd think, given the increasing uncertainty about death penalty convictions and the proven racial disparities in sentencing, that we would start setting the bar higher for death penalty convictions. Instead, a majority on the Supreme Court is content to keep the bar abysmally low.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Marriage amendment: The plot thickens

Senate OKs rewritten marriage proposal

This is hot:
"If anyone's marriage is threatened because two people love each other and they happen to be the same sex, then God help your marriage," (Senator Vince) Fumo (D-Philadelphia) said, dismissing the argument that this is about protecting the sanctity of marriage. If that's the case, he said maybe the state should outlaw divorce.

Andy in the HBG

Santorum can flip-flop in two languages!

This is rich:
English-language visitors to encountered a home page filled with concern about the "amnesty-ridden proposal" the U.S. Senate adopted to deal with illegal immigration.

But a section of the site for Spanish readers made no mention of amnesty in its discourse on immigration. Nor did it refer to "rewarding criminal behavior" of illegal immigrants, as the English version did.

Philadelphia Inquirer: Santorum website sends mixed signals

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Conflict sells

There are some Pennsylvanians doing great work to help people and treat them with dignity and respect. I'm talking about people like Regan Cooper, executive director of the Pennsylvania Immigrant and Citizenship Coalition, and Ho-Thanh Nguyen, president of Pennsylvania Immigrant and Refugee Women's Network. Regan and Ho-Thanh are two of many people around the state who work in the trenches with little notice or fanfare.

With this in mind, it's more than a bit appalling that the two Pennsylvanians getting the most attention in the immigration debate are these two:

A guy named Vento and a guy named Barletta are race-baiting on the immigration issue. Irony so thick....

Andy in Harrisburg, a third-generation German-American

The amendment that won't go away

I'm new to the Harrisburg capitol scene, where the ACLU has been lobbying recently against the Marriage "Protection" Amendment. It's a wake-up call - like hearing an alarm go off in your dream and then realizing it's for real - to sit in front of a Representative who has no qualms telling you that well, yes, he supposes when you put it that way that he is writing discrimination into the Constitution. That this is what his constituents want. That we're never going to find any common ground.

And it's like getting an unwanted pinch on the butt to hear a lawmaker tell you "the gays" are great, but they shouldn"t get married or French kiss in public. That marriage doesn't implicate religion but, oh, by the way, the Bible gives a great definition of it. That enshrining man + woman in our state Constitution is somehow going to strengthen family life. Listening to these arguments makes me feel dirty - like I want to stop the unwanted advance, but I'm not sure how.

Some of our lawmakers seem to wish the proposed amendment had never reared its ugly head and that it would slip quietly away and let them go about the business of passing a budget. Okay, I agree. But it's here with us now, an uncomfy reminder that we haven't figured out a way for all of us to be secure in our right to love and partner as we choose and enjoy the legal rights that protect our long-term intimate relationships.
So as long as this amendment - and the mean-spiritedness that drives it - won't go away, it looks like we'll need to keep sitting down with our lawmakers and the people who elect them and talking about how discriminatory legislation like this not only impacts LGBT people, but picks away at the separation of church and state, mocks our ideals of equality, and leaves us still hungry for substantive responses to our most pressing issues rather than facile political maneuvering.

Jess in Philly

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

AP: Police Got Phone Data From Brokers

Clearly, today is my day to be enraged. Here's the latest news that's got me stomping around the office.

AP: Police Got Phone Data From Brokers

Published: June 20, 2006
Filed at 6:43 a.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Numerous federal and local law enforcement agencies have bypassed subpoenas and warrants designed to protect civil liberties and gathered Americans' personal telephone records from private-sector data brokers.

These brokers, many of whom advertise aggressively on the Internet, have gotten into customer accounts online, tricked phone companies into revealing information and even acknowledged that their practices violate laws, according to documents gathered by congressional investigators and provided to The Associated Press.

The law enforcement agencies include offices in the Homeland Security Department and Justice Department -- including the FBI and U.S. Marshal's Service -- and municipal police departments in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia and Utah. Experts believe hundreds of other departments frequently use such services. rest of article

There's another, more in-depth article on the subject on MSNBC.

So these data brokers obtain this information in a fashion that is likely illegal. They give cops free access to this data so the cops can avoid having to get a subpoena for this information. Hmmm, I wonder if the cops will be likely to investigate the illegal methods these brokers use?

Pentagon Lists Homosexuality As Disorder

I couldn't resist sharing this...

Pentagon Lists Homosexuality As Disorder

The Associated Press
Tuesday, June 20, 2006; 6:23 AM

WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon document classifies homosexuality as a mental disorder, decades after mental health experts abandoned that position. rest of article

Virginia isn't for privacy lovers

If you're thinking about going to college in Virginia, you might want to think again. According to today's Washington Post, "Virginia's public and private colleges and universities soon will be required to submit the names and Social Security numbers of tens of thousands of students they accept each year to state police for cross-checking against sexual offender registries." The state has assured everyone that the records will be kept securely and only used for their intended purpose. Riigghht. Data NEVER gets stolen or misused. (Just ask ING and the Veterans Administration.)

My favorite part? "The Virginia law skirts federal prohibitions on disseminating student information by requiring colleges to turn over data after students have been accepted but before they have picked a school and enrolled." So if you violate the privacy of more people, it becomes legal.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Need a scapegoat, grab an immigrant

Mayor Lou Barletta of Hazleton has introduced an ordinance that would fine businesses that "aid and abet" undocumented immigrants, make english the official language of the city, and keep undocumented immigrants from renting property.

Truly sick stuff but here's my favorite part of the discussion, as reported by the Citizen's Voice:
The mayor and many residents point to high-profile crimes as reason to crack down on illegal immigrants.

In the last few months, a man was gunned down, a 14-year-old fired a gun at a park and there was a large drug bust. All these crimes were committed by illegal immigrants, Barletta said.

"We never had this before they came here," he said. "This is a family town with conservative values. I am dealing with elderly people who are afraid to leave their homes."
Non-Hispanics were responsible for 79 percent of the city's crime in 2005, according to data from the Pennsylvania Unified Crime reports.
Immigrants, in general, are much less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans, a 2006 study of U.S. prison populations by a group from the University of California shows. The study found that immigrants actually have the lowest rates of imprisonment for criminal convictions.

Now, I know what you're thinking: 'Andy, reason doesn't work with these people.' Unfortunately, that's true, but if the community is educated on these issues, eventually ignorance slinks away, back to the cave from which it came. We just have to keep pushing forward.

Andy in the HBG

Pittsburgh PrideFest 2006

Pittsburgh PrideFest took place downtown this weekend on a very sunny, very hot Saturday. The ACLU helped organize a contingent to march in the parade against the PA Marriage Protection Amendment, which ended up attracting a good number of people.

The most surprising thing for me at PrideFest, besides seeing Gov. Rendell flanked by drag queens, was the amount of interest and outrage at the Marriage Protection Amendment. Because much of PrideFest is just fun and social, I didn't think we would get a lot of interest in our more 'serious' campaign against H.B. 2381.

Boy, was I wrong. People were literally ripping material out of our hands about the Amendment. Some participants even got irate when we ran out of information!

All goes to show there is a lot of anger about what is happening in Harrisburg right now, including at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Such an amendment could form the basis for cruelly denying long-time partners the right to visit their dying mates. It could spell the end of same-sex benefits of the sort that are given at the University of Pittsburgh -- and which in today's world are essential to attracting the best talent. It could leave Pennsylvania less able to compete in the fields of academics and business.

Sarah Springer, a Pittsburgh pediatrician who is medical director of International Adoption Health Services of Western Pennsylvania, pointed out another sort of danger in a Post-Gazette oped piece earlier this month: "When legal recognition of committed couples and families is denied, children lose health insurance, inheritance rights and the rights to have their parents make medical and educational decisions for them."

This whole amendment is objectionable. That the civil union language was in there at the start proves the lie at the heart of its supporters' claims: This isn't about protecting the sanctity of traditional marriage (if it were, it would ban divorce, the real culprit). It is about writing a note of prejudice into the state constitution.

The state Senate should reject this amendment in any form.

Lisa in Pittsburgh

Friday, June 16, 2006

And another thing, darnit!

There was another point about the death penalty and mental retardation that I failed to make yesterday. House Bill 698 is an insult to the taxpayers of Pennsylvania. If the determination on whether or not a defendant is mentally retarded is made after conviction, the entire trial happens as if it is a capital trial, but at the end, it's possible the person was never eligible for the death penalty, in the first place. So you've just held a capital trial for someone who isn't even eligible for the death penalty. And who pays for that capital trial, which is more expensive than a non-capital trial? You, the taxpayers.

Let's get real: The House vote this week on this issue was about trying to get as many defendants as possible caught in the death penalty net, even though 3 of every 4 Americans opposes the execution of persons with mental retardation. The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is out of step with mainstream America. It is a House of Extremists.

FYI, we are quickly approaching the 30th anniversary of the Gregg v. Georgia decision, which reinstated the death penalty after a four year halt. The Abolitionist Action Committee is planning its annual four day fast and vigil outside the SCOTUS June 29-July 2. Speakers will include Ray Krone of York County, who spent 10 years in prison in Arizona for a crime someone else committed; Vicki Schieber of Murder Victims Families for Human Rights, whose daughter, Shannon, was killed when she was a student at Penn; and Diann Rust-Tierney, executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty and formerly of the ACLU's Capital Punishment Project.

I'm planning to be there for Day 1, and I hope you will, too. Look for me in my "Stop Executions in Pennsylvania" t-shirt.

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The issues don't stop: Death penalty in focus

Three death penalty issues came into focus this week. There are points to be made about each, but what all three issues- mental retardation, lethal injection, and evidence of innocence- make clear is that the business of death is messy. In fact, it's too messy and not worth it. Innocent people are sentenced to death. It's expensive. It's biased against the poor and minorities. It keeps victims' families from healing with an execution on an unknown date hanging out there in the ether.

In an editorial, The Evening Sun of Hanover nailed it on two, but whiffed on the mental retardation issue and House Bill 698.
Opponents to the new bill had argued it should be up to judges to determine whether defendants are retarded. But we believe that juries are well equipped to make that decision.

In a PA Senate Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this spring, Senator Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) stated that asking a jury to determine a defendant's mental retardation after convicting him/her of murder is "clearly prejudicial" against the defendant. The Sun might be right if a non-death-qualified jury made the determination before trial, but the House failed to offer that alternative.

The SCOTUS asked the states to stop executing persons with mental retardation. If HB 698 becomes law, Pennsylvania will fail in its constitutional responsibility.

Meanwhile, Karl at had this to say about the lethal injection issue:
In the broader sense, however, Hill is about us. It is about whether there are certain things we shouldn't do. Hill will start a conversation in some people's minds that maybe we shouldn't use lethal injection because the person we are to kill, and possible torture unto death, is, at the end of the day, a person. Not too far removed from the question about why use lethal injection is the question of why kill at all.

Andy in the HBG

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Perhaps we didn't make ourselves clear....

About 15 minutes ago the ACLU of PA and the national ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Philadelphia to force the Department of Defense to turn over records it wrongly kept on peace groups and law-abiding Americans throughout the country.

We filed the Freedom of Information Act requests on February 1, 2006 after news reports indicated that the Pentagon was secretly conducting surveillance of protest activities, antiwar organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies. They were sharing the information with other government agencies through the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database. The TALON program was initiated by former Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 to track groups and individuals with possible links to terrorism. (Who names these things, anyway?)

Despite asking nicely, we have yet to receive any of the information we sought about the database and the groups we're representing. The groups we in PA are representing are Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG), the Thomas Merton Center, Anti-War Committee, Pittsburgh Bill of Rights Defense Campaign, Save Our Civil Liberties Campaign, Codepink Pittsburgh, and Pittsburgh Raging Grannies. The national ACLU is representing the national offices of the American Friends Service Committee, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice and Greenpeace.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

You just called and we were listening

Saturday, June 10, 2006

The Gray Lady goes fox hunting

The NY Times went after our senior senator in an editorial today:
Mr. Specter - who last week was bemoaning the fact that Mr. Cheney watched him pass by twice at a Senate buffet lunch without mentioning that he had just stabbed him in the back - still thinks it's a good sign that the vice president's office offered to review his legislation and suggest changes. Mr. Cheney and his underlings are the problem, not the solution, and Mr. Specter should realize that by now. Mr. Specter has the votes to subpoena the executives. All he has to do is drop his idea of meeting behind closed doors, and side with the panel's Democrats, who want to have the hearing in full view of the Americans whose rights are being violated.

The Times' position is not surprising, but it's nice to see it in print.

Andy in H-burg

The Fox and the Wolf

To paraphrase Malcolm X, Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators, Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, are like a wolf and a fox. At least you know the wolf is out to get you. You think the fox is your friend until he turns on you.

Which bring us, once again, back to Senator Arlen Specter, who thinks he is as great a defender of the Constitution as Senator Russ Feingold, which is downright comical. If Specter was half the defender of the Constitution that Feingold is, we'd be in much better shape than we are.

Sadly, Senator Specter has turned yet again away from his own tough talk and offered a program on NSA warrantless surveillance that the Washington Post wrongly headlined as "a compromise."

Here are some nuggets from the WaPo:
The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee has proposed legislation that would give President Bush the option (my bold) of seeking a warrant from a special court for an electronic surveillance program such as the one being conducted by the National Security Agency.

Sen. Arlen Specter's approach modifies his earlier position that the NSA eavesdropping program, which targets international telephone calls and e-mails in which one party is suspected of links to terrorists, must be subject to supervision by the secret court set up under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

But, wait! There's more!
Another part of the Specter bill would grant blanket amnesty to anyone who authorized warrantless surveillance under presidential authority, a provision that seems to ensure that no one would be held criminally liable if the current program is found illegal under present law.

Haven't had enough yet? Enjoy this one!
A third provision would consolidate the 29 cases that have been filed in various federal district courts challenging the legality of the NSA program and give jurisdiction over them to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which was established by FISA. Any decision of that court would be subject to Supreme Court review and otherwise would be binding on all other courts.

Don't you get all warm inside knowing this man represents you and, my favorite part, took an oath of office to uphold and defend the Constitution? It would be hilarious if it wasn't so infuriating.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution is dead. Or at least on life support. George W. Bush strangled it, Congress looked the other way, and Arlen Specter drove the get-away car. That ought to go nicely into Specter's legacy, along with the magic bullet theory.

The initial reviews have been scathing. Glenn Greenwald had this to say:
The principal reason that the Bush administration has been able to impose its radical theories of lawbreaking on the country is because Congress, with an unseemly eagerness, has permitted itself to be humiliated over and over by an administration which does not hide its contempt for the notion that Congress has any role to play in limiting and checking the executive branch. And few people have more vividly illustrated that institutional debasement than Arlen Specter, who, along with Pat Roberts, has done more than anyone else to ensure that Congress completely relinquishes its constitutional powers to the President.

I only post this next quote grudgingly, but Greenwald points out that Specter should not be the only subject of our ire:
As easy -- and as justifiable -- as it is to express contempt for Specter's inevitable, craven submission to the dictates of the Bush administration, it is also indisputably true that no Senator other than Russ Feingold has done more than Specter to keep the issues of the president's lawbreaking in the news and to prevent a quick sweeping under the rug by the administration of this scandal. Specter's constant complaints have at least kept reporters talking about these issues. If one wants to really attack Specter, one should first answer this question -- where are all the great, heroic Senate Democrats who are standing up to the administration on these issues in a way that Specter isn't? They don't exist. While Specter does nothing more than make some noise, at least he has been doing that.

Meanwhile, Crooks and Liars has posted video of Old Man Cafferty going off about this on CNN. It's truly priceless.

It seems fitting to close with a Malcolm X quote:
"When a person places the proper value on freedom, there is nothing under the sun that he will not do to acquire that freedom. Whenever you hear a man saying he wants freedom, but in the next breath he is going to tell you what he won't do to get it, or what he doesn't believe in doing in order to get it, he doesn't believe in freedom. A man who believes in freedom will do anything under the sun to acquire...or preserve his freedom."

Andy in Harrisburg

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains

We've been a little behind here at SF. If you haven't heard by now, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted in favor of a state constitutional amendment to discriminate against same sex partners and unmarried heterosexual couples and do harm to their children. The Senate must now vote on it before the legislature goes out of session for the summer at the end of June. If that happens, the amendment would have to pass again in the 2007-08 session and then go to the ballot since, you know, the people always decide constitutional issues. (Can you imagine if Brown v. Board of Education had been put to a popular vote in 1954?)

We'll keep pounding it out on this, and we think we can win in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the news wasn't all bad on this front. As you probably know by now, the U.S. Senate failed to pass a marriage amendment for the federal Constitution. Senator Edward Kennedy said it best:
"The Republican leadership is asking us to spend time writing bigotry into the Constitution."


Meanwhile, John over at America Blog correctly thinks that the priorities of Senator David Vitter (R-LA) are out of whack.

Andy in the HBG

The Strange Case of Dr. Arlen Jekyll and Mr. Arlen Hyde

It was a dark and stormy night. (Not really, but work with me here.) Dr. Arlen Jekyll was slaving away in his office, bound and determined to be as great a defender of the United States Constitution as his nemesis from Wisconsin.

"I will question the phone companies on data mining," Dr. Arlen said. "I will get to the bottom of the NSA's warrantless surveillance.

"And I will not allow that blasted Feingold to be a greater defender of the Constitution than I."

A once-highly-respected Senator, Dr. Arlen had fallen on hard times. His behavior had become increasingly erratic starting around mid-December, 2005, as if he was, in fact, two different people. First, he would call surveillance without a judge's approval "inappropriate," only to introduce legislation soon thereafter to allow the program. In fact, whispers in the community in recent weeks were that Dr. Arlen would introduce a bill to "reaffirm" the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as "the exclusive means by which our government can conduct electronic surveillance of U.S. persons on U.S. soil for foreign intelligence purposes."

No one could predict which Arlen would show up each day to work.

Suddenly, a scream pierced the night.

"Ann Coulter again," Dr. Arlen muttered to himself.

Then Dr. Arlen was startled by a loud rap at the door. A most unfortunate late night visitor had arrived, the Ghost of Chairman Past, known to his friends as "Orrin."

"Arlen," the ghost pronounced with a wave of his hand, "you will not subpoena the phone company executives."

"No!" Dr. Arlen shouted. "Leave me alone! Can't you see I'm trying to out-defend Feingold?" With that, Dr. Arlen fell to the floor, clutching his head, screaming in pain.

"Arlen," the ghost commanded again, "leave the phone companies alone. And forget about FISA. It's old law. Carter was president then."

As he looked up, it was clear that the transformation was complete. Dr. Arlen Jekyll had become Mr. Arlen Hyde, a grotesque version of the good doctor, twisted and mangled. "Yes," Mr. Arlen replied. "I will do your bidding. I will not question the phone companies."

Neighbors and friends were left to wonder, "Who is Arlen?"

Andy in Harrisburg

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Uh-oh: SCOTUS to look at affirmative action

Does any else get the shakes and chills when this Supreme Court considers anything related to civil liberties or the progress we've made in the last 30-40 years?

AP/MSNBC: High court to decide race issue in schools

Andy in H-burg

Friday, June 02, 2006

Over? Did you say over?

House Select Committee on Academic Freedom, we hardly knew ye.

The statewide hearings on so-called academic freedom ended yesterday with a final hearing at Harrisburg Area Community College, aka HACC. Several reps made it clear where they stand:
"It just became so blatantly obvious ... there is no problem," (Rep. Dan) Surra (D-Elk) said. "If anything came out of these hearings, it showed there is absolutely no need to do anything."

Rep. Larry Curry, D-Montgomery, said he saw value in the hearings.

"It was worthwhile to be able to document that there isn't a problem and that procedures are in place to deal with problems that do occur," Curry said.

Meanwhile, this caught my attention:
The hearings were pushed by state Rep. Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster, who said students have complained to him about political intimidation and discrimination in the state's public college classrooms. Armstrong lost his re-election bid in the May primary. He has been reported as attributing this issue as a contribution in his defeat. (my bold)

ACLU-PA is non-partisan, so I couldn't care less who wins and who loses elections (officially). But if being against the First Amendment is harmful to a politician's career, that's a good thing.

On a completely unrelated note, who knew that there were Democrats in Elk County?

Andy in H-burg

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Tales of the Ridiculous

You've probably seen the AP story by now, but this week, along with the ACLU of Delaware, we filed suit against a Delaware police officer and a "Jane Doe" on behalf of two young women who were arrested and three others who were threatened with arrest at a book signing event for Rick Santorum at a Wilmington-area Barnes & Noble solely because of their political views. The event had been advertised as a signing for Santorum's book, It Takes a Family, and a "discussion" with the senator. Several of the women were from PA, and wanted to use the opportunity to share their views with their elected representative. (I apologize in advance for all the "allegedly's" in this story, but the lawyers make me do it. And they can be bossy.)

Turns out that the event's organizer's idea of "discussion" was "saying only nice things about the senator." When she ("Jane Doe")overheard the women talking and realized they were not, shall we say, Santorum supporters, she ordered a uniformed cop (hired by the event organizers - not Barnes & Noble) to remove them. (The t-shirt saying "Radical Feminist" worn by one of the women might also have tipped them off.)

The cop in question, Sgt. DiJiacomo, allegedly had no problem following orders and adding his own unique take on the situation. Not only did he threaten them with arrest if they did not leave immediately, he threatened those over 18 with prosecution for contributing to the delinquency of those who were minors. According to our suit, he also told them that an arrest would have a negative impact on their ability to get into college.

The story gets even more ridiculous. When two of the women asked why they were being ejected, they were arrested and escorted outside to DiJiacomo's vehicle. They were allegedly told that they were banned for life from the Barnes & Noble and the mall in which it was located. According to our suit, the officer was never instructed by Barnes & Noble staff to eject our clients from the bookstore or ban them for life, nor did the mall ask that our clients be banned for life.

One of the women, Hannah Shaffer, who had left without being arrested called her mother to be picked up. When Hannah's mother found out what happened, she went inside to find the police officer or store employee to find out why her daughter had been kicked out. While Mrs. Shaffer was in the store, Sgt. DiJiacomo allegedly saw Hannah in the car and attempted to arrest her. Her mother came back to the car at this point and interrupted the confrontation.

Mrs. Shaffer informed the sergeant that a store employee had informed her that our plaintiffs were welcome to return to the Barnes & Noble. Sgt. DiJiacomo allegedly told her that neither the Barnes & Noble nor the mall had the authority to allow the women to return to the store. According to our complaint, Sgt. DiJiacomo then threatened Mrs. Shaffer with arrest for contributing to the delinquency of minors.

Truly ridiculous stuff.