Friday, February 29, 2008

National news - Terrorist Watch List, FISA Fight Continues, and more

February 29, 2008

Congress Must Stand Up to Bush Fear-Mongering over FISA

Two weeks ago, leaders in the House finally stood up to President Bush’s fear-mongering and his dangerous demands, including presidential spying powers that defy the Constitution and retroactive immunity for telecom companies that turned over private information without a warrant.

There’s no predicting what happens next -- and no guaranteeing that House leaders will continue to hold the line. That’s why the ACLU is pulling out all the stops -- we ran an ad in USA Today on Tuesday to frame the debate, we’re gathering tens of thousands of signatures urging House leaders to stand their ground, and soon, we will be launching "Calling for Freedom," an all-out calling campaign aimed at flooding Congress with our message.

Click here to see the ad.

>> Take action: Tell Congress: "Keep Standing Up to Bush Fear Mongering".

>> Ask your friends to sign the petition.

Supreme Court Refuses to Review Warrantless Wiretapping Case

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the ACLU’s petition asking it to hear ACLU v. NSA, our case against the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU filed this case two years ago to put an end to government spying on innocent Americans through National Security Agency surveillance.

From the start, the government’s argument has been that the case should be dismissed under the state secrets privilege, but that did not convince the district court in Michigan, which ruled that the NSA’s program is unconstitutional and should be stopped. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, asserted that our plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been tapped and dismissed the case.

"Although we are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case, it is worth noting that today’s action says nothing about the case’s merits and does not suggest in any way an endorsement of the lower court’s decision," said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. "The court’s unwillingness to act makes it even more important that Congress insist on legislative safeguards that will protect civil liberties without jeopardizing national security."

>> Read more about unchecked government surveillance.

Government Again Downplays Widespread Racism Before U.N. Committee

Click here to learn about racial discrimination in your state.

Representatives from over 125 U.S.-based social justice organizations last week observed a session at the United Nations where an international panel of experts closely scrutinized the U.S. human rights record regarding racial discrimination.

High-ranking U.S. government officials had to answer very tough questions about racial discrimination in the United States. Yet, they continued to downplay the effects of widespread discrimination in this country during questioning before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Throughout the hearings, the CERD committee questioned the government delegation on several issues raised by the ACLU in its 2007 report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice. The ACLU’s report examines human rights violations, including events that took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, escalating police brutality and racial profiling, the dramatic increase in anti-immigrant acts and practices, the exploitation of migrant workers, and the “school to prison pipeline,” whereby the criminal justice system overzealously funnels students of color out of classrooms and on a path toward prison.

"It takes more than empty words and unenforced laws to claim high moral ground and leadership on human rights," said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. "To be true to its ideals and to fulfill its treaty obligations, the U.S. must take vigorous and proactive measures against racial and ethnic inequality."

>> Read the ACLU’s report, Race & Ethnicity in America, and blog posts from ACLU staff who were in Geneva.

Terrorist Watch List Nears One Million

It wasn’t long after 9/11 that we began hearing from Americans who were having problems getting on airplanes because, they were told, their names were on terrorist watch lists. In typical Bush Administration style, these systems had been roughly thrown together with little thought for questions of guilt or innocence or fairness to those unfairly targeted.

In the years since, our nation's out-of-control watch lists have received a lot of terrible publicity, such as when famous people like Sen. Ted Kennedy or Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) got trapped on them, or when 60 Minutes discovered that the list included the president of Bolivia, dead people, and dozens of common American names like Robert Johnson and John Williams. Despite all this publicity, and the problems faced by thousands or millions of frustrated innocent American citizens, the problem has not gotten better. In fact, it has gotten even worse.

Based on numbers contained in a report issued by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the watch list is growing by 20,000 records a month — and now exceeds 917,000 people. And it’s growing by the minute — a growth that you can view in real time on our new page, which displays a rolling, real-time counter showing how many names are on the list, according to that DOJ report.

>> Learn more about the ACLU Watch List Counter.

Order To Shut Down Violates First Amendment

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a motion this week to intervene in a lawsuit that led a federal district judge to order the domain name shut down. The motion is on behalf of organizations and individuals that have accessed and used documents on the website in their work and want to continue to be able to do so.

The website was established to allow participants to anonymously disclose documents of public interest, including materials discussing such issues of national importance as U.S. Army operations at Guantánamo Bay, human rights abuses in China, and political corruption in Kenya.

Earlier this month, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California ordered domain registrar Dynadot, LLC to shut down the domain name based on allegations that a former employee of Swiss Bank Julius Baer posted documents on the website that highlighted the bank’s dealings in the Cayman Islands.

The permanent injunction has the effect of blocking access to all of the content contained on the website accessed through the domain name, even though the overwhelming majority of those documents and materials are unrelated to the Bank Julius Baer complaint and concern matters of significant public interest.

“The public has a right to receive information and ideas, especially ones concerning the public interest,” said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “This injunction ignores that vital First Amendment principle.”

The ACLU and EFF are seeking to intervene on behalf of themselves; the Project on Government Oversight, which works to investigate systemic waste, fraud, and abuse in all federal agencies; and Jordan McCorkle, a student at the University of Texas who uses the website on a regular basis.

>> Read the ACLU’s motion.

ACLU Sues to Protect Marriages Threatened by Recent Court Decision

The ACLU of Pennsylvania began a statewide challenge to a recent court decision that invalidates marriages presided over by a minister who doesn’t regularly serve in a physical church or house of worship.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of three couples married in Pennsylvania by clergy who do not regularly preach in a church or to an established congregation. The couples seek judicial declarations that their marriages are valid under Pennsylvania law. The ruling potentially affects thousands of marriages, such as ACLU plaintiffs Peter Goldberger and Anna Durbin who were married in 1976.

"What we want is to fix a problem that never should have existed in the first place," said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. "The state has no business invalidating marriages just because it doesn’t like the kind of minister who officiated them."

The issue arose in September 2007 when York County Judge Maria Musti Cook ruled that the marriage of Dorie Heyer and Jacob Hollerbush was invalid because it had been performed by a minister of the Universal Life Church who obtained his ordination over the Internet. In Heyer v. Hollerbush, the court held that the marriage never existed because the minister who solemnized it did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship.

>> Read more about this case.