Civil Liberties

PFAW Supports House Amendment Against NSA Spying

An amendment to the Defense Appropriations bill would impose much-needed limits on the NSA's unconstitutional surveillance program.
PFAW

PFAW and Others File Case Challenging ‘Profoundly Problematic’ NSA Surveillance

WASHINGTON – Today People For the American Way, together with a broad spectrum of other organizations and represented by the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the law firm of Keker & Van Nest, filed a lawsuit to challenge the unconstitutional NSA surveillance program that collects millions of Americans’ telephone records.  The case, First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles v. NSA, challenges the surveillance program as an unconstitutional violation of the organizations’ First Amendment right to freedom of association.

“The NSA’s unchecked collection of Americans’ telephone records, including the telephone records of organizations like PFAW, is a blatantly unconstitutional attack on our civil liberties,” said People For the American Way President Michael Keegan. “The Supreme Court has long recognized the right of membership organizations like ours to freely associate with their members and keep their lists private. That’s incompatible with a surveillance scheme that captures the identity of every person who calls to join our policy briefings or who gets contacted by our membership team. There’s no question that this creates a dangerous chilling effect and impedes our associational rights, as well as those of our members.  Our Constitution protects the freedom to gather together in groups to advocate around a set of beliefs without undue government interference.  The sweeping collection of Americans’ telephone records is a profoundly problematic infringement on fundamental constitutional rights.”

People For the American Way has long been an advocate for protecting our civil rights and liberties. Earlier this year, PFAW launched a petition to repeal the dangerous provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act, which granted overly broad powers regarding surveillance to the executive branch.  The petition has garnered nearly 67,000 signatures to date. In addition, affiliate People For the American Way Foundation has filed two amicus briefs in related NSA surveillance cases, including one in support of the Hepting v. AT&T plaintiffs in 2006 and one in support of the Jewel v. NSA plaintiffs last year.

The filed complaint is available here

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Repeal the PATRIOT Act

No administration should be trusted with such broad and loosely defined power to spy on Americans.

PFAW Supports the U.S. Justice Department in Arizona v. United States

This morning, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Arizona v. United States, a case that will examine key provisions of Arizona’s infamous and draconian immigration law, SB 1070. If implemented, the law, colloquially known as the ‘show me your papers bill,’ would lead to the unjust targeting of Arizonans through racial profiling and increased jail sentencing.

Because of SB 1070’s blatant assault on civil liberties, much of the nation was shocked by its passage. The United States challenged it in court, arguing that the state was unconstitutionally encroaching on the federal government’s responsibility for immigration law. Four sections of the bill were blocked by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton of Phoenix on July 28, 2010. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld Bolton’s ruling, and after Arizona appealed that decision, the case arrived at the Supreme Court, which has chosen to address yet another politically polarizing issue in this critical election year. Although the threat to the basic rights of people – both citizens and immigrants – is the subject of significant concern, the legal issue before the Supreme Court today addresses whether Arizona’s effort to make life so miserable for immigrants that they leave the state is preempted by federal law.

Below is an analysis of the legislation that People For the American Way published when participating in a statewide boycott of Arizona following the passage of the legislation nearly two years ago.

Question: How does the Arizona law, S.B. 1070, expand racial profiling? Isn't it focused only on migrant workers?

Answer: Under current law, state-local police are authorized to enforce federal immigration laws only in limited circumstances. Even so, law enforcement in Arizona and across the country already is challenged by substantial evidence of wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and discrimination. The new law would dramatically expand the problem. Specifically, the new law:

• Increases the scope of those enforcing immigration laws from a few police departments, or units within departments, to every single law enforcement officer in the entire state.

• Expands the population at risk of being stopped, arrested, and detained from a limited number – those targeted by bona fide immigration enforcement operations, or those already in police custody – to everyone who comes into contact with a law enforcement officer who has a "reasonable suspicion" someone may be undocumented.

• Virtually guarantees that Latinos and other minorities will be asked to provide proof of legal residency, and be subject to arrest and detention if they cannot do so, at far higher rates than non-minorities. Research on racial profiling shows that, not only do minority drivers experience more traffic stops than non-minority drivers, once stopped, minorities are subject to higher rates of searches, arrests, and formal charges than similarly-situated non-minority drivers.

• Provides powerful incentives for wrongful arrests, racial profiling, and other abuse by creating a private right of action against any agency that fails to uphold the new law's provisions, while at the same time indemnifying police officers from litigation brought by those who are wrongfully detained or racially profiled.

Demonstrations in support of the U.S. Justice Department took place this morning, and PFAW staff were able to attend in solidarity.

End Note: Another controversial aspect of SB 1070 is the role that ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, played in adopting the bill as model legislation and pushing it in states across the country. For an analysis of the ALEC connection and SB 1070, please read our report on ALEC in Arizona released in November 2011, “ALEC IN ARIZONA: The Voice of Corporate Special Interests in the Halls of Arizona's Legislature” and the Center for Media and Democracy’s blog post on the issue.

PFAW

Senate Hearing Examines Indefinite Detention of Americans

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing entitled, “The Due Process Guarantee Act: Banning Indefinite Detention of Americans,” which shed light on controversial provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA).

That act, signed into law on December 31, 2011, codified some of the most extreme abuses of civil liberties that have been pursued following the initiation of the ‘War on Terror,’ the actions of which, under the current administration, are now engaged under the title, ‘Overseas Contingency Operations.’ The most striking provision of the NDAA affirmed a broad interpretation of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists (2001) and stated that the executive has the power to detain anyone “who was part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities … without trial, until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF 2001],” which many interpret would permit even the indefinite detention of American citizens.

Although the current executive branch has pledged to not act upon these powers with respect to American citizens – President Obama signed the law with an adjoining statement, declaring, “my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens” – the potential for future administrations to engage in such clearly unconstitutional behavior, or for the Obama Administration to simply change its mind, is a danger that all Americans should be wary of.

Troubled by these possibilities, Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced the ‘Due Process Guarantee Act of 2011’ just hours after the final version of the NDAA was approved by the Senate. The bill seeks to amend the United States Code affected by the NDAA, effectively barring the executive from utilizing indefinite detention on American citizens without express approval from Congress to do so.

The hearing today regarded this remedial act; and there were fireworks to say the least.

Senator Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee and is the author of the bill, repeatedly called into question the effectiveness of the provisions in question. Alluding to her past experiences on the Intelligence Committee, Feinstein echoed the concerns of leaders of intelligence and domestic crime fighting agencies who have expressed their disagreement with the infringement of the Armed Forces into domestic security concerns.

Senator Patrick Leahy, before passing the gavel to Senator Feinstein to chair the session, spoke more broadly about the practice of indefinite detention in his opening statement, stating, “A regime of indefinite detention degrades the credibility of this great Nation around the globe, particularly when we criticize other governments for engaging in such conduct.”

The most heated portion of the hearing arose when Senator Al Franken objected to the testimony of Steven G. Bradbury, a former Bush Administration appointee invited by Senate Republicans to testify in favor of the indefinite detention provisions. Franken alluded to the ‘enhanced interrogation’ memos (more accurately called torture memos) that Bradbury authored – which were the subject of a Justice Department probe that concluded by seriously questioning the legal work of Bradbury and others - and stated, “it’s very difficult for me, frankly, to rely on your legal opinion today.”

To ensure that future generations of Americans are not subject to indefinite detention without charge or trial, which was deemed unconstitutional by the Hamdi Supreme Court decision in 2004, please contact your local Representative and Senators to express your opposition to the NDAA, and encourage them to co-sponsor legislation to make sure the law reflects our Constitution’s most essential values. ( H.R. 36702 in the House; S. 2003 in the Senate).

PFAW

Supreme Court Strip Search Decision Supports Sotomayor Dissent

The Supreme Court today issued a ruling in the case Safford Unified School District v. April Redding declaring unconstitutional a school's strip search of a 13 year old girl but found that the individual officials involved were protected by qualified immunity. Debbie Liu, General Counsel at People For the American Way, issued the following statement: "The Court was correct in ruling that Savana Redding's Constitutional rights were violated when she was strip searched at school. Students don't lose their rights at the school house gate, and strip searching a teenage girl to look for ibuprofen is not a reasonable course of action."

Groups Deliver More than 140,000 Petitions to Impeach Bybee

People For the American Way and MoveOn.org Political Action today delivered more than 140,000 petitions to House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers calling for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee for his role in trying to bend the law to justify the Bush administration's torture policies when he headed the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel. After authoring memos explaining how prisoners could be tortured while skirting federal law, but before the memos became public, Bybee was confirmed to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Obama Drops "Enemy Combatant" Designation

The Obama Administration today announced that it would no longer use the designation of "enemy combatant," and will no longer use executive authority to indefinitely detain individuals. PFAW President Kathryn Kolbert issued the following statement: "Today, President Obama reversed one of the most outrageous policies of the Bush Administration. By dropping the designation of 'enemy combatant,' President Obama is taking a significant step towards reconciling our government’s actions with the principles of the Constitution. In his inaugural address, he claimed to reject the false choice between our ideals and our safety. Today he proved that he means it. I applaud his decision."

More Rights At Stake: A Preview of the Supreme Court's 2008-09 Term

A report from People For the American Way Foundation on a selection of cases the Supreme Court will consider in the term beginning October 6, 2008. In the 2008-09 term, the Court is set to consider a number of important cases involving voting rights, employment discrimination, free speech, and access to justice.

Senate Sides with Bush and Against Rule of Law on FISA

In response to the Senate’s vote on the FISA Amendments Act, People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said, "Today a majority of the Senate sided with the Bush administration and against the rule of law."

People For the American Way Encouraged by Obama Commitment to Apply Constitutional Principles to Partnerships with Faith-Based Groups

People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said, Senator Obama’s speech on government partnerships with faith-based and grassroots social service groups included a clear commitment to constitutional principles, something that has been sorely lacking during the Bush administration. Sen. Obama stated clearly that his administration would not allow federal funds to support discrimination in providing services – or in hiring. In so doing, the Obama campaign is embracing civil rights protections that the Bush administration actively tried to undermine.

Supreme Court Rebukes Bush on Habeas Corpus in 5-4 Ruling

Following the Supreme Court’s ruling in Boumediene v. Bush People For the American Way President Kathryn Kolbert said, The Supreme Court has rebuked President Bush’s vision of the presidency as an office of limitless power, and declared that the president of a free nation cannot simply lock people up and throw away the key like some third-world dictator. This is a stinging blow to the administration’s lawless policies and its allies in Congress."

Supreme Court End-of-Term Analysis: 2005-06 Term

The 2005-06 term was clearly a period of transition for the Supreme Court, as Chief Justice Roberts replaced Chief Justice Rehnquist, and two justices in a sense replaced Justice O’Connor Justice Alito took her seat on the Court while Justice Kennedy replaced her as the “swing” vote in a number of closely divided cases. And while a relatively large number of the Court’s decisions this term were unanimous (generally where the Court was able to agree on a narrow approach and avoid divisive issues as in the New Hampshire abortion case), the new justices clearly pushed the Court towards the right in several important, closely divided cases.

Undermining the Bill of Rights: The Bush Administration Detention Policy

Last week the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments concerning the Executive Branch's right to unilaterally strip citizens of core constitutional rights. People For the American Way Foundation believes the government's "enemy combatants" and detention policies -- the heart of the case before the high court -- violate fundamental principles enshrined in our Constitution, such as the separation of powers and due process of law, and actually threaten progress in the war on terror and America's campaign for greater freedom and democracy around the world. Read the powerful new PFAWF report on these policies.

The Case Against the Confirmation of John Ashcroft As Attorney General of the United States: Part II

An examination of John Ashcroft's record as Governor and Attorney General of the state of Missouri.

The Case Against the Confirmation of John Ashcroft as Attorney General of the United States: PART I

On January 4, People For the American Way published an overview of John Ashcroft's six-year record in the United States Senate. The report shows clearly that John Ashcroft does not meet the high standards of fairness and integrity required of the Attorney General. He has not demonstrated a sufficient commitment to equal justice under the law to be entrusted with upholding the Constitution and our nation's civil rights laws.

John Ashcroft's First Six Months at the Justice Department: The Right Wing Dream Team Takes Over

This report examines the nomination of John Ashcroft for Attorney General by President George W. Bush. Based on Ashcroft's record as a senator and as Missouri state attorney general and governor, public interest advocates believed that Ashcroft was a right-wing ideologue who should not be entrusted with overseeing the enforcement of laws and the protection of constitutional guarantees affecting civil rights, civil liberties, religious liberty, reproductive rights, environmental protection, and more.

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