Constitutional and Civil Liberties Groups Ask High Court to Review Justice Department’s Refusal to Release Detainee Information
Under the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Department of Justice has undermined the constitutional rights of all Americans as it has prosecuted a war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001 attacks, according to a new report released today by People For the American Way Foundation. At the same time, Ashcroft has continued to press his ideology into practice at the Justice Department, reversing the department’s position in civil rights cases, launching a campaign to threaten the independence of federal judges and second-guessing prosecutors on death penalty cases.
A new theater piece based on the letters of legendary screenwriter and novelist Dalton Trumbo opened an off-Broadway run on September 4, with Nathan Lane starring as Trumbo. "TRUMBO" is being produced with assistance from People For the American Way.
Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) yesterday introduced the Protecting the Rights of Individuals (PRI) Act, a bill that would serve as the first broad-based legislative response to the USA Patriot Act passed by Congress in the weeks after September 11, 2001. The bill, which is endorsed by People For the American Way and enjoys support from other groups across the ideological spectrum, could curtail some of the most draconian aspects of the Justice Department’s anti-terrorism work. Few of these efforts have been demonstrated as effective in the fight against terrorism, serving mostly to endanger the privacy and chill the free speech rights of ordinary, innocent Americans.
Executive Branch Has No Power to Detain Citizens Indefinitely Without Explicit Congressional Authorization
People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and other leaders from a broad coalition of civil liberties and privacy organizations to support new legislation Wyden has authored to strengthen legal protections for personal information against government abuse.
The Supreme Court today narrowed the protection of free speech on the internet and in America’s libraries, endorsing internet filters as a tool for the government to mandate decisions about what is available in a public library.
This ruling allows the Department of Justice to bury these secret arrests even deeper. Now the public is denied access even to the names of attorneys representing detainees. Indeed, this ruling takes us closer to authorizing the government to use secret arrests and detentions on a broad range of criminal suspects — or just outspoken critics. The repercussions could be disastrous.
A resolution authorizing a “flag desecration” amendment is expected to reach the floor of the House of Representatives today. The amendment would for the first time write into the Constitution an exception to the First Amendment’s guarantee that Congress “make no law … abridging the freedom of speech…”
PFAW President and lifelong baseball fan Ralph G. Neas sent a letter calling on Baseball Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey to reconsider his decision to cancel a celebration of the 15th anniversary of “Bull Durham” because of the political activism of two of its stars. “Baseball is one of the great American traditions,” Neas wrote. “But an even greater and longer American tradition is the right of free speech.”
In a victory for civil liberties, the Senate Commerce Committee adopted an amendment to an air cargo safety bill that would demand answers about an invasive passenger profiling system. The amendment, introduced by Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), now moves with the bill to the Senate floor. People For the American Way joined a coalition of civil liberties groups from across the ideological spectrum to urge Senators to adopt the language.
In defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down as unconstitutional a similar Nebraska ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion procedures, the Senate voted 64-33 to approve the “Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003.”
People For the American Way President Ralph G. Neas said the legislation was a far broader attack on women’s reproductive choice than its sponsors have claimed. The bill, which contains language that is so broad it could forbid some of the most safe and common abortion procedures available to women, sets the stage for further encroachments on reproductive freedom.
In Response to Supreme Court Ruling, Third Circuit Strengthens Finding that COPA Violates Free Speech
The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled again on March 6 that the “Child Online Protection Act” (COPA) was a violation of the First Amendment rights of businesses and individuals to send and receive valuable information. The case is ACLU v. Ashcroft.
People For the American Way Foundation joined today with the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression and other groups to file a brief in federal court in support of parents challenging a school board’s decision to remove all Harry Potter books from the school library shelves. The decision by the Cedarville, Arkansas, school board, which requires written parental permission before students can check out the books, disregarded a 15-0 decision by the board’s Library Committee. The episode was triggered by a parent’s complaint that the books promote witchcraft and sorcery as well as the ideas that “magic will solve your problems” and that “parents/teachers/rules are stupid or something to be ignored.”
In a case with important First Amendment implications, the Federal Communications Commission has reversed its earlier finding that performance artist Sarah Jones’ “Your Revolution” is indecent. The FCC had declared in May of 2001 that “Your Revolution,” a feminist critique of the frequently offensive treatment of women in popular music, was indecent. The new FCC order acknowledges that declaring “Your Revolution” indecent was a mistake.
Bipartisan House and Senate negotiators retained a Senate amendment restricting the data mining activities of the Pentagon’s Office of Total Information Awareness (TIA). The final bill requires Congressional oversight of the program and conditions its funding on actions by the executive branch to protect privacy and monitor the usage of personal information. It also bars deployment of TIA technology without explicit Congressional authorization.
The Defense Department announced today that it would establish an internal board and an outside advisory committee to monitor potential threats to individual privacy from the Pentagon’s Total Information Awareness Project. While strong internal controls are necessary, they are not a substitute for real congressional oversight, which is fundamental to our constitutional system of checks and balances.
In a bold bipartisan move, the U.S. Senate adopted an amendment that could protect Americans from the broad reach of government data-mining efforts associated with the office of Total Information Awareness.
With attention largely focused on the adequacy of civil service protections in the Homeland Security Act, several of the massive bill’s provisions that increase government secrecy and reduce accountability went virtually ignored. The new 170,000 employee agency could potentially menace the civil rights and liberties of all Americans.