ACLU

  • April 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    A federal judge in Los Angeles took a step recently to bolster the nation’s indigent defense system for some undocumented immigrants. It was an all-too-rare legal action to help the most vulnerable among us, and unlikely to be celebrated by opponents of immigration reform.

    But poverty in this country is not exclusive to documented Americans, neither are basic human rights. U.S. District Judge Dolly M. Gee, as Bloomberg reports, moved to address the glaring inequality when she recently ruled that three states must pay for legal counsel for mentally disabled immigrants who are detained for potential deportation.

    Gee said that mentally disabled plaintiffs do not have meaningful access to the legal proceedings against them without counsel. “Plaintiffs’ ability to exercise these rights is hindered by their mental incompetency, and the provision of competent representation able to navigate the proceedings is the only means by which they may invoke these rights,” the judge ruled in José Antonio Franco-González v. Holder.

    As Bloomberg noted, federal agencies took action to ensure the measure would apply nationwide.

    In an April 22 statement, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security announced “a new nationwide policy for underrepresented immigration detainees with serious mental disorders or conditions that may render them mentally incompetent to represent themselves in immigration proceedings.”  

    In its landmark Gideon v. Wainwright opinion, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants have a constitutional right, secured by the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, to legal representation even if they cannot afford it. During a recent symposium sponsored by the Harvard Law & Policy Review and ACS, UNC Law School Professor Gene Nichol argued that one of the legal system’s greatest failures, which mirror the nation’s overall treatment of the poor, is its ongoing inability to provide the most vulnerable among us competent legal help even in civil matters.

  • April 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Once again lawmakers in Congress have introduced legislation intended to advance equality for LGBT people, this time with a few more Republicans on board and in an atmosphere of heightened public support.

    The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would prohibit employers from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. As noted earlier this week, other variations of ENDA have languished in past congressional sessions. But the effort – to outlaw employment discrimination of LGBT people – is integral to advancing equality. The U.S. Supreme Court is considering cases involving marriage equality and nine states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Rhode Island and Delaware state lawmakers are considering legislation to allow same-sex couples to wed. (Rhode Island’s Senate has approved a marriage equality bill.)

    So while there has been positive movement on marriage equality -- though a setback could be forthcoming depending on the how the Roberts Court handles the cases before it – efforts to bar employment discrimination against LGBT persons have seen more mixed results. As the ACLU notes more than 30 states include laws that fail to provide LGBT people solid protection from employment discrimination.

    But Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) in a press statement announcing the introduction of ENDA sounded an upbeat note, saying that “bipartisan coalitions” in both chambers are supporting the measure. Merkley’s statement concludes, “In a sign of the growing momentum to end discrimination against LGBT Americans, the Senate sponsors expect the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee” to take action on the legislation in this Congress.

    The ACLU, Lambda Legal, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center issued a statement today concluding, in part, that in a “country that values fairness and equal treatment under the law, we believe the current situation is unacceptable.” That situation centers on the fact that there remain far too many states without protections against employment discrimination of LGBT people.

  • April 4, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Apparently a bit of sanity has surfaced in the North Carolina legislature where a couple of lawmakers introduced a resolution declaring the state could establish an official religion. The Charlotte Observer reports that House Speaker Thom Tillis is saying the chamber will not vote on the resolution.

    In this case Joint Resolution 494, which in part declared that the First Amendment does not apply to the states, showcases a couple of lawmakers who are either woefully ignorant of the U.S Constitution and First Amendment jurisprudence or are blatantly provocative.

    First, as has been pointed out by a lot people like law school professors, much of the Bill of Rights do apply to the states. Starting in the 1920s federal courts ruled that the Constitution's 14th Amendment applies most of the Bill of Rights to the states. 

    Nevertheless, the lawmakers’ resolution states that the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which provides for a separation of religion and government, “does not apply to the states, municipalities, or schools.” The resolution also includes sections declaring the Constitution “does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion,” and that the N.C. legislature “does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.”

    Although the resolution does not specify what religion N.C. would officially recognize, it undoubtedly would be Christianity. The lawmakers pushing the resolution said they were doing so in part to provide a show of support to Rowan County Commissioners who are waging a legal battle to keep using Christian prayers at their public meetings. (The Supreme Court has ruled that if lawmakers feel the need to use prayer during official business, it should be nonsectarian, otherwise they leave themselves open to a First Amendment challenge. The ACLU has lodged a lawsuit against the county commission arguing that its prayer policy violates the separation of government and religion.)

  • February 5, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    The DOJ white paper advancing broad and opaque arguments for the executive branch to kill U.S. citizens thought to be connected with Al Qaeda is a “radical jurisprudential notion,” Salon’s David Sirota writes. He calls the jurisprudential notion “Too Big to Curtail.

    That moniker, he continues, “is the most accurate label to describe the machinery of the government’s ever-expanding drone war.”

    The DOJ’s white paper concludes three conditions must be met for the federal government to kill a U.S. citizen who is integral to Al Qaeda or “an associated force of” of the terrorist group without violating the Constitution. They require a high-ranking federal official who says the person targeted for killing is an “imminent threat to the country,” capturing the person is “infeasible,” and the lethal operation doesn’t violate laws governing use of force during war time.

    Sirota says the “most harrowing takeaway” from the DOJ document is that the killing of a U.S. citizen abroad can be made by a high-ranking government official even if there is no “clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.”

    Essentially, Sirota continues, the white paper maintains that the “president doesn’t actually need evidence to order someone’s death.” 

    The Dish in a post dubbed, “The Executive As Executioner,” includes comment from an array of folks, including the ACLU’s Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer.

     

  • November 30, 2012

    by Jeremy Leaming

    It’s hard to say why marriage matters, why it is different, Edie Windsor says in an ACLU video documenting her struggle to overcome the federal government’s discriminatory treatment of same-sex marriages. But, she continued, marriage is different and does matter. “It has to do with our dignity,” being able to be who we are openly, she said.

    “It was a love affair that kept on and on and on,” Windsor said in describing her deep, loving and lasting connection to Thea Spyer. The couple, more than 40 years into their relationship and after Spyer received a dire diagnosis related to multiple sclerosis, were married in Canada. When Spyer died in 2007, Windsor was required to pay inheritance taxes since the federal government because of the Clinton era law, the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, does not recognize same-sex marriages. With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Edie lodged a lawsuit against DOMA arguing, in part, that it violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

    In the fall, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled in favor of Windsor, concluding that DOMA does violate the equal protection rights of lesbians and gay men. Edie’s case, Windsor v. U.S. is one of several the Supreme Court could take for review this term. The justices met in a private conference Nov. 30 where the marriage equality cases could have been considered. SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston reported earlier today that the justices “took no action” on any of the same-sex marriage cases that have wended their way through the federal courts. Denniston notes that nothing has “ruled out the possibility that some actions on same-sex marriage could be announced” on Monday. Or it could be, Denniston continues, that the high court will need more than one conference meeting to “decide how to proceed” on handling the marriage equality cases.