ACLU

  • 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.

  • November 1, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Anna-Rose Mathieson, a counsel in the appellate group for O’Melveny & Myers, and a co-author of two amicus briefs for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in Bailey v. United States.


    Chunon Bailey was pulled over by the police. The officers told him to exit his car, patted him down, and confiscated his keys, wallet, and car. The officers had not seen him break any laws, and found nothing incriminating during their search. They nevertheless questioned and handcuffed Bailey, and drove him away in the back of a police car. 

    Today the Supreme Court considers whether the search and seizure of Bailey was justified based on the sole fact that Bailey had recently left an apartment that the police had a warrant to search. The genesis of this issue is a case decided thirty years ago, Michigan v. Summers, where the Court ruled that police officers executing a search warrant for contraband can detain all occupants of a dwelling while searching the premises. Bailey was no longer on the premises -- the police had watched him leave the house, then followed him for nearly a mile before detaining him -- but the court below thought the rule should be extended to those who had recently left the premises. This extension is significant because the Summers rule gives police broad powers: unlike most Fourth Amendment cases, where the police must show individualized suspicion as to the specific person searched or seized, the Summers rule affords police the power to detain anyone for the duration of the search, even if the person has no apparent connection to the alleged crime and appears totally harmless. And the police can, and often do, handcuff the occupants, even when the search goes on for hours. 

  • July 30, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Sarah Lipton-Lubet, ACLU Washington Legislative Office, and Brigitte Amiri, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. This piece is crossposted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup blog.


    A federal court in Colorado recently put a temporary halt on the implementation of the Obama administration’s contraceptive coverage rule, with respect to one company. The contraceptive coverage rule requires insurance plans to cover contraception and stop routinely discriminating against women. The decision, if upheld, could pave the way for businesses to use their owners’ religion as an excuse to discriminate. 

    Here’s what happened, in a nutshell: Hercules Industries is a manufacturer of heating, ventilation, and air conditioning products that employs 265 workers. It argued that the contraceptive coverage regulation violated the company’s religious liberty because its owners are opposed to the use of birth control. Two similar lawsuits have been filed by other businesses, one in Michigan and one in Missouri. 

    Businesses exist to make money through commercial activity. By definition, their purpose is profit, not religious exercise. And for decades, the Supreme Court has recognized that entering into commercial activity means accepting that your faith cannot be imposed on those you employ. But Hercules Industries seeks to upend that common-sense rule. In its place, it proposes a theory that would let a business owner’s beliefs trump protections designed to safeguard workers – a radical break from our laws as we know them.