Individual liberties

  • May 16, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Like his predecessor President Obama has embraced an aggressive, mostly secret and, at times, constitutionally suspect approach to waging a never-ending war on terror.

    Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration has obsessively investigated leaks of information surrounding some of its counterterrorism efforts. The administration has launched at least six cases of alleged leaks, including one involving a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen that The Associated Press reported on last spring. As part of that investigation the Department of Justice secretly gathered and culled through phone records of AP reporters.

    Going on the information we have now it appears that the First Amendment, which protects freedom of speech including press from government interference, was too easily shunted aside in an over-the-top investigation of a leak. The AP was given no chance to challenge a government search of its phone records and have a judge decide whether national security interests trumped freedom of speech in this instance. Yes, Attorney General Eric Holder claims the leak was one of the most egregious he has seen in a long, long time. But he doesn’t explain how it was so terribly egregious, nor do the facts as we know them now support his sweeping assertion.

    And today, during a press conference, President Obama hardly appeared fazed by the criticism of the DOJ’s tactics, decrying leaks of counterterrorism efforts. “Leaks related to national security can put people at risk, they can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk,” he said.

    But the May 7, 2012 reporting by the AP, had, according to its president, Gary Pruitt, been held until the White House assured the AP that “national security concerns" were no longer an issue. Pruitt added, “Indeed the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled.”  

    Earlier this week The New York Times Editorial Board hammered the administration for its “zeal” for going after persons accused of leaking national security information. In the AP matter, The Times Editorial Board said the administration had offered no “credible justification for secretly combing through the phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press in what looks like a fishing expedition for sources and an effort to frighten off whistle-blowers.”

    It’s rather lame to argue that just because Republicans howled loudly over the AP coverage of the foiled terrorist plot in Yemen that the DOJ’s obnoxious action of spying on the AP was somewhat mitigated. Moreover, it’s not like this administration has needed prodding to aggressively and obsessively go after alleged leakers.

  • April 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Despite the rhetoric to move beyond a perpetual “war on drugs” the Obama administration remains mired in the tough-on-drugs mindset and its Justice Department seems befuddled by the states that have legalized small amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

    The Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report revealing that the administration’s goals set out in 2010 have largely not been met. The report noted that the Office of National Drug Control Policy and other federal agencies established “seven Strategy goals related to reducing illicit drug use and its consequences by 2015.” GAO continued, “As of March 2013,” its “analysis showed that of the five goals for which primary data on results were available, one shows progress and four show no progress.”

    But, as The Huffington Post’s Matt Sledge reports drug czar Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy has just released another drug control plan that builds on the policies the GAO has said are not working. More troubling, Sledge notes that the drug office’s budget “still devotes less than half of it funds to treatment and prevention. The GAO found that prevention and treatment programs are ‘fragmented’ across 15 federal agencies.”

    In an April 24 post on its web site, the Office of National Drug Control Policy bemoans “illicit drug use,” claiming “drug-induced overdose deaths now surpass homicides and car crashes as the leading cause of injury or death in America.” It also declares “we cannot arrest or incarcerate our way out of the drug problem.”

    The language from the administration’s drug control office is softer than rhetoric about the “war on drugs,” which the Nixon administration launched with the enactment of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) several decades ago. But the administration’s drug control office is not embracing drug legalization or even any changes to the CSA, such as removing marijuana from the list of drugs deemed as dangerous as say heroin.

    The muddled message from the Obama administration -- not helped by its Justice Department’s silence on how it will respond to Colorado and Washington, where officials are crafting measures to implement and regulate the recreational use of marijuana -- is preserving tough-on-drugs policies.

  • March 21, 2013
    BookTalk
    Unlearning Liberty
    Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate
    By: 
    Greg Lukianoff

    by Greg Lukianoff, an attorney and president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education

    I went to law school with a particular passion in mind: the First Amendment and freedom of speech. Starting at Stanford in 1997, I took virtually every class the law school offered on the First Amendment, completed six additional credits on the origins of the legal theory of “prior restraint” in Tudor England, and worked for the ACLU of Northern California. I was nonetheless unprepared for the kind of censorship I would see on college campuses, first as legal director and then as president of The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education(FIRE).

    My recent book, Unlearning Liberty: Campus Censorship and the End of American Debate, is my attempt to catalog a small fraction of the terrible cases I’ve seen over the last 11 years and to explain why college censorship matters both on and off campus.

    The cases of censorship I have seen over the years run from the absurd to the serious. I have covered these cases in great detail at The Huffington Post, where I’m a regular contributor, and have for the past two years dubbed some of the offenders the “worst colleges for freedom of speech.” On the high-end of the absurd cases are those involving cartoons, one case involving a quote from the beloved yet short-lived science-fiction series, Firefly, and a politically incorrect flyer that made a joke about the freshman 15, all of which I showcased in an article with the tongue-in-cheek name “Top 10 Pics Too Hot for Campus.”

    I open Unlearning Liberty talking about the currently ongoing legal saga that straddles the chasm between absurd and serious. The case involved a student, Hayden Barnes, who protested against his school, Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, for its decision to build two parking garages on campus. He went about protesting the parking garages by contacting the Board of Regents and writing a letter to the editor of the student newspaper.

  • March 8, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Advocates of privacy rights, especially reproductive rights, have had one challenge after another mostly from state lawmakers bent on destroying those rights.  

    As reported earlier this week, religious groups were successful in lobbying the Arkansas legislature to adopt what The New York Times called the “country’s most restrictive ban on abortion – at 12 weeks” of pregnancy.

    The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, Roe v. Wade, found that the Constitution provides women “the right of personal privacy,” which “includes the abortion decision ….” Like many rights protected in the Constitution it’s not an unlimited one. And the Roe Court found that states have a compelling interest to regulate abortion at the point of viability, usually around 24 weeks, as The Times notes.

    The law’s sponsor, according to The Times, “compared the more than 50 million abortions in the United States since Roe” to the “Holocaust ….”

    That overwrought language is unfortunately typical of too many state lawmakers from coast to coast who for over the past several years have strived to create more laws to make it much more difficult for women to obtain abortions. As former U.S. Solicitor General Walter Dellinger has noted, it’s annoyingly ironic that conservative lawmakers who blasted the Affordable Care Act as attempting to strip liberty from Americans are the ones pushing laws depriving women of their liberties. Women have the ability to make health care decisions for themselves, but right-wing lawmakers are more concerned about embryos, which do not have constitutional rights.

    Because the Arkansas law so blatantly violates Roe, it is likely to be quickly challenged, as it should be.

    Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice American, blasted the law, saying “This is another example of how anti-choice politicians are obsessed with rolling back reproductive rights guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision more than 40 years ago. This law robs women of control over their own lives and puts that control in the hands of politicians in Little Rock. This intrusive, extreme agenda is out of touch with our nation’s values and priorities – and we stand firmly in opposition.”

    Too many state lawmakers have been obsessed with restricting the rights of women. Their priorities are regressive and obnoxious in the face of budget difficulties and people who need jobs or government services to help them become trained for new jobs. Instead of harassing women, state lawmakers should focus on issues that will bolster, not harm their communities.

  • February 13, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    For far too long the gun lobby has loudly proclaimed that the Constitution bars almost any kind of law aimed at curbing gun violence. But since a string of mass shootings last year culminating in the Newtown mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, there’s been a growing chorus of voices pushing back against the gun lobby’s platitudes and simplistic, often misleading, interpretation of the Second Amendment.

    More than 50 constitutional law scholars signed a letter explaining why the Second Amendment is not absolute or unlimited. Very few of rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution are absolute. One of the scholars who signed that letter is among the nation’s greatest constitutional law scholars -- Laurence H. Tribe, a distinguished Harvard Law School professor.

    Hours before President Obama, a former student of Tribe’s, gave his State of the Union Address, Tribe testified before a Senate Judiciary committee examining ways to curb gun violence without trampling the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

    In his oral and written testimony Tribe made it clear that efforts to reduce – not eliminate – gun violence through government action are not beyond reach because of the Second Amendment. In current Supreme Court rulings, such as D.C. v. Heller, Tribe explained the justices took certain policy choices off the table for consideration and “thereby cleared the path to reasonable regulations to be enacted without fear that those policy choices would ever open the door to unlimited government control or be imperiled by exaggerated interpretations of the Second Amendment.” (Click picture of Tribe for video of his opening remarks, or see here.)

    Tribe noted that Justice Antonin Scalia author of the majority opinion in Heller noted that the court’s interpretation of the “Constitution leaves open a variety of regulatory tools to combating the problem of gun violence in this country.”

    In his written testimony, Tribe put it this way: “Proposals to disarm the American people, to leave firearms solely in the hands of the military and the police, have been decisively taken off the table – if they were ever truly on the table – by the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment decisions in 2008 and 2010 [Heller and McDonald v. Chicago respectively].”