Privacy rights

  • May 7, 2015

    by Devon Ombres

    Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its unanimous opinion in American Civil Liberties Union v. Clapper, giving privacy advocates a victory they have long been seeking in holding that Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act does not authorize the bulk collection of telephone metadata.  Because the Second Circuit found that bulk telephone metadata collection is not permitted by the statute, the court did not reach the constitutional question of whether it would comport with the Fourth Amendment.  Additionally, despite vacating and remanding the lower court’s judgment, the Second Circuit did not enjoin the government from continuing the collection of metadata under Section 215, reasoning that the statute is set to expire on June 1, 2015 and there is significant legislative activity on the horizon that could impact the legal issues in play.

    As an initial matter, Judge Gerald Lynch’s opinion held that the ACLU and its affiliates were not precluded from bringing an action seeking an injunction against the government’s collection program.  Although the government argued that no private cause of action was permitted, the court held that the government’s reliance on “bits and shards of inapplicable statutes, inconclusive legislative history, and inferences from silence in an effort to find an implied revocation of the [Administrative Procedure Act’s] authorization of challenges to government action” was not sufficient to overcome the strong presumption against the preclusion of judicial review.

    As to the program’s validity under Section 215, the court reviewed whether the statute authorized the creation of a “historical repository of information” where the “sheer volume of information sought is staggering.”  The court did not accept the government’s argument that data collection under Section 215 is analogous to the permissiveness provided to prosecution requests for grand jury subpoenas, which cannot be denied unless a court determines “that there is no reasonable possibility that the category of materials the government seeks will produce information relevant to the general subject matter of the investigation.”  The court distinguished those subpoenas as bound by the facts of a particular investigation and a finite timeframe, while the Section 215 metadata collection program had no limitations on subject matter, individuals, or time, and there was no requirement of relevance to any particular set of facts.

  • April 9, 2015

    by Nanya Springer

    On “mommy blogs” across the Internet, pregnant women lament that perfect strangers feel entitled to pat their bellies, offer unsolicited diet and parenting advice, and ask intrusive questions about their personal health.  For most women, such invasions are at most a temporary social annoyance.  But it should come as no surprise that in this culture of entitlement to pregnant women’s bodies, legislation that effectively strips pregnant women of their privacy and autonomy is widespread and, in many instances, has resulted in incarceration and forced intervention by the state.

    The ceaseless barrage of measures restricting the liberty of pregnant women takes many forms.  First, there are laws that place medically unnecessary (and sometimes irrational) mandates on abortion procedures: waiting periods, crisis pregnancy center counseling, ultrasounds, physician scripts, ambulatory surgical center requirements, hospital admitting privileges, hospital transfer agreements, procedure-specific bans, parental consent laws, restrictions on private insurance coverage, and the list goes on.

    In Texas – a state where judges are elected – a bill is being considered that would publicize the names of judges who give minors permission to obtain an abortion.  The Ohio House last week passed a bill that would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected – possibly before a woman even knows she is pregnant – and provide for doctors who violate the ban to be imprisoned.  A new Arizona law requires doctors to tell patients, contrary to medical evidence, that drug-induced abortions can be reversed.  And on Tuesday, Kansas became the first state to ban dilation and evacuation as an abortion method.

    Such restrictions and state-sanctioned intrusions into the doctor-patient relationship are alarming, but they are not the end of the story.  At least 38 states have enacted “fetal homicide” laws, the majority of which apply to even the earliest stages of gestation.  These laws, which were originally sold to the public as tools to prosecute abusive boyfriends and others who may harm pregnant women, are increasingly being used to prosecute pregnant women themselves.

  • February 9, 2015
    Guest Post

    by Chris Edelson, Assistant Professor of Government, American University School of Public Affairs. Edelson is also author of Emergency Presidential Power: From the Drafting of the Constitution to the War on Terror from the University of Wisconsin Press.

    The misstep Republicans took last month on legislation seeking to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy has exposed larger problems related to the party’s position on abortion.  The bill foundered when some House Republicans raised concerns about a provision that would create a “rape exception” to permit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but only for victims of rape who report the crime.  Republican House member Rep. Carlos Curbelo said he is “pro-life but . . . had concerns about the bill.”  Rep. Curbelo added that he believed the rape reporting requirement caused “a level of discomfort, especially with the females in our conference.”  Republican leaders in the House agreed with Curbelo and canceled a vote on the legislation, apparently based at least in part on concerns that Republican women in the House would vote as a bloc against the bill because of the wording of the rape reporting provision.

    This unexpected development highlights problems in terms of both logic and politics for Republicans when it comes to abortion and, more broadly, when it comes to women.  The Republican Party has taken a position that strongly suggests abortion is never justified, using language reminiscent of anti-abortion arguments that flatly describe abortion as murder.  The 2012 Republican Party platform declared that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” That language does not seem to leave room for any exceptions – whether they might be for the health of the pregnant woman or for rape.  Logically, it makes sense for the party to take this stance.  If Republicans believe abortion involves the taking of an innocent life – and elected Republicans frequently make clear that they believe precisely this – then it would not make sense for them to support abortion under any circumstances (other than if the pregnant woman’s life is at risk).

    The problem is that polling shows most Americans reject this position and believe women who are pregnant as the result of rape should be able to get an abortion.  Relatedly, in 2012 when Republican senatorial candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock tried to explain why they believed abortion was only permissible in cases of “legitimate rape” (Akin) or that perhaps it is never permissible because pregnancy resulting from rape is “something God intended” (Mourdock), they ended up costing their party otherwise very winnable Senate seats.

    Republicans, of course, remember 2012 very well and have no interest in reminding the rest of the country of the cringe-inducing debate over how best to define rape.  Sen. Lindsey Graham recently suggested that the party needs to “find a way out of this definitional problem with rape” (although, as Joan Walsh observes, Sen. Graham risks stepping in the same trap as Todd Akin simply by alluding to a “definitional” question regarding rape.)  The revival of the rape definition discussion (most recently prompting philosophical musings by a Utah lawmaker about the ability of unconscious wives to have consensual sex) raises a larger problem for Republicans: It seems they just don’t trust women

  • November 21, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    At Hamilton and Griffin on Rights, Thomas B. McAffee explains how religious freedom arguments about marriage equality miss the mark.

    Katie McDonough of Salon discusses how, in light of the growing number of states introducing abortion restrictions, women have begun sharing their abortion stories.

    Peter Beinart looks at President Barack Obama’s immigration announcement in The Atlantic, asserting that the executive order helps fulfill his promise to progressives.

    In the Huffington Post, Fred Wertheimer argues that Citizens United will go down in history as one of the worst Supreme Court decisions. 

  • August 1, 2014

    by Ellery Weil

    The New York Times Editorial Board discusses a recent decision by the National Labor Relations Board general counsel which found McDonald’s jointly responsible for the treatment of its workers at all of its franchises and argues that this should spur an increase in wages for fast food workers.

    Writing for SCOTUSblog, Lyle Denniston reports that challengers of the provision of the Affordable Care Act which provides subsides to those who obtain health insurance via the federal exchange are rushing their case to the Supreme Court, after two federal appellate courts delivered opposite rulings on the issue last month..

    At Politico, Laura W. Murphy compares attempts to reform the National Security Agency in the wake of revelations about the scope of its spying to successful efforts to limit the disparities in drug sentencing born from the War on Drugs.

    Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare about the CIA inspector general’s report regarding alleged hacking of Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) staff files and records by the CIA.