President Obama announced this morning that he will propose legislation calling for significant changes in the NSA’s telephone metadata program. This is good news, indeed.
The enactment of these proposals would strike a much better balance between the interests of liberty and security. They would preserve the value of the NSA’s program in terms of protecting the national security, while at the same time providing much greater, and much needed, protection to individual privacy and civil liberties.
The proposals are based on recommendations made by the president’s five-member Review Group, of which I was a member. To understand why we came up with these suggestions, it is necessary first to understand how the program operates.
Under the telephone metadata program, which was created in 2006, telephone service companies like Sprint, Verizon and AT&T are required to turn over to the NSA, on an ongoing daily basis, huge quantities of telephone metadata involving the phone records of millions of Americans, none of whom are themselves suspected of anything.
Even though the program to-date has functioned properly, history teaches that there is always the risk of another J. Edgar Hoover or Richard Nixon.
On Wednesday, the Senate held cloture votes on four nominees, quickly followed by successful confirmation votes for all four:
Christopher Cooper to the District of D.C., cloture 56-43, confirmed 100-0;
Douglas Harpool to the W.D. of Missouri, cloture 56-43, confirmed 93-5;
Gerald McHugh to the E.D. of Pennsylvania, cloture 56-43, confirmed 59-41;
Edward Smith to the E.D. of Pennsylvania, cloture 75-23, confirmed 69-31.
Christopher Cooper has been a long-time member of ACS. Gerald McHugh and Edward Smith are welcome additions to the Pennsylvania bench, which is overwhelmed with vacancies. Even with these confirmations, there remain five vacancies in the Eastern District (no nominees), three vacancies in the Western District (no nominees), and two 3rd Circuit Pennsylvania vacancies (1 nominee). There has been serious disagreement and concern over David Porter, thought to be under consideration for one of the Western District vacancies.
Florida courts came one step closer to adding Darrin Gayles to the bench this week when Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.) returned his blue slip, allowing Gayles to have a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee. If confirmed, Gayles would be the first openly gay African-American man to be a federal judge. He was nominated by President Obama after Sen. Rubio blocked William Thomas’s nomination, despite Rubio’s early support.
Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed, pending litigation, a district court decision that had struck down parts of Texas’ controversial abortion law. The key provisions of the law, “pertaining to hospital privileges for physicians who perform abortions and protocols for abortion-inducing drugs,” have ignited ardent protest from Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice groups. Greg Botelho at CNN follows this decision.
The Obama administration has announced its plan to reform the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of phone records. Adam Serwer at MSNBC discusses how these changes will impact the NSA and the concerns that remain regarding “bulk preservation.”
Writing for Balkinization, David Gans urges the Supreme Court to “recognize that the rights of Hobby Lobby’s thousands of employees—who have deeply held beliefs and convictions of their own—are at stake here, too.”
Last year, the Supreme Court struck down the “preclearance” provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965, “a critical tool that prevented discrimination.” At The Root, Julian Bond urges Congress to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act to ensure that “minorities have an equal voice in our democracy.”
Josh Gerstein at Politico reports on the 13-month sentence that may await a former State Department contractor who leaked classified information to Fox News.
This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in two cases brought by for-profit corporations challenging the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control benefit, which requires that health plans include coverage for contraception—a basic health service that 99 percent of women use at some point in their lives. Hobby Lobby, a national chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture manufacturer, argue the ACA’s requirement that health plans cover contraception violates their religious liberty rights by forcing them to participate in a process that ends with women accessing and using birth control.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are pursuing a radical proposition: that corporations have a right to impose religious beliefs on their employees by withholding benefits otherwise legally guaranteed to the women who work there. As others have noted, a win for the companies in these cases could open the door to all sorts of claims that corporations can opt out of laws that have helped shape our society and matter deeply to Americans, from Social Security to labor and civil rights laws. We have already seen a preview of what this could mean for the rights of LGBT individuals and families in the Arizona bill vetoed by Gov. Brewer last month.
It is important to note that, in the past, courts have rejected claims that religion-based arguments could allow restaurants to discriminate on the basis of race, or businesses to ignore wage-and-hour laws, for example. But several lower courts have ruled in favor of corporations in the birth control cases, and several justices seemed to favor their position this week.
During the 1950s, Victor Green wrote The Green Book, a travel guide listing restaurants and businesses that welcomed the patronage of African-Americans during the Jim Crow era. Writing for The American Prospect, Kent Greenfield—Professor of Law and Law Fund Research Scholar at Boston College Law School and Faculty Advisor for the Boston College Law School ACS Student Chapter—explains why, “after Tuesday’s arguments at the Supreme Court, we may need to dust off the Green Book and indeed initiate new editions for women, LGBT people, Muslims, and Jews.”
“The U.S. remains the only country in the world that imposes [life without parole] on children.” Steven M. Watt at the ACLU’s Blog of Rights tells the tragic story of Juwan Wichware and argues that “any punishment kids do receive should reflect their unique capacity for rehabilitation.”
Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument on whether “Secret Service agents can be sued for moving a group of protesters out of earshot of President George W. Bush in 2004.” NPR’s Nina Totenberg breaks down Wood v. Moss.
At TPM’s Editor’s Blog, Nan Aron calls for more diversity from the federal bench and notes “why it is so important that the people who may someday judge us represent a broad cross section of the American people.”
Frank Ackerman at the CPRBlog describes how the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute is producing a “steady stream of anti-environmental analyses.”
Katie Hamm and Erika Basurto at the Center for American Progress reveal how “the Strong Start Act would significantly improve access to early education for low-income children.”