July 2011

  • July 28, 2011

    Georgetown University law professor Peter Edelman, a member of the ACS board of directors, recently appeared on Comedy Central’s Colbert Report to discuss America’s continuing struggle with poverty.  

    Edelman worked as a legislative aide for Senator Robert F. Kennedy and resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services in the Clinton Administration in protest of the administration’s welfare reform plan.  Following an exchange about Xboxes (yes, Xboxes), Edelman responded to Colbert’s barbs about the invisibility of poverty by stating:

    There are six million people in this country whose only income is food stamps. Only income is food stamps, which is, for that family you were talking about, about 25% of the poverty line. And that’s all they have … The fact is, food stamps right now are really helping people in this country. We have 44 million people in the middle of this recession that are getting that help, and I’m glad we do.


    "Poor" in America - Peter Edelman
  • July 28, 2011
    The Rights of the People
    How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties
    David K. Shipler

    By David K. Shipler, a former New York Times journalist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author who writes online at The Shipler Report.

    The Supreme Court has an opportunity next term to play catch-up in applying the Fourth Amendment to the advanced technology of surveillance. The Court has granted the Obama administration’s cert. petition seeking to overturn a well-reasoned opinion by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit requiring law enforcement to obtain warrants when secretly installing GPS tracking devices on vehicles.

    This could be a mundane case or a landmark, depending on which way the justices go. The Fourth Amendment has been seriously eroded in recent decades, as documented in my book The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties. The Court’s majority could continue the pattern by ruling with the government, carving out yet another exception to the warrant requirement. Or, the Court could decide to set broad new standards to redefine the “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a digital age.

    The expectation of privacy is a key legal concept. The courts have ruled that where no such expectation exists, no “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment occurs, and therefore no probable cause or judicial oversight is required.

  • July 28, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Lyle Denniston. Mr. Denniston is the National Constitution Center’s Adviser on Constitutional Literacy. He has reported on the Supreme Court for 53 years, currently covering it for SCOTUSblog, an online clearing house of information about the Supreme Court’s work. Denniston’s analysis was first posted at the National Constitution Center’s Constitution Daily.

    The constitutional claim:

     “The TSA’s body scanner program violates the Fourth Amendment…The TSA subjects all air travelers to the most extensive, invasive search available…The TSA rules require individuals to submit to a digital strip search that is maximally intrusive.”

    - Arguments made in a legal brief filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) in its lawsuit against the Dept. of Homeland Security, decided by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, July 15, 2011.

    The constitutional response:

    The U.S. Supreme Court has never ruled directly on the constitutionality of screening passengers at the nation’s airports, but has suggested in cases involving other kinds of searches that airport searches are vital to public safety.  In the first federal court test of full-body scanners, the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit earlier this month rejected the constitutional challenge.

    Full-body scanners are now in use at more than 80 U.S. airports and are destined for all domestic air terminals as the primary screening method, replacing magnetometers.  A passenger who objects to this imaging can choose a physical pat-down.

    From the time the government began using full-body imaging four years ago, there have been strong protests that the technology invades personal privacy and is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.

  • July 27, 2011

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Earlier this year Columbia University Business School professor Joseph E. Stiglitz examined, in sharp and incredibly disheartening detail, the efforts of America’s super wealthy to protect their lavish lifestyles at a great cost to the rest of the nation.

    The professor noted that the nation’s top 1 percent have seen “their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. All the growth in the recent decades – and more – has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran.”

    And the country's wealthiest, Stiglitz continued, have seriously lost touch with “ordinary people,” and are striving to ensure that the federal government does not do anything to change the way things are. (The tired debate over nation’s debt-ceiling and an accompanying agreement to slash spending on programs for the nation’s middle class and poor reveal more evidence of that effort to hold the status quo.)

    Congress’s Tea Party-backed politicos are against any effort to raise taxes on the wealthy, and, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi points out even Democrats are joining the fight for a so-called “tax repatriation holiday,” to allow some of the nation’s largest corporations to repatriate income from overseas at a major tax-break. Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman says “the idea of granting a tax holiday for corporations that repatriate income they’ve kept overseas, and on which they have avoided taxes, is one of the worst ideas I’ve heard in a long time. (And that’s saying something in these days and times.)”

  • July 27, 2011
    Guest Post

    By Jamie Raskin, a Maryland State Senator representing Silver Spring and Takoma Park, and a professor of constitutional law at American University Washington College of Law, where he directs the Program on Law and Government. He was a lead sponsor of the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act, which passed the Maryland Senate earlier this year and, as floor leader, managed several days of legislative debate on the measure. Raskin is a Senior Fellow at People For the American Way.

    Advocates of marriage equality in Maryland are delighted that our Governor, Martin O’Malley, has decided to introduce a marriage bill next year and throw himself with vigor into this important fight for equal rights for gay and lesbian Marylanders.  As a lead sponsor of this year’s legislation in the State Senate--where it passed on a vote of 25-21, I have a strong sense that the Governor’s decision puts us on a clear path to victory in the House of Delegates--and soon.

    To be clear, I am not one who ever faulted O’Malley (pictured) for the way things fell apart in the House of Delegates in spring of 2011. Those of you watching the Bermuda Triangle-style events that took place there may recall that freshman Democratic sponsors of the bill dropped off, pleading ignorance of its meaning, while other Delegates decided to play “Let’s-Make-a-Deal” with this major piece of civil rights legislation, offering their votes only in return for a juicy piece of legislative pork for their districts.  It’s true that a robust lobbying effort by the Governor might have tamed some of the wilder behavior displayed on the House side, but even the extremely able and popular House Speaker, Michael Busch, could not put out the strange political brushfires that seemed to break out on a daily basis.  Three of his six Committee Chairmen themselves took a walk on us, along with one member of his Democratic whip hierarchy. The Speaker finally made the call to send the bill back to Committee without a floor vote.

    I am not sure what anyone could have done in that environment to turn things around. We can’t forget that the bill that passed the Senate was a sturdy and sea-worthy vehicle that reconciled every conceivable legitimate desire for religious liberty exemption with the overriding constitutional and legal command of equal rights under law. We can’t forget that there were seven -- yes, seven -- openly gay and demonstrably eloquent Delegates in the House who beseeched their colleagues from the floor to do the right thing. (In the Senate, we have only one, the estimable Rich Madaleno.) We can’t forget that every House Republican voted against us whereas, on the Senate side, the Minority Leader, the refreshingly old-fashioned Allan Kittleman, actually gave up his party leadership post in order to support the bill and show that the party of Lincoln still has a heartbeat, however lonely and faint. We also can’t forget that there was a huge conservative religious mobilization in the state against marriage equality after we saw victory in the Senate and that Maryland, after all, was the Catholic colony back in the day.