Tag Archives: civil liberties

Judge blocks part of Trump’s order, protests continue

President Donald Trump’s order to restrict people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States sparked outrage and hit a roadblock late on Saturday when a federal judge said stranded travelers could stay in the country.

The emergency court ruling was cheered at Boston’s Logan International Airport, one of several major U.S. airports where protesters angry with Trump’s order gathered.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which sought the temporary stay, said it would help 100 to 200 people with valid visas or refugee status who found themselves detained in transit or at U.S. airports after Trump signed the order late on Friday.

The ACLU, along with several groups, filed a lawsuit on behalf of two Iraqi men who were en route to the United States on immigrant visas when Trump issued the executive order banning many Muslims from entering the country.

One of the men, Hameed Khalid Darweesh, was traveling on an Iraqi special Immigrant Visa and had worked as an electrical engineer and contractor for the U.S. government from 2003–2010.

Brandon Friedman, a former Obama administration official who commanded a platoon during the invasion of Iraq, said Darweesh had worked for him as an interpreter. He said on Twitter that Mr. Darweesh “spent years keeping U.S. soldiers alive in combat in Iraq.”

The other man, Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, had been granted a Follow to Join Visa. His wife and 7-year-old son are lawful permanent residents residing in Houston, Texas, and were eagerly awaiting his arrival. Alshawi’s son has not seen his father for three years.

“President Trump’s war on equality is already taking a terrible human toll. This ban cannot be allowed to continue,” said Omar Jadwat, director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

The judge’s order later on Saturday was a dramatic end to Trump’s first week in office, capped by the Republican president’s four-month ban on refugees entering the United States and a 90-day hold on travelers from Syria and six other countries.

Trump had promised during his campaign what he called “extreme vetting” of immigrants and refugees to try to prevent terror attacks.

He told reporters in the White House’s Oval Office earlier on Jan. 28 that his order was “not a Muslim ban” and said the measures were long overdue.

Senior officials at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security told reporters they had not seen the ruling, but said the government would implement any appropriate orders.

In the ban…

The ban on U.S. travel for passport-holders of seven Middle Eastern states applies to airlines’ flight crew, the International Air Transport Association said in an email to carriers around the world on Saturday.

The email, seen by Reuters, said the executive order from the president caught airlines unprepared.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection briefed IATA in a Saturday afternoon conference call about the new rules, the email said, noting that passport-holders from states such as Iran, including cabin crew, will be barred entry to the United States.

Reaction from Turkey, Britain, Iraq

Trump’s sweeping ban on people seeking refuge in the United States is no solution to problems, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Saturday, adding that Western countries should do more to help ease Turkey’s refugee burden.

When asked by a reporter about Trump’s ban during a joint news conference with British Prime Minister Theresa May in Ankara, Yildirim said: “Regional issues cannot be solved by closing the doors on people. We expect the Western world to lighten Turkey’s burden.”

“You can build a wall but it’s not a solution. That wall will come down like the Berlin wall,” he said, adding Turkey has spent some $26 billion on sheltering refugees.

May, who met with Trump in Washington a day earlier, told the news conference that the United States was responsible for its position on refugees. She has previously said a “special relationship” between the United States and Britain meant the two countries could speak frankly to each other when they disagreed on issues.

Iraqi lawmakers have requested that parliament discuss Trump’s action.

Rinas Jano, a member of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said he made the request with several other MPs.

“We want officials from the Iraqi foreign affairs ministry to come to parliament to explain the U.S. decision and discuss the matter,” he told Reuters.

The Iraqi government has so far declined to comment on the executive order signed by Trump.

Yemen is “dismayed” by Trump’s decision, saying that the country was a victim of attacks itself, an official said on Saturday.

“We are dismayed by the decision to unilaterally ban, even for only a month, travel to the United States for people holding Yemeni passports,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Cities with Nativity scenes ignore takedown demands

A historic Hispanic city in New Mexico has one in the center of town on public property. A small farming community in Colorado has another outside of a public park. A Pennsylvania city refused to take its Nativity display down despite a legal threat.

Across the county, annual disputes over Nativity displays on public land have pitted local residents against advocacy groups pushing separation of church and state.

But after years of complaints, communities continue to resist demands that they remove public display celebrating the birth of Jesus from public property.

The moves come after town residents have rallied around the displays or conservative groups have offered legal assistance to keep displays up amid legal threats.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s a dead issue,” said Jerah Cordova, the mayor of Belen, New Mexico, where a Nativity scene artwork sits year-round and was not taken down following threats of legal action last year. “The Nativity scene not only represents the history of our town, it represents our culture.”

Belen — Spanish for Bethlehem — is a small city of 7,000 people and nearly 70 percent Latino. Last year, residents raised $50,000 for a festival in support of the Nativity display following a letter threatening legal action.

In Franklin, Pennsylvania, a city of 6,500, councilors last month voted to keep a decades-old Nativity scene in a city park after receiving an email from the Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation.

The foundation has sent similar letters warning municipalities that public Nativity scenes violated the separation of church and state.

Franklin’s city councilors consulted lawyers and resolve the issue by agreeing to allow other secular Christmas decoration s in the park.

Officials in St. Bernard, Ohio, a suburban of Cincinnati, ignored a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation and opted to keep in place nativity scene displayed in front of City Hall.

In Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, tourists visit to see miniature replicas depict various settings of the Nativity story. That display is run by the nonprofit, Historic Bethlehem Museums & Sites and is not connected to the city government.

In previous years, some municipalities pulled Nativity scenes after receiving complaints from the foundation. For example, officials in Wadena, Minnesota removed its decades-old traditional Nativity scene off public property following a letter from the foundation.

Supporters and opponents of the Nativity scenes agree that municipalities are fighting harder to protect the displays.

“We are seeing more municipalities digging in after learning about their rights,” said Mat Staver, who heads the right-wing, anti-gay Liberty Counsel, which offers the municipalities advice to protect them and volunteered free legal help for Franklin, Pennsylvania.

Annie Laurie Gaylor, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, said more cities and towns simply ignore complaints that placing Christian art on public property violates the U.S. Constitution.

In recent years, conservative Christians have vocally complained about the secularization of Christmas, said Andrew Chesnut, the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“We also are seeing a rural and city divide where rural areas are facing less resistance (to Nativity scenes) while there is more conflict in cities, which are more diverse,” Chesnut said.

Gaylor said some cities and towns are getting around the conflict by setting up public spaces where volunteers can erect Nativity scenes along with secular Christmas displays.

“But we don’t think putting a couple of reindeer up near a Nativity scene solves the problem,” Gaylor said.

Pressure has forced some cities to scrap plans for Nativity scene displays.

In Gig Harbor, Washington — a maritime city near Tacoma — officials blocked residents from putting up a display after getting a letter from the Freedom From Religion Foundation. That prompted a small protest in the city of 7,000 people this week from residents who wanted a Nativity scene.

When cities and state allow the public spaces, Gaylor said the foundation tries to submit its own display. In some states, the foundation put up a Nativity scene with James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the Statue of Liberty. Instead of baby Jesus in a manger, the group put in place a copy of the Bill of Rights.

In New Mexico, Cordova predicted Belen will never remove its Nativity scene.

“It’s here to stay,” he said.

 

With presidential pen, Trump could remake Supreme Court agenda

Even before Donald Trump chooses a Supreme Court nominee, the new president can take steps to make several contentious court cases go away. Legal challenges involving immigration, climate change, cost-free contraceptive care and transgender rights all could be affected, without any help from Congress.

The cases turn on Obama administration policies that rely on the president’s pen, regulations or decisions made by federal agencies.

And what one administration can do, the next can undo.

It is not uncommon for the court’s docket to change when one party replaces the other in the White House. That change in direction is magnified by the high-court seat Trump will get to fill after Senate Republicans refused to consider President Barack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland.

“We were hoping we’d be looking forward to a progressive majority on the Supreme Court. After the election results, there is a new reality,” said Elizabeth Wydra, president of the liberal Constitutional Accountability Center.

The Supreme Court already is set to consider a case involving a transgender teen who wants to use the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia high school. When the federal appeals court in Richmond ruled in student Gavin Grimm’s favor this year, it relied on a determination by the U.S. Education Department that federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education also applies to gender identity.

The new administration could withdraw the department’s guidance, which could cause the justices to return the case to the lower courts to reach their own decision about whether the law requires schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity.

“It is possible, maybe even likely, that if the first question went away, then the court would send case back to the 4th circuit” in Richmond, said Steven Shapiro, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents Grimm.

Trump already has pledged to undo Obama’s plan to shield millions of people living in the country without documentation from deportation and to make them eligible for work permits. The Supreme Court, down to eight members after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, split 4 to 4 in June over the plan. The tie vote effectively killed the plan for Obama’s presidency because lower federal courts had previously blocked it.

But the issue remains a live one in the legal system, and supporters of the Obama plan had hoped that a new Clinton administration would press forward.

Now, though, all Trump has to do is rescind the Obama team’s actions, which would leave the courts with nothing to decide.

A similar fate may be in store for the current administration’s efforts to get cost-free birth control to women who are covered by health plans from religiously-affiliated educational and charitable organizations. The justices issued an unusual order in the spring that directed lower courts across the country to seek a compromise to end the legal dispute. The groups already can opt out of paying for contraception, but they say that option leaves them complicit in providing government-approved contraceptives to women covered by their plans.

The new administration could be more willing to meet the groups’ demands, which would end the controversy.

Women’s contraceptives are among a range of preventive services that the Obama health overhaul requires employers to cover in their health plans. All of that now is at risk, since Trump has called for repeal of the health care law.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan, calling for cuts in carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants, also could be rolled back once Trump is in office.

The federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., is considering a challenge by two-dozen mostly Republican-led states that say Obama overstepped his authority. The Trump team could seek to undo the rules put in place by the Environmental Protection Agency and it could seek a delay in the litigation while doing so, said Sean Donahue, a lawyer for the Environmental Defense Fund. Trump’s EPA would have to propose its own rules, which allow for public comment and legal challenges from those who object, Donahue said.

Environmental groups effectively fought rules that they said eased pollution limits during George W. Bush’s presidency.

As some issues pushed by Obama recede in importance, others that have been important to conservatives may get renewed interest at the court. Among those are efforts to impose new restrictions on public-sector labor unions and to strike down more campaign-finance limits, including the ban on unlimited contributions to political parties.

Justice Dept. urged to collect, report data on police shootings

Ninety-six organizations sent a letter on Oct. 3 pressing the Department of Justice on the need for states and law enforcement to collect and report data on fatal police shootings as part of the implementation of the Death In Custody Reporting Act.

“It is unacceptable that two years after Ferguson and the enactment of the Death In Custody Reporting Act, the federal government is not properly collecting data on fatal police shootings,” said Kanya Bennett, legislative counsel for the ACLU. “We have reached a state of crisis with our police-community relations, and solutions can only come once we have solid data.”

Bennett added, “When the Department of Justice disregards DICRA so that states do not have to be the primary entity collecting and reporting data, the federal government sends the message that it is not serious about changing the status quo in policing. These circumstances are likely to create future situations like we saw in Ferguson and other cities, unless the federal government provides real oversight and accountability of the state and local law enforcement that it provides millions of dollars to annually.”

ACLU affiliates and local organizations in these  states also sent letters to the Department of Justice calling for the need of information on deaths in police custody:

California
Connecticut
Illinois
Kentucky
Maryland
Minnesota
Missouri
North Carolina
Nebraska
New Jersey
New York
Ohio
South Dakota
Tennessee
Virginia
Wisconsin

On the Web

The coalition letter is here.

Class-action suit filed over shortage of public defenders, waiting list in Orleans Parish

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Louisiana recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the Orleans Parish public defenders’ office and the Louisiana Public Defender Board over the office’s placement of new clients on a waiting list for representation due to a shortage of public defenders.

Like others who have been arrested in Orleans Parish, plaintiffs Douglas Brown, Leroy Shaw Jr. and Darwin Yarls Jr. are on the list because they can’t afford a private attorney.

Their lack of legal representation violates their Sixth Amendment rights, according to the ACLU.

“So long as you’re on the public defender waiting list in New Orleans, you’re helpless. Your legal defense erodes along with your constitutional rights,” said Brandon Buskey, staff attorney with the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project. “With every hour without an attorney, you may forever lose invaluable opportunities to build your defense. You also may be forced into a crippling choice between waiting months for counsel or doing bail and plea negotiations yourself. The damage to your case can be irreparable.”

The Orleans Parish public defender’s office created the waiting list because it is running out of money to pay its attorneys and fulfill its mission.

“In Orleans Parish, as in the rest of Louisiana, funding for public defenders is inherently unreliable and prone to crippling shortages,” said Marjorie Esman, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana. “To pay for public defense, the state relies on the fines and fees collected from the public for traffic tickets and other convictions — a system that makes public defenders dependent on excessive policing and draconian sentencing that work against the people they defend.”

At least three other parishes in Louisiana have waiting lists for public defenders.

“By relying on a ‘user-funded’ scheme to fund public defense, the state of Louisiana has put the Sixth Amendment in peril,” said Buskey. “Repeated staff shortages, waiting lists, and other public defense crises have shown that conviction fees can’t provide steady or adequate funds to public defender offices. The state must meet its constitutional obligation to its people and invest in public defense.”

ACLU to Scott Walker: No biased exclusion of Syrian refugees

Some Wisconsin legislators and Gov. Scott Walker want to turn away Syrian refugees.

The ACLU of Wisconsin responded …

We are saddened by calls from our governor and others to turn our backs on the world’s most vulnerable people when they need us the most.

We mourn and condemn the horrific attacks in Paris, Beirut and Baghdad.

However, the attempt by Gov. Scott Walker and other lawmakers to draw a link between such tragedies and the admission and resettlement of Syrian refugees in Wisconsin is a reflexive overreaction.

The U.S. already has an extremely rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugees seeking to resettle here. Attempting to shut out refugee resettlement in Wisconsin blames refugees for the very terror they are fleeing, and erodes our own civil liberties.

The governor’s and other Wisconsin legislators’ position is badly wrong.

It betrays Wisconsin values of hospitality and compassion, and flies in the face of the laws of this country.  The brazenly discriminatory nature of this position raises grave legal concerns, and should be abhorrent to all Wisconsinites who believe in the values on which our country was founded.

Justice Kennedy compares gay marriage uproar to flag burning

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy this week likened controversy over the court’s decision to allow gay marriage to public reaction over the 1989 ruling that said burning an American flag was protected free speech.

Kennedy, who was the deciding vote in both cases, described how the reaction decades ago was critical at first but changed over time.

His remarks at the 9th Circuit Judicial Conference were his first public comments since he wrote the decision last month that put an end to same-sex marriage bans in 14 states. Kennedy drew the comparison in response to a moderator’s question about how justices weather reaction to closely watched rulings.

“Eighty senators went to the floor of the Senate to denounce the court,” he said of the 1989 ruling. “President Bush took the week off and visited flag factories, but I noticed that after two or three months people began thinking about the issues.”

Kennedy went on to say that a lawyer from Northern California approached him at a restaurant after the flag burning decision to tell him how his father, a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany, came around to the decision.

The former prisoner of war – who secretly sewed red, white and blue cloth together in captivity – stormed into his son’s office and said he should be ashamed to be an attorney, Kennedy said. The lawyer, unsure how to respond, gave his father Kennedy’s concurring opinion.

“He thought about it, came back three days later and said, `You can be proud of being an attorney,'” Kennedy said, relaying the story.

Kennedy didn’t elaborate on the same-sex marriage ruling or on other decisions in the last term, but he said the justices must decide cases in a fair and neutral way.

“We have to reflect on what these issues mean, and when we have a controversial case – and a very difficult case like (same-sex marriage) – we draw down on a capital of trust, a deposit of trust,” Kennedy said. “We spend that capital of trust, and we have to rebuild that capital. We have to put new deposits, new substance into this reservoir of trust.”

Dissenters in the same-sex marriage ruling accused their colleagues of usurping power that belongs to states and voters. “This court is not a Legislature,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in dissent.

The 78-year-old appointee of President Ronald Reagan has long been a crucial swing vote on the court, where four justices are reliable liberals and four others reliably conservative.

He usually votes with the conservatives, but he has crossed the partisan divided on certain issues.

Kennedy also joined a 6-3 majority to uphold the nationwide tax subsidies underpinning President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.