Victory! PA House conservatives, liberals, moderates team up against expansion of DNA collection

By Paul Anderson, Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Harrisburg Capitol

For the second consecutive legislative session, a bill that would greatly expand when law enforcement could collect your DNA has failed to pass in the state legislature. The bill would have invested a lot of additional money into the existing state DNA database, and more alarmingly, it would have required state police to collect DNA samples from individuals who were arrested for specific crimes, even if they were never actually charged.

The new collection would have been introduced gradually, covering only people arrested on suspicion of murder in the first year of implementation before expanding to felony sexual offenses in the second. By the third year, however, the mandate expands to arrestees of ALL felonies and certain specified misdemeanors. Even if an arrestee was never charged (let alone convicted) of the crime, the DNA sample would remain in the database unless the person filed a written request for removal and the request was granted.

We strongly opposed this bill. It almost goes without saying that everyone has an expectation that his or her genetic makeup will not be extracted and stored in a government database. To allow the police to collect and store DNA evidence even before charges have been filed violates this bedrock principle of privacy that is crystallized in the Fourth Amendment. (See – Our Work: In The Legislature)

Supporters of this bill got a win in the United States Supreme Court in 2013, when the court upheld Maryland’s arrestee DNA collection procedure as an adequate identification procedure. We—and many other groups and individuals—disagreed with the court’s interpretation of the Fourth Amendment and were incredibly cynical about the claim that arrestee DNA collection was primarily used for identification and not investigation, but because they ultimately interpret the Bill of Rights, our tactic had to change slightly. We were prepared to make a case that even if arrestee DNA collection is permissible under the Fourth Amendment, it still violates the search and seizure provision of the state constitution. The PA Supreme Court has articulated some scenarios where the state constitution affords a higher level of protection that the Fourth Amendment, but it can be a difficult argument to make and sell to legislators.

Fortunately, we never really had to make that argument. DNA collection expansion provoked strong opposition in the House, as numerous representatives expressed serious concerns about how this bill would encroach on people’s privacy. The opposition was truly bipartisan—members who could be described as very conservative, very liberal, or moderate all expressed their disapproval of such an extreme expansion of law enforcement’s power, and many of the representatives who helped defeat the bill in the 2011-12 session were willing to stand once again against the proposed DNA expansion. This opposition encouraged us greatly, and when it became clear that House Leadership was not going to act on the Senate bill, we were optimistic that the fight might be over.

In the final two weeks, however, the Senate revived DNA expansion by amending it into an unrelated online impersonation bill that the House had already passed. This was the Senate’s Hail Mary pass, as it hoped enough House members would be supportive of the online impersonation bill to overlook the DNA language that had been added.

Fortunately, our House allies came through for us again. After the bill passed the Senate, the House Rules Committee quietly removed the DNA amendment as violating the state constitution’s Single Subject Clause before there was any opportunity to debate the substance of the DNA amendment itself. With that, the House ended any fear that the arrestee DNA collection bill would pass this session.

The last two sessions have made it clear that there is definitely motivation within Senate leadership to expand DNA collection within the commonwealth, so we may have to fight a bill like this again next year. Hopefully, the failure to pass the bill in two consecutive sessions sends a strong message to the Senate that this is not a policy that the people of Pennsylvania support, but if the Senate remains insistent that this bill should pass, then those of us in Harrisburg next session will continue our efforts to lobby against this bill and any other proposed policy that would dramatically encroach on the privacy rights of Pennsylvanians.


Paul Anderson is the 2014-15 Larry Frankel Legislative Fellow at the ACLU of Pennsylvania and a third year student at Penn State Dickinson School of Law.

U.S. Army Veteran Jailed by Immigration Authorities for Nearly 1,000 Days

By Molly Tack-Hooper, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Pennsylvania

York County Prison: Male Wing (source: www.informationng.com)

York County Prison: Male Wing (source: www.informationng.com)

Jose Juan Chavez-Alvarez had a day in court on Tuesday — or his attorneys did, anyway. He wasn’t there, because he has been detained by immigration authorities at York County Prison for 2 years, 5 months, and 15 days (and counting) without a bond hearing while his complex immigration case makes its way through the courts.

Mr. Chavez-Alvarez is a far cry from a “flight risk.” He came to the U.S. as a toddler nearly 40 years ago, and became a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. at 15. He honorably served in the U.S. Army for nearly a decade, earning several medals and achievement certificates. Today Mr. Chavez-Alvarez is a father to two teenage U.S. citizen sons, and he owns his home in Central Pennsylvania.

In 2000, while he was stationed in South Korea in the military, he was court-martialed and pled guilty to four non-violent military offenses related to a sexual encounter he had with a female service member following a night of drinking. He served his sentence of thirteen months for these military offenses. His criminal record is otherwise spotless.

Nonetheless, on June 5, 2012, ICE agents showed up at his home early in the morning to arrest him, alleging that he was deportable because of his military infractions more than a decade earlier.

He has been locked up at York County Prison ever since that morning. Mr. Chavez-Alvarez has now been in immigration detention for 898 days — more than twice as long as he spent in jail for his military offenses.

His immigration case is a strong one. There are several reasons why, his lawyer argues, he shouldn’t be deported.

So why is someone like Mr. Chavez-Alvarez with strong communities ties, who is not facing criminal charges or serving a sentence, and who may be fully entitled to stay in the U.S. languishing in jail?

A federal “mandatory detention” statute requires certain non-citizens in removal proceedings to be imprisoned while their immigration cases proceed. Because of this “mandatory detention” requirement, Mr. Chavez-Alvarez hasn’t had a bond hearing since he was whisked out of his home on the morning of June 5, 2012. He’s never had a chance to put up bail or prove that he’s not going to skip town before his immigration proceedings conclude.

This “mandatory detention” statute that has kept Mr. Chavez-Alvarez in immigration detention for nearly two and a half years now was never intended to authorize this kind of prolonged detention, said the Court of Appeals in 2011 in Diop, another ACLU case. To avoid constitutional problems, the court interpreted the statute to only authorize detention without a bond hearing for a “reasonable” initial period of detention. As the Supreme Court has noted, the length of detention contemplated by Congress when it passed this “mandatory detention” statute was between 1.5 and 5 months; when detention is prolonged beyond that threshold, it becomes increasingly constitutionally “suspect.”

But since the 2011 Diop decision, the government has not agreed to give a single non-citizen a bond hearing – even though many of them have been in immigration detention for years.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chavez-Alvarez’s lawyer and the ACLU as amicus curiae (“friend of the court”) urged the Court of Appeals to provide guidance to the lower courts and the government by ruling that there should be a presumption that immigration detainees get a bond hearing after 6 months of mandatory detention so a court can make an individualized determination about whether it is necessary to continue imprisoning people like Mr. Chavez-Alvarez during his legal proceedings.

As the ACLU told the court on Tuesday, because immigration proceedings are often long, drawn-out affairs – especially where the non-citizens have novel or complex claims about their right to remain in the U.S. – prolonged mandatory detention often discourages non-citizens from pursuing avenues of relief from deportation that they’re entitled to, because asserting your rights means spending years in jail – even if you win. Non-citizens shouldn’t have to accept years of imprisonment without a bond hearing as a condition of asserting their legal rights. No one should.

Arguing Tuesday on behalf of Mr. Chavez-Alvarez was former ACLU-PA staff attorney Valerie Burch. Michael Tan, from the national ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, argued on behalf of the ACLU and ACLU of Pennsylvania as amici curiae.

Molly-Tack-HooperMolly Tack-Hooper started at the ACLU of Pennsylvania as a volunteer legal fellow in 2010-2011 and returned in 2013 as a staff attorney focusing on civil liberties issues arising in Central Pennsylvania and on immigrants’ rights.

What the ACLU of Pennsylvania did for Victims’ Rights

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Lakisha Briggs, victim of Domestic Violence

While officials in the Corbett administration were busy talking about Mumia Abu-Jamal to every microphone they could find, the ACLU of Pennsylvania spent the last two weeks of the legislative session working quietly with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence to pass a bill that will help keep victims of crime in their homes.

The passage of House Bill 1796 was one of the glowing civil liberties achievements of the 2013-14 legislative session at the General Assembly. The new law prohibits municipalities from punishing victims of crime for calling for emergency services. It was motivated by our litigation against the borough of Norristown, in Montgomery County, in which our client, Lakisha Briggs, was threatened with eviction under the borough’s “nuisance property” ordinance. Lakisha was tormented on multiple occasions by her ex-boyfriend. After emergency services were called to her home a third time, an incident that included her ex stabbing her in the neck with a shard of glass, the borough employed the ordinance to begin eviction proceedings against Lakisha and her family.

We argued in our lawsuit that the people have a First Amendment right to call upon their government for help.

Even with that backdrop, the passage of this bill almost didn’t happen.

After we filed our litigation, Representative Todd Stephens, a Republican from Montgomery County who is also a former assistant district attorney, introduced HB 1796. Rep. Stephens convened key stakeholders, including PCADV, ACLU-PA, housing advocates, and the associations that represent municipalities, to hammer out language that everyone could agree to and that achieved what we wanted. That agreed-to language passed the state House unanimously.

When the bill arrived in the state Senate, however, it was nearly derailed by unrelated amendments that were sought by the Pennsylvania Retailers Association, the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the National Rifle Association. (More about that drama here.)

On the Senate’s second-to-last day of session, HB 1796 was saved from those unwanted amendments when Senator Vincent Hughes, a Democrat from Philadelphia, successfully used a procedural motion called “revert to the prior printer’s number.” In English, this means the bill goes back to a previous form. In this case, Senator Hughes wanted to go back to the version of the bill that passed the House. That motion passed, 26-22, with six Republicans joining 20 Democrats in voting for the motion.

That wasn’t the end of the drama, though. When the Senate calendar was released the next day, the chamber’s final day of session for the year, the bill was marked “over,” meaning it would not get a vote and would not pass this session, forcing us to go back to the beginning of the process next year. While allies like the Women’s Law Project and others got the word out to grassroots supporters around the state, lobbyists from PCADV, especially, and ACLU-PA worked the halls of the capitol to convince Senate Republicans that this was a good vote to hold and that this bill was important.

Ultimately, Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi called up the bill for a final vote. And, to his credit, Senator John Eichelberger, who introduced one of the unrelated amendments sought by the restaurants and the retailers, spoke in favor of the bill on the Senate floor. It passed unanimously.

Governor Corbett signed the bill yesterday, so he literally lifted a finger to help.
This was truly a bipartisan, bicameral, multi-organization effort. The real credit goes to everyone I’ve named above- Representative Stephens, Senator Hughes, Senator Pileggi, the 26 senators who voted for Hughes’ motion. And the most credit goes to our friends at the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who struggled for this bill until the very last day and who wouldn’t let it pass with unwanted amendments.

Now people who are victims of crime, like Lakisha Briggs, know that they can call for help when they need it. They don’t have to choose between emergency service from their government or keeping their homes.

——-

Andy Hoover is responsible for the ACLU-PA’s lobbying efforts at the state level in Harrisburg and at the federal level in Washington, D.C. From 2004 to 2008, he was a community organizer for ACLU-PA and is an experienced advocate, cutting his teeth in the anti-death penalty movement during the Ridge-Schweiker administration. Andy also serves on the boards of directors of Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty and The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania.

It’s Free Speech Week! So how did Pennsylvania celebrate?

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

(13th and Locust, Philadelphia, PA. October 21, 2014, credit: Ben Bowens)

(13th and Locust, Philadelphia, PA. October 21, 2014, credit: Ben Bowens)

Free Speech Week is October 20-26. Here in the commonwealth, Governor Tom Corbett celebrated by signing a bill that allows courts to censor speech before it happens.

Wait, huh? What?

On Tuesday, Corbett signed the so-called “Revictimization Relief Act,” or what I’ve taken to calling the Free Speech Decimation Act. Perhaps it would be better to title it the Fund the Lawyers Act.

Senate Bill 508 allows a district attorney or the Attorney General or the victim of a “personal injury” crime to seek an order from a civil court to block the “conduct” of a person with a criminal conviction if the conduct “perpetuates the continuing effect of the crime on the victim.” That phrase is defined as “conduct which causes a temporary or permanent state of mental anguish.”

If you know what that is, please drop us a line.

This new law is riddled with free speech problems. It is government censorship of speech that powerful people do not want to hear. Any person with a criminal conviction, whether he is currently incarcerated or was released years or decades earlier, would have his ability to speak publicly about his experience, the criminal justice system, or any unknown thing effectively chilled. Why speak up when there is a chance you’ll be hauled into civil court?

On numerous occasions, people with criminal convictions have spoken at press conferences and have testified at hearings at the state capitol. This new law chills that type of advocacy. If this law had been in effect a few years ago, would we know the story of Stacey Torrance, who is serving life-without-parole? Stacey was 14 when he participated in a robbery that ended in murder. The victim was killed 24 hours after Stacey left the scene of the robbery.

Would we know the story of Edwin Desamour, who at 16 faced the death penalty, was ultimately convicted of third-degree homicide, and served eight and a half years in prison? After his release, Edwin helped found Men in Motion in the Community, or MIMIC, to work with at-risk boys in Philadelphia.

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What happens to the Pennsylvania Prison Society’s publication Graterfriends? The Prison Society offers inmates an outlet to write about their personal experiences and about public policy issues.

All of this valuable speech is potentially chilled by this new law.

The General Assembly passed this bill in record time after Mumia Abu-Jamal gave a recorded speech to 20 graduates of Goddard College in Vermont. In the speech, Abu-Jamal made no mention of the crime for which he was convicted, the shooting death of Philadelphia Police Officer Daniel Faulkner, and only briefly alludes to being on death row. You can read or listen to the speech here.

A reporter asked me the other day if it is difficult advocating for the rights of people who are deeply disliked. I replied that we wouldn’t need the First Amendment if we only allowed popular speech. The right to free speech exists to ensure that even unpopular ideas or unpopular people are heard.

The answer to speech you don’t like is more speech to counter it, not government censorship. We look forward to discussing the First Amendment with the commonwealth in a court of law.

Protect Pennsylvania’s Pregnant Workers

By Julie Zaebst, Project Manager, Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project
Pregnant
Anyone who has been pregnant or accompanied a partner through pregnancy knows it’s not always easy, even under the best circumstances. When my partner was pregnant with our son last year, she was perfectly healthy and had what you would call an “easy pregnancy.” But still, her lifestyle changed (and mine along with it!). At work, my partner ate small snacks throughout the day, used the restroom more often, and stood up to stretch and walk around every now and then. That’s what she needed to do to stay healthy.

But imagine having to choose between a healthy pregnancy and your job – right at the moment when your income and your employer-sponsored health insurance (if you’re lucky enough to have it) are most important. Too many pregnant women, especially those in low-wage or physically demanding jobs, are put in that position because their employers refuse to accommodate pregnant women in the same way that they routinely accommodate other workers, including those who are injured on the job or are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). And unfortunately some courts have agreed that this is OK.

In many cases, pregnant women need simple job modifications to be able to continue to work – more frequent restroom breaks, a stool to sit on, or permission to carry a water bottle. In some cases, they may need to be put on light duty. But by definition, these are temporary accommodations. Studies show that accommodating pregnancy-related conditions is typically low-cost and low-effort. And there are big benefits for employers, including increased worker productivity and retention.

Recognizing these benefits for employees and employers, Pittsburgh City Council passed two common-sense measures designed to protect pregnant women in the workplace. One measure clarifies that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition. This strengthens anti-discrimination protections for pregnant workers. The other measure requires many city contractors to provide reasonable accommodations to enable pregnant women to continue in their jobs, unless this would impose an undue hardship on the employer.

Unfortunately, Pittsburgh City Council doesn’t have the authority under state law to expand protections to pregnant women who work for private employers. Now, it’s up to the state legislature to step in and pass the Pennsylvania Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which would provide coverage to more women in Pittsburgh and protect women in other parts of the state as well. This must be a priority when the legislature reconvenes in the new year.

In 2014, it should not be news to anyone that women are in the workforce, and they are often the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. It’s time for the law to catch up with reality and protect pregnant workers from having to make an impossible choice. Pennsylvania women should not be forced to choose between their health and their livelihood anymore.

Julie Zaebst joined the ACLU-PA in July 2014, bringing more than 10 years of experience as a program manager and advocate.

Meet John Frisbee, Major Gifts Officer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania

John Frisbee

John Frisbee

John K. Frisbee arrives at the ACLU from Pig Iron Theatre Company, where he served as Managing Director (and previously as Director of Development.) During John’s tenure, Pig Iron won two Village Voice OBIE Awards, opened a two-year graduate program for performers in Philadelphia, and saw extraordinary growth, doubling in budget size during this time. He has previously worked at the Walnut Street Theatre and the Rosenbach Museum & Library. John is a member of the Board of Directors of Shakespeare in Clark Park, and has been a grant panelist for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. He graduated from Haverford College in 2003 with a B.A. in English, and completed the Fundraising Certificate program at Villanova University.

Why is working with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?

If I could name one thing that consistently allows democracies to work, it would be a legal architecture that protects people who are in the minority – folks who belong to disempowered classes or races, who voice unpopular sentiments, or who tell uncomfortable truths. It’s a real delight to be in a position to support an organization which has been defending (and in many cases, building) this legal architecture for as long as the ACLU has.

What civil liberties issue are you most passionate about? Why?

Right now, I feel pretty compelled by the ACLU’s work in defending individuals using mobile devices to film police activity. This seems to me to be the essence of what’s great about the organization – an insistence on being in the vanguard. We’re in a new technological moment, where “evidence-gathering” is becoming more democratized, and the ACLU is stepping in to protect this new territory. You can’t ever stay still and do the same-old same-old, because new manifestations of civil liberty (and, inevitably, new challenges to them) appear all the time.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?

I don’t have any skill-based hobbies – I can’t carve a canoe from a tree trunk, or take a mind-blowingly excellent photo, or anything like that. (My lack of fine-motor coordination took me out of the running for most of those activities from the start, sadly.)

I’ve made up for this with a surplus of interests; I can’t do anything traditionally thought of as “useful”, but I can tell you where to see a really cool contemporary dance performance, or recite from memory the on-base percentage of the Phillies’ backup catcher, or discuss the relative merits of “Boyhood” vs. “Guardians of the Galaxy” as 2014’s best summer movie. If you’re in need of that sort of thing, that is.

Tell us something about yourself our supporters might find interesting:

I’m also a pretty dedicated hiker, and over the last few years, I’ve started climbing the highest mountain in each US state (remarkably, there are other
people who do this). I like it because it’s a way of taking trips to parts of the country you might not see otherwise (like Minnesota’s Superior coast, or the tip of the Oklahoma panhandle, to name two favorites), and because there’s something undoubtedly awesome about a destination list that involves both Mount Rainier (a 14,000-foot glacier-covered volcano) and the highest point in Delaware (a nondescript traffic intersection in suburban Wilmington.) As of today, I’ve done 22 states – so, almost halfway there.

Volunteer Spotlight: Arianna Henry

Arianna Henry

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

This summer, I volunteered in the Intake Department, also affectionately known as “ACL2.” In Intake, my fellow volunteers and I would field the numerous legal complaints that our office received on a daily basis. Reading letters, returning phone calls, and trying our best to help who we could was all in a day’s work.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania (How did you hear about us)?

I was already aware of the great work that the ACLU did around the country, but I didn’t know that I had the opportunity to make a difference locally by volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. I came across the position on the website, and I am so happy that I did.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

I only had this summer available before I head back up to Boston for school, so I worked full-time for about three months to make sure that my service had an impact.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?

When I am not volunteering at the ACLU, I am a full-time student. I am a Clinical Psychology and Child Development double major.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?

My position at the ACLU of PA is important because it gives me an opportunity to speak personally with Pennsylvanians who are affected by injustices and do what I can to help. These interactions with complainants have widened my knowledge about the many threats to our constitutional rights, and have sparked a new, deeper passion for defending our freedoms.

What civil liberties issue are you most passionate about? Why?

I am probably most passionate about over-incarceration and the flawed, unconstitutional use of solitary confinement in our prison system. I believe that the entire criminal justice system needs to be reevaluated and overhauled, and I am very proud of the work that the ACLU of Pennsylvania is doing to bring justice to those in the system.

Do you have any hobbies? What do you do for fun?

This summer, when I wasn’t volunteering I was enjoying all that the local area has to offer while I am home. I would explore the city, and enjoy the world’s best hoagies in historical parks. On weekends, I would hit the boardwalk and go down the Jersey shore, and I even made a few trips into Lancaster to check out the farmer’s markets and fantastic foods of Amish Country.

Tell us something about yourself our supporters might find interesting:

FUN FACT: I was the self- appointed “Official Fun Fact Distributor of ACL2” for the summer of 2014.

——-

If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer

Hurricane Fredia

Fredia Hurdle

Fredia Hurdle, October 15, 1963 – August 7, 2014

When they made Fredia Hurdle in 1963, they broke the mold. It was an unusual mold, to be sure. And if you knew her and are reading this don’t deny that you’re nodding your head in agreement. But if we could have more Fredia Hurdles this world would be a better place, a much better place, in every way. There aren’t many people we are fortunate enough to know who can honestly be called beautiful people; kind, considerate and funny, but Fredia was elite.

Many people have joked that Fredia is the life of every party. Let’s be clear; that’s not a joke. Sometimes she was the party. She’d blow in like a hurricane. Her gregariousness, love of life and rosy outlook made her a natural party girl. But, hey, that’s not such a bad thing. One of Fredia’s enduring qualities was making people smile and feel good about themselves. We could use a bit more of that.

I first met Fredia years ago. She was the partner of Lynn Hurdle, a nurse who worked with my wife, Kathy. Fredia was one of the dozens of spouses who came to our home for the annual office holiday party. I don’t recall how or why or any details, but the bond between us was instant. One year she even loudly joked, so that many people heard, that the jeans I was wearing made my ass look so good it could turn a lesbian straight. While I wanted to crawl in a hole, and my wife ribs me about it to this day, Fredia fondly recalled that night every time she saw me in jeans. She always knew if it was the same pair of jeans or not. It made me, and a lot of other people, laugh.

Lynn & Fredia Hurdle

Lynn & Fredia Hurdle

In the Spring of 2013, the ACLU began looking for gay and lesbian couples who might be good candidates to become plaintiffs in a lawsuit to challenge Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage. A few years back, Lynn and Fredia invited us to their wedding (though, sadly, not one that made them lawfully married, but we were trying to change that). It was probably the most fun wedding we’ve ever attended. The wedding procession actually danced down the aisle of the church in beautiful harmony to the sounds of a funky beat, Lynn, resplendent in her white gown, and Fredia, stunning in black tuxedo. This was a couple I wanted for the lawsuit. As I would soon learn, this was not only a beautiful couple who exemplified the injustice of a marriage ban, but the couple everyone would want living next door.

In May 2013, we met at a nearby bar for me to formally consider them to be plaintiffs. They had a great get-together story, which a reporter later dubbed “dating by Greyhound.” Lynn had been on a trip from Meadville to Pittsburgh and the driver, who turned out to be Fredia, was new to the route and needed help with directions. Lynn volunteered. Depending on which one of them told the story, Lynn either was or was not responsible for getting them lost. But in either rendition, their affection for each other was obvious and genuine. They both laughed and that radiant, watery-eyed look people get when they are filled with joy alighted on each of them. By inviting them to be considered for the lawsuit, I’d sensed they’d be good models to show the world why same-sex couples should be treated like everyone else, but the evening probing deep views on love, romance, marriage and family, and their beautiful shared history, sealed the deal.

The evening also produced a classic Fredia moment. Fredia had been eyeing a man who sat down at the table across from us with his teenage son. Let’s just say the man was pretty buff, which Fredia was noting for us. Suddenly, she excused herself and walked over to the adjoining table, rubbed the man’s arms and told him how sexy they were. From the mortified look on his face I was worried that he was going to kill her. But the next thing I know the three of them are joking and laughing. A half hour later when the pair left they yelled out, bye Fredia, like old friends. Two more unsuspecting people had been touched by hurricane Fredia’s magic.

Being a plaintiff in the ACLU’s marriage case, Whitewood v. Wolf, revealed another side of this woman, whom I had come to call a friend. The lawyers worried, me included, whether we could keep her focused and serious long enough for a deposition, or to testify at trial. We need not have worried. The deep discussions about love and relationships and fairness brought out a keen insight. Fredia thoughtfully reflected on how when she was born in Virginia a white person couldn’t marry a black person, and how it was her home state that several years later produced the groundbreaking Supreme Court case of Loving v. Virginia, which declared miscegenation unconstitutional. Fredia noted the ridiculousness of the fact that she, as a black woman, could marry Lynn, a white person, but they couldn’t marry because they were of the same sex. Fredia often became indignant at the unfairness of it.

Fredia also opened up about the difficulties of not only being a lesbian, but being a black lesbian in an interracial relationship. She told stories of slights and slurs, yet never showed any ill will toward the bigots. She and Lynn had opened their homes to people in distress, taking in countless relatives’ kids, foster children and even helpless senior citizens. Fredia fondly observed that she didn’t want Lynn and her to be known as the lesbian couple, or the interracial lesbian couple, but simply the nice couple on the corner that’s always there with a smile, a helping hand and even a welcoming home.

Fredia was too young and too wonderful to leave this world, but leave us she did this past week. Tragically, at age 50, Fredia Hurdle died of a massive stroke on Thursday. Ashley, Lynn’s daughter who Fredia helped raise from age 2, is set to get married in a few weeks. Sure, Fredia was the party girl who made everyone laugh, but too few people in life make it their mission to cheer others up. Fredia was also one of those few people who chose to see the good in everyone, always remembering and inquiring about problems they may have shared in the past, and generous with encouragement and a kind word. Inside that vortex was a gentle and tender soul. Fredia was a hurricane, but instead of leaving a path of death and destruction she left a wake of joy, good will and affection. Anyone lucky enough to have encountered this dynamo of a woman is better for it, and the world is surely a better place having been graced by Fredia Hurdle.

Lynn and Ashley, my heart goes out to you.

Thank goodness the aftereffects of hurricane Fredia will be with us for a long time.

With much love,
Vic Walczak.

‘Letters: Bykofsky’s ideas skate on thin ICE’ via Philly.com

On Friday, July 18, 2014, Daily News Columnist Stu Bykofsky wrote an article entitled ‘Welcome, foreign felons.’ The following Letter to the Editor is in response to that article:

NO ONE should be held in jail for days on end because some federal agent wants to “run checks” on them to see whether it would be lawful to arrest them for something. In fact, the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments to our Constitution prohibit that kind of tyrannical police-state behavior.

Yet, Stu Bykofsky, in his column “Welcome, foreign felons,” takes Mayor Nutter to task for upholding this basic American principle. The city has a policy, in place since mid-April, of refusing to honor non-binding “detainer” requests lodged by federal immigration authorities on prisoners in city jails whom our criminal justice system has determined should be released. In the court case – won by the ACLU – that determined that these ICE “detainers” are legally unenforceable, the plaintiff was a U.S. citizen, born in New Jersey, whom Allentown police wrongly suspected of being an undocumented noncitizen. As a result, he spent over three extra days in jail, despite having already made bail, while ICE got around to figuring out the police were wrong. (As it turned out, he was mistakenly in jail in the first place; when his trial came up, he was acquitted of the charge for which he had been arrested.)

Philadelphia’s policy avoids travesties like that one (and the resulting liability) by refusing to keep people in jail at the mere request of ICE. Under the policy the city, quite properly, will hold someone for pickup by ICE only if the feds have gotten a warrant for their deportation or arrest.

Instead of engaging in baseless fear-mongering, Bykofsky should be praising the city administration for standing up for everyone’s equal civil rights. A country where any low-level government official can tell the police to jail you for days on mere suspicion, or for “investigation,” is not the country described in the Constitution of the United States.

Peter Goldberger
President
ACLU of Greater Philadelphia

Reggie Shuford
Executive Director
ACLU of Pennsylvania

Read the original article, including a letter from Everett Gillison, Chief of Staff/Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia, at Philly.com

You’re on The Grid. And so is your government.

By Andy Hoover, Legislative Director, ACLU of Pennsylvania

Map

State laws on privacy – June 2014 (click to enlarge)

When talk around here turns toward privacy in our use of electronic technologies and everyday activities, my mind goes straight to the Jason Bourne movie franchise and its characters’ references to popping on and off “the grid.” Although the Bourne series is fiction, it’s not a stretch to think of today’s electronic technologies as “the grid,” even for those of us who aren’t trained CIA assassins. And we shouldn’t have to escape to a beachside hut in India to escape the government’s probing eyes.

At the end of June, the ACLU released an interactive map that illustrates how well states are keeping up with protecting the people’s privacy in an age of evolving technologies. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania isn’t.

The ACLU examined state law on four key topics- government access to mobile location data, electronic communication data, and license plate reader data, and government use of drones. Utah, Tennessee, and Maine protect their residents’ privacy in at least three of those areas. Seven more states protect privacy in at least two of those issue areas. Pennsylvania, meanwhile, has no protections in state law on any of these topics.

Here in the commonwealth, we’ve been too busy fighting off new legislative initiatives for the government to expand its collection of your personal data to think much about making the law better. In the 2013-14 session, we’ve dealt with a bill to create a government-run database of prescription medication records and another bill to collect DNA from people who have been merely arrested but not convicted of a crime.

The former has been tied up in part due to privacy concerns- among Democrats and Republicans- over the bill’s loose standard for prosecutors to access the database. The latter should be dead after Public Source published findings last month that 30,000 arrestees in Pennsylvania in 2013 were never fingerprinted, leading one to reasonably wonder how police are going to add DNA collection to their duties.

And alarm bells went off throughout the capitol (figuratively) in April when the state Supreme Court ruled that police officers no longer need a search warrant issued by a court to search a stopped vehicle. While the court maintained the constitutionally-sound “probable cause” standard, it removed the neutral third party- the judge- to determine that the officer actually reached the standard. That will force Pennsylvanians who are unfairly searched to fight it after the fact. Numerous state legislators and staff approached me after that ruling to say, in so many words, “WTF?”

All is not lost, though. The ACLU of Pennsylvania has teamed up with legislators from both parties to stop or at least neutralize awful legislation that would undermine privacy over the last two legislative sessions. The ground is fertile to push back with initiatives that enhance privacy in Pennsylvania and that keep the government from expanding its reach into our business.

Unless you’ve found a way to live electronic-free (and you’re reading this blog so I assume you haven’t), you’re on the grid. You shouldn’t have to choose between modern conveniences and your right to be free from government snooping. State lawmakers need to hear that message, too.

Andy HooverAndy Hoover is the legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. That means he lobbies, even though his colleagues often ask him, “How can you stand it?” He goes onto the grid on Twitter, @freedomsfriend.