Thanks for the Bill of Rights. Let’s keep it intact.

On Sunday, the Centre Daily Times published a column “recognizing those who have made marks on the world.” Author Rhonda Chriss Lokeman thanks whistle-blowers, peacekeepers and human rights organizations. She also says:

“Thanks for the Bill of Rights. It keeps politics in its place, something best remembered during USA Patriot Act deliberations.”

We are thankful for the flurry of editorials across the state and across the country calling for Congress to reform the PATRIOT Act and supporting the Senate Bill. We’ve seen editorials in Scranton’s Times Tribune, the Centre Daily Times, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

We encourage you to write to your local papers. Support editorial boards that have taken a stand and encourage others to do the same. Here’s a letter in response to an Allentown Morning Call editorial. And another from Clint Walker, a member of the Lehigh Valley Bill of Rights Defense Committee:

“Four years after hurried passage, the complex USA Patriot continues to alarm many Americans with its handful of police state provisions. When Congress reconvenes, a conference committee will try to reconcile the two houses’ conflicting versions for renewing the Act. The November committee draft was so hostile to civil liberties that a bipartisan group of Senators vowed to use all parliamentary means to keep it from becoming law.

Opposition to the House’s proposals to make the Act more invasive spans the entire political spectrum, including Americans for Tax Reform, American Conservative Union, American Bar Association, National Association of Manufacturers, US Chamber of Commerce, League of Women Voters, and ACLU. In addition, 392 local governments and seven state legislatures have passed resolutions against the original Act. The issues are not only privacy and due process; business interests and local governments do not want to bear the unfunded costs of responding to federal demands for information under the Act and the costs of litigating their objections to those demands.

With this rare pan-partisan opposition to the Act’s invasiveness, it is politically defiant for the House to push to make the Act more invasive, remove sunsets entirely from 14 of the Act’s original 16 provisions, and enact long seven year sunsets for the remaining two provisions. Until the Act is proved both effective and non-injurious, Congress should be required, through sunsets, to evaluate it in its entirety every four years.”

Keep it up, folks, our voices are being heard!

New Yorker covers Dover trial

There’s a wonderful 12-page article about the Dover trial in the Dec. 5, 2005 issue of the New Yorker (and I’m not just saying that because the reporter predicts victory for our side). It features a lovely full-page drawing of our attorney Eric Rothschild cross-examining Professor Michael Behe. You can see the drawing and an interview with the author of the article on the New Yorker website, although you can’t read the article there.

Dover trial almost-final briefs filed

Whoever just posted a question about the Dover briefs must have a psychic connection to us. I just uploaded them. Here they are:

Plaintiffs’ Proposed Findings and Conclusions (393k PDF)
Plaintiffs’ Brief in Support of Proposed Findings and Conclusions (317k PDF)

So last Friday was the deadline for both sides to file their last briefs. Each side has this week to respond to the other, and then the attorneys will finally be able to reacquaint themselves with their families.

Judge Jones has said that he hopes to rule by the end of the year, early January at the absolute latest.

PSU Professors Fight Back

The Centre Daily Times reports that several PSU professors are establishing a Penn State chapter of the American Association of University Professors (an organization that works to protect academic autonomy and freedom). The group is being launched due to concerns posed by the PA House ‘Academic Freedom’ Hearings. The first AAUP meeting at PSU is scheduled for this Thursday.

Teen rapper case settles

The Latour family, represented by the ACLU of PA, has settled their lawsuit with the Riverside Beaver School District. Anthony Latour was expelled from school last school year for rap lyrics he had written on the internet. Here is an excerpt from our press release:

Kim Watterson, a Pittsburgh-based lawyer from the international law firm Reed Smith who handled the case on a pro bono basis, said that she was pleased with the settlement: “In August, the court reaffirmed the basic constitutional principle that words by themselves rarely can justify censorship, as well as the principle that school students have speech rights protected by the First Amendment,” said Watterson.

In praising the agreement as a victory for students’ rights, Watterson added, “The settlement not only resolves the Latours’ dispute with the school district, but also results in important changes to the school policy, ensuring that Riverside’s students’ speech rights will be protected – especially when they are in their own homes. Although the courts have given school officials authority to regulate and punish students’ expression while they are in school, teachers and administrators need to recognize that the First Amendment limits their authority to play parent when the students are home.”

Also, the Latour family released a statement. Here is an excerpt:

This was very unfortunate. This dispute arose from two able-bodied teenagers taunting one another and two young rappers engaging in a lyrical contest. In our generation, this behavior took place on the playground, where parents were not around to hear. We are now living in the age of the Internet, the new playground of our children, where parents and educators have access to these communications. Before school administrators jumped to any conclusions, everyone involved should have been invited to sit down and discuss the situation.

Full press release and family statement

The Kill People Faster Act of 2005

163, 13, and 122. In recent years, our criminal justice system has come under greater scrutiny as technology has allowed us to reexamine cases. 163 people have been cleared by DNA evidence. 13 of those 163 were people on death row. And 122 death row defendants have been exonerated of wrongdoing (with or without DNA) in the “modern” era of the death penalty (post-1976). On November 14, Speaking Freely opined about the “shocking, unjust, and unacceptable” system of capital punishment in America, and the very next day Harold Wilson of Philadelphia was acquitted at retrial after 16 years on PA’s death row.

So how do some members of Congress respond? By introducing legislation known as the Streamlined Procedures Act that would, essentially, cut off state prisoners’ access to the federal courts. Apparently, some in Congress don’t want these innocence cases to see the light of day, and they certainly don’t want the federal courts examining whether or not a person’s constitutional rights have been violated. (“Constitutional rights? A mere technicality.”)

About a month ago, ACLU-PA sent out an action alert on this issue. Several newspapers have also strongly denounced this legislation, most recently The Birmingham News (“Denying due process“) and the Los Angeles Times (“A rush to execution“).

PATRIOT Act: "Time is of the essence"

For an informative update on what the heck is going on in D.C. with the PATRIOT Act, check out the 11/18 post on the National ACLU’s Reform the PATRIOT Act Blog.

Also, check out the great editorial in the Lebanon Daily News last Saturday regarding PATRIOT Act reauthorization.

And, as always, please CALL your elected Senators and Representatives. It is particularly important to target Senator Specter, Senator Santorum, and Congressman Weldon.

Let’s keep it up–the pressure actually appears to be working!!

Patriot Act rollercoaster

For those trying to keep score at home (and here at our office), it’s been difficult to follow the crazy path of the Patriot Act renewal bill. Although this week it was announced that the conference committee had reached a tentative agreement, it now appears that there is no deal on the reauthorization of the Patriot Act. According to news reports, Congress has put on the brakes and more discussion and negotiation will occur over the next two weeks.

Watch for more news stories over the weekend. After we have a chance to digest all of this, we will be reaching out to all of you with a lot more ideas about how we can continue fighting for real reform of the Patriot Act

You Tell ’em Russ!

“The conference committee is on notice…”

OK. We activists and advocates say that stuff all the time, but how often do we see a bipartisan crew of Senators demonstrate more than a modicum of backbone. Senator Russ Feingold has released a press release on the reauthorization of the PATRIOT Act and the nasty bill that’s come out of the conference committee. Here’s another taste

“I am proud to join my colleagues from the Senate and the House, Republicans and Democrats, in calling on the members of the USA PATRIOT Act conference committee to give us a bill that we can support – a bill that makes reasonable changes to the Patriot Act to safeguard Americans’ civil liberties. In other words, a bill like the one the Senate passed by unanimous consent in July.”

Of course, he does say “no one” wants the PATRIOT Act to expire and I could quibble with him about that. I can think of…oh…a half a million ACLU members and their allies that would like the PAT Act’s sun to set (or at least these provisions). But, props to Feingold and crew for taking stand and advocating for the Senate bill.

Once again, CALL your Senators and Representatives. Call them and tell them to support the Senate bill. It’s the best thing going right now. That and a few plucky senators.