A true American hero

Standing up for the rule of law can be a dangerous things these days. Earlier this week it was reported that Lt. Commander Charles Swift was passed over for a promotion in the Navy, and will now have to leave the service. Swift is a Judge Advocate General Corps (JAG) lawyer who won a landmark Supreme Court case this past June. The prestigious National Law Journal ranked Swift among the nation’s top 100 lawyers.

With this kind of success, why was he denied a promotion? Because his client was Guantanamo detainee Salim Hamdan, and Swift had argued that President Bush’s military commissions were unconstitutional and in violation of international law. Because of his zealous representation of his client, because he believes so strongly in his oath to defend the Constitution and the rule of law, he is losing the military career he loves deeply.

Lt. Commander Swift and the four other JAG Corps lawyers who worked on cases involving the Guantanamo Bay detainees are truly remarkable. They resisted the military’s orders that they could only negotiate guilty pleas for their clients. Instead, they fought passionately in court and in the media for the right of their clients to have fair trials.

Swift’s spoke eloquently on Hardball in June in response to those who say that these detainees are terrorists who don’t deserve due process:

It’s not whether they deserve it or not. It’s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we’ve lost who we are. We’re the good guys. We’re the guys who follow the rule and the people we fight are the bad guys and we show that every day when we follow the rules, regardless of what they do. It’s what sets us apart. It’s what makes us great and in my mind, it’s what makes us undefeatable, ultimately.

It’s a shame that the Navy hasn’t recognized that Lt. Commander Swift is one of the good guys.

Sara in Philly

Plan B Coming to a Pharmacy Near You!

On Friday, Amy (our Duvall Project intern) and I had the pleasure of attending an annual conference in NYC that brings together all the experts and advocates involved in increasing women’s access to emergency contraception. Barr Laboratories/Duramed, the maker of emergency contraceptive Plan B, was even there to explain how exactly this medication will be made available in pharmacies as an over-the-counter product.

You may wonder, how on earth can these people talk about emergency contraception ALL DAY? Well, we did. And, we still have so much more to discuss, like how to address additional barriers to Plan B that may come up once Plan B is available over-the-counter (i.e. behind-the-counter) for individuals 18 and older. While there’s so much to cover and I’m sure you all are as captivated with the topic of EC as I am, I thought I’d share some of what we talked about. I’m a fan of lists, so here we go:

1. Plan B is expected to be available in pharmacies by mid-November! If you are over 18 years old, you can buy it as long as you have a “government-issued” I.D. You must go to the pharmacy counter to ask for it and be prepared to pay between $30-50. This price may vary in each individual pharmacy or pharmacy chain. Young women under age 18 will still require a prescription to purchase Plan B. It is unclear, at this point, how much this unnecessary, unscientifically-based age restriction will affect a minors’ ability to access EC.

2. It will be up to each state to determine whether or not their Medicaid program will continue to cover this “dual label” medication. This may greatly impact low-income women who cannot afford the hefty price for this medication out-of-pocket. As of 2005, Pennsylvania’s Medicaid program only covered EC in cases of rape or incest. So, there may not be such a great change in this state–EC was and probably will still be inaccessible to low-income women unless they seek it out at a family planning clinic.

3. States may also try to impose their own regulations on Plan B, disregarding the FDA’s recent decision for Plan B and requiring a prescription for all women (again). Plan B’s availablity would vary from state to state. If this type of action occurred in Pennsylvania, women in New Jersey or Ohio might be able to buy EC over-the-counter but you couldn’t.

It will be very interesting to see how all this unfolds. Advocates are working to anticipate and address these potential barriers and work with pharmacists to ensure that they are getting the education and support they need to make Plan B available to consumers.

Check out a newly improved website on EC and how to get it at not-2-late.com. One important thing to remember about EC is that it’s only effective if you use it!

Julie in Philly

Jumping on – and off – the bandwagon

In a now unimaginative move, Bridgeport, PA – a little town of less than 5,000 residents (just under 90% white) next to Norristown in Montgomery County – recently passed a Hazleton-style anti-immigrant ordinance. It is ordained that English is the official common language within the .66 square mile area of the borough. And, as a business owner, you could be penalized for “aiding and abetting” undocumented immigrants through the sale of goods or services. Is this appealing to folks who are busy running businesses – playing the immigration cop of the community?

A few business folks a few miles to the north have suggested a different plan. With a proposed anti-immigrant ordinance rearing its head in Allentown, the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has suggested an ordinance that would declare the City of Allentown a “sanctuary city” that, among other things, “affirms the basic human rights and dignity of every human being.” While sanctuary laws have seen some hot debate, it was refreshing to see a proposed alternative to the recent rash of anti-immigrant municipal activity.

Jess in Philly

Another signing statement rears its head

There are probably a few riders on the R8 train this morning wondering about the crazy girl muttering under her breath in disgust as she read the newspaper (my apologies to the poor guy in the trench coat who had to sit next to me, by the way. Although I suspect the regular riders are used to this behavior by now). The headline on the article that prompted my reaction? “Bush asserts power to edit privacy files; He reserved the right to alter data on Homeland Security’s activities.” The law that Congress passed stated, according to the article, that “no one but the privacy officer could alter, delay or prohibit the mandatory annual report on Homeland Security Department activities that affect privacy, including complaints.”

But Bush, in one of those now-infamous signing statements, said that he would interpret that section “in a manner consistent with the president’s constitutional authority to supervise the unitary executive branch.”

The position of Chief Privacy Officer (CPO) of the Dept. of Homeland Security is already a weak one. It was created in 2002 to serve as a watchdog over the agency to ensure that privacy was protected in the face of various anti-terror surveillance programs. However, they didn’t give the officer subpoena power. She or he is essentially limited to begging for information.

Nonetheless, the president found it necessary to make sure he could serve as a filter between the CPO and Congress – despite the fact that Congress explicitly included in the law the requirement that no one aside from the CPO had the authority to edit the annual report on privacy.

Will Congress stand up to the president’s blatant attempt to usurp its power? Sadly, I doubt it.

Sara in Philly

Mixed messages

While Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is advocating limits to judicial independence, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, our own Sen. Arlen Specter, seems to be moving in the opposite direction.

On the recent passage of the detainee legislation, quoted in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

“The Constitution expressly says you can’t suspend habeas corpus unless you have an invasion or a rebellion,” Specter said.

“I did my best to get Congress to do the job, and when I couldn’t get sufficient votes, the next alternative is the courts,” he continued. “This is not going to stop somebody from filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus. They are going to file it. I think the District Court may disregard the statute and go ahead and hear it.”

Read: Congress can’t be trusted to pass decent legislation, so let’s leave it to the courts to correct our mistakes.

Looks like Specter’s keeping the job market open for “activist judges.” I’m all in favor of judicial independence. But how can we trust Congress to hold the administration accountable for its abuses of power if they won’t hold themselves accountable for enacting legislation that passes constitututional muster?

Jess in Philly

Gonzo tells courts to step off

These people know no bounds.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who is defending President Bush’s anti-terrorism tactics in multiple court battles, said Friday that federal judges should not substitute their personal views for the president’s judgments in wartime.

Translation: “We know what we’re doing is unconstitutional and un-American, and the last thing we want is to have the courts giving it close scrutiny. Congress isn’t bothering to scrutinize what we’re doing, so why should the courts?”

After seeing this, I went searching for the articles about a conference on judicial independence held last Saturday by former SCOTUS justice Sandra Day O’Connor and found this editorial from the Macon Telegraph:

Any American can probably cite some Supreme Court decision – whether handed down by a conservative or liberal majority – that outraged his or her sense of morality, order or political fitness. Some would refer to Roe v. Wade, others to the decision in 2000 which in effect handed the presidency to George W. Bush. There is always something not to like.

But to hate the judge and pull down the independent system he or she represents? Ours, after all, as O’Connor says, has been and must continue to be “a nation of laws, not men – or even women.”

Far better to pray for the judges – and defend their independence. That’s the American way.

On an unrelated topic, I completely agree with Gonzo on this:

Gonzales also said he thought more states should move away from having judges stand in partisan elections to keep their seats. Gonzales himself as a Texas Supreme Court justice “had to raise enough money to run print ads and place television spots around the state in order to retain my seat.”

(FYI, my agreement with Gonzales on that issue is a personal opinion and not necessarily the view of the ACLU.)

Andy in the HBG