Real rejection of Real ID

So last week I was out of the office all but one day. In the days of e-mail, many of you can probably relate to the catch-up that has to occur. It usually takes a few days to get out from under the pile.

And this morning I came across this nugget: Last week Maine became the first state to reject the Real ID Act.

“Maine has spoken: Real ID is a real nightmare for local governments” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Real ID is an unfunded mandate that could lead to rampant identity theft. We urge other states to follow Maine’s call for privacy. Maine’s action makes it crystal clear that Congress must fix what’s broken and significantly revise the Real ID Act.”

Maine’s action was only a resolution calling for Congress to repeal the act, but a follow-up bill is expected that will block any state spending on the program. From the Portland Press Herald editorial board

Members of the National Conference of State Legislatures voted at a meeting in August to oppose the legislation, which is expected to cost Maine taxpayers $185 million over its first five years.

Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap has pointed out that this is six times the total annual budget of the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. Nationwide, the cost is estimated to be $11 billion, almost all of it to be paid by the states.

Under the law, Maine would have to obey national standards for issuing driver’s licenses, which would be imprinted with a special machine-readable “zone” on the cards containing personal data on the holder. Illegal immigrants would be barred from receiving them.

Privacy advocates, including the Maine Civil Liberties Union and the libertarian Cato Institute, say such data could be a bonanza for identity thieves if the cards were lost or stolen. Even worse, the data could potentially be read at a distance by ID thieves using their own machines to lift the information without ever getting their hands on the cards.

That’s why Maine’s House voted 137-4 to oppose the Real ID Act, while the Senate was unanimous, 34-0.

While the state so far has only called on Congress to overturn the law, it has another arrow in its quiver. Lawmakers plan to offer a bill directing Dunlap not to spend any money to create the new licenses.

While that could put Maine on a collision course with the feds, other states have joined the effort to lobby for repeal. They deserve to win this fight.

And so the first domino has fallen. More from our D.C. office:

“As Maine goes, so goes the nation,” said Charlie Mitchell, Director of the ACLU State Legislative Department. “Already bills have been filed in Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Georgia and Washington, which would follow Maine’s lead in saying no to Real ID, with many mores states on the verge of similar action. Across the nation, local lawmakers are rejecting the federal government’s demand that they curtail their constituents’ privacy through this giant unfunded boondoggle.”

As for Pennsylvania, well, let’s just say, “We’re workin’ on it.” Learn more at

Andy in the HBG

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Into the heart of an activist

This post is not your standard SF fare. I’m going to veer on to a different track for this one to get a bit personal to talk about the mechanics of our work.

Last week we posted “Why we’re pro-choice” in honor of the 34th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision. There were a lot of great comments posted on this important commemoration.

I posted this:

“The anti-choice messengers regularly remind me why I am pro-choice. Usually, those who are against us on reproductive freedom are white men, and when I see them, one word comes to mind. Patriarchy.” – Andy, Harrisburg

I’ve been thinking about this all week. In two years with the ACLU of PA and more than six years in the anti-death penalty movement, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with a lot of great people, people who are working for justice in a wide variety of ways. And some of them happen to oppose legal abortion.

Now, I am pro-choice because I believe that a woman should have the right to control her body without interference from the government. And I am deeply concerned that attempts to stop abortion are rooted in patriarchy. It might not even be conscious for some, but the foundation of anti-abortion fervor could very well be in the ancient desire to control women or the belief that men have a right to control women, which, as we all know, was quite prominent until only very recently.

But I kept thinking back to what I said and to those whom I’ve befriended who happen to be anti-abortion. These are folks who work hard every day to protect civil rights, including not only for racial minorities but also religious minorities and lesbians and gays. They’re standing up for immigrants and willing to speak out in favor of treating newcomers to our country with dignity and respect. They are working toward a more just criminal justice system, which is too often plagued by discrimination and other problems that border on atrocities.

And they happen to oppose abortion. I respect these folks and consider them my friends, and when I thought back to my own words, I wondered what they would think if they happened to read them.

Then on Saturday, I came across this passage in Barack Obama’s book The Audacity of Hope:

The reason the doctor was considering voting for my opponent was not my position on abortion as such. Rather, he had read an entry that my campaign had posted on my website, suggesting that I would fight “right-wing ideologues who want to take away a woman’s right to choose.” He went on to write, “I sense that you have a strong sense of justice and of the precarious position of justice in any polity, and I know that you have championed the plight of the voiceless. I also sense that you are a fair-minded person with a high regard for reason…Whatever your convictions, if you truly believe that those who oppose abortion are all ideologues driven by perverse desires to inflict suffering on women, then you, in my judgment, are not fair-minded.”

Again, I thought back to my comment from Monday’s post and of those I’ve worked with who happen to be against legal abortion.

I believe that we can make great progress toward a more just society if we open ourselves to working with those with whom we sometimes agree and sometimes disagree. If we do this from a place of mutual respect, we can make tremendous strides.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Immigration: Changing the conversation in Lancaster

Tuesday night the Lancaster City Council approved a resolution urging the President and Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform. The council was motivated in part by the actions in Hazleton and other PA municipalities that have taken immigration enforcement into their own hands:

“For every illegal person who lives in the country, there are 10 or 20 people who look like them that are affected by this,” (Councilman Jose Urdaneta) said.

He, Graupera and Lancaster City Council President Julianne Dickson said Lancaster’s action is also being prompted because they believe illegal immigrants are being demonized for political reasons.

“Hazleton is part of the reason that we are doing it, but it is also the talk about the construction of walls at our borders and the divisive rhetoric the president had in the last election in which he was equating illegal immigrants with terrorists,” said Urdaneta.

Thumbs up to the council for recognizing the importance of showing immigrants that they are welcome in Pennsylvania. And thumbs down to the Lancaster New Era, which headlined Tuesday’s article on the resolution by calling it “earned amnesty” with the phrase in quotes, as if it came from the resolution. In fact, the resolution calls for “earned legalization.”

Here’s a powerful statement by Norman Bristol Colon of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs:

“I am proud to be a resident of this great city of ours and I commend the leadership of this City Council. Immigration was the top issue in 2006 dividing us as a nation. Tonight, this resolution reflects our spirit of unity, respect and understanding.”

So why does this matter? After all, it’s only a non-binding resolution. It’s a statement with no force of law, but the fact is that it is a statement. That’s a step forward in this discussion. What Hazleton and other PA municipalities like Altoona and Bridgeport have done is divide the community with their corrosive rhetoric. Lancaster City Council is saying, “We’re uniters, not dividers.”

Andy in the HBG

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Why We’re Pro-Choice

Today marks the 34th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the ACLU of Pennsylvania thought we’d participate in NARAL Pro-Choice America’s “Blog for Choice” to reflect on why we’re pro-choice.

The ACLU has recognized that the right to privacy, which encompasses the right to reproductive freedom, is among our most important constitutional liberties and has been a principle defender of abortion rights since 1973 when U.S. Supreme Court recognized the right to choose in Roe v. Wade. Reproductive freedom means the right to make informed decisions about whether and when to become a parent without government interference and to access a broad range of reproductive health care including contraceptives, prenatal care, treatment for sexually transmitted disesase, and abortion.

While the ACLU identifies as pro-choice in constitutional terms, we realize that there are a number of other, sometimes much more personal, reasons why our staff, board members, volunteers, and members are pro-choice. Here are their reasons in their own words:

“I think I may be an odd duck. I’m Irish and Roman Catholic. I know that I could not ever have an abortion. I also know that I have no right to make that decision for someone else.” – Beth, age 44, King of Prussia

“I am pro-choice because I believe that women should be treated with dignity and respect and that in order for women to be equal to men they need to have the right and the means to decide when and whether to bear a child.” – Larry, age 51, Philadelphia

“I’m pro-choice because I am the only one who should determine the treatment of my body. I am pro-choice because a fetus is not a person, and therefore should have no bearing over a women’s choice, health, or life course. I am pro-choice because no individual’s religious beliefs should determine legislation.” – Shoshana Rosen, age 22, Pittsburgh, Jewish

“As a mother of two precious daughters and a grandmother of one beautiful brand new granddaughter, I am committed to the absolute protection of choice for my loved ones and for all women. A woman’s right to choose to carry a pregnancy or to not carry a pregnancy should be a decision that is hers to make. Young people should be provided with full and correct information regarding their personal health and wellness.” – Nancy, age 61

“I am pro-choice because 77% of anti-choice leaders are men and 100% of them will never become pregnant.” – Jamie, Harrisburg

“I am pro-choice because I believe that in a free society women can and must be trusted to make fundamental personal decisions. Anti-abortion laws cannot be enforced without allowing the government a totally intolerable level of intrusion into individual, private medical decisions and the doctor-patient relationship that would be incompatible with basic American values of liberty.” – Peter Goldberger, Ardmore, ACLU of PA Board of Directors, VP of ACLU Greater Philadelphia Chapter, father of 3 daughters

“When my mother and my sisters and I attended the March for Women’s Lives in 2004, my younger sister wondered why there were signs with pictures of coat hangers. She represents a younger generation of women who haven’t had to worry about back-alley, botched abortions and their frightening consequences. I am pro-choice for all the future generations of women, so that they, too, may not know the shadowy horrors of a life without reproductive freedom.” – Paula, Harrisburg

“Every woman has the right to control her own body and to determine when or whether to bear a child. Child bearing must always be by choice, not only for the sake of the mother but for the welfare of a wanted and nurtured infant. The hard-won right of choice in child-bearing by all women must be respected and protected.” – Sonya

“I am pro-choice because women should have every opportunity to live the life they choose to live and because options allow each women to subscribe to her own religious and social morality.” – Chelsea, age 22, Philadelphia

“The anti-choice messengers regularly remind me why I am pro-choice. Usually, those who are against us on reproductive freedom are white men, and when I see them, one word comes to mind. Patriarchy.” – Andy, Harrisburg

“I am pro-choice because I believe every woman should be trusted enough to make individual and personal decisions regarding her body without the interference of government. If another woman chooses to have an abortion, it’s none of my business and I would never be so arrogant to assume that I (or anyone else) have the right to make that decision for her. Against abortion? I promise, I will never make you have one.” – Amy, age 22, Philadelphia

“Being raise Catholic in the 1950s, as you can imagine, I was always what is referred to today as “pro-life.” However, “anti-choice” is what I prefer to call it today. Back then, I believed that no woman should ever have a right to terminate her pregnancy no matter what the reason; the time to decide not to get pregnant was before you had sex, not afterwards. I believed this until I was in my mid-forties when someone very near and dear to me confided in me that she was planning to terminate her pregnancy. I knew at that time I had to stop her. So, I turned to a few friends who were also Catholic, who I assumed they felt just as I did, to see if they had some magic words for me to use to stop this young lady. As it turned out, each one had experienced an abortion firsthand. I had no idea any of these beautiful women went through that experience as they had never shared it with me (and for good reason). They knew how I felt about it. These women are all very decent, loving, respected women. All have children of their own, all remain practicing Catholics–one, a Sunday school teacher. I left the Catholic Church in my late 20s but the ignorance remained with me for a long time following. I’ve come to learn that there are many reasons for women to choose to terminate a pregnancy–each has her own story. And, each deserves to have a clean, safe means to do so if she chooses. I’ve also learned through my involvement with NARAL that the majority of American women who choose to terminate a pregnancy are of a Christian-based religion. These women are our friends, neighbors, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, daughters, ministers, etc. hether we know it or want to believe it or not and they deserve respect.” – Anonymous in PA

“I am pro-choice for the same reason that I favor all individual liberty against government infringement. The Constitution confirms that “We the People” have all rights and we never gave the government the power to abridge any of those rights unless it can prove the absolute necessity for so doing. The right to choose whether to have children is a parade example of a right that government can never justify denying.” – Burton Caine, Professor of Constitutional Law

“I am pro-choice because I am pro-life. I don’t see being “pro-life” and “pro-choice” as opposites, as those opposed to abortion rights would argue. I value the lives of women, whether they choose to be mothers or not, and I think that children should be brought into this world when they can be cared for and loved in all the ways they deserve to be. With all of the children in poverty, being abused and neglected, it astounds me that those who call themselves “pro-life” devote the amount of resources they do to protecting a fetus when they could be saving the lives of children that are already born. But, you know, that’s their choice, isn’t it?” – Julie, age 25, Philadelphia

Please use the comment space to offer your own reasons why you are pro-choice (that is, if you are pro-choice). Click here to link to read about what else the ACLU is doing to facilitate discussion around reproductive rights for the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Julie in Philly

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Or maybe it is enough to make you miss Ashcroft

Some people miss Ashcroft.

Alberto Gonzales is achieving something remarkable, even miraculous, as attorney general: He is making John Ashcroft look good.

And, according to the legend, Ashcroft supported his deputies from a hospital bed in turning down the warrantless surveillance program.

I can’t believe I just wrote a post that sounds kind of like a defense of John Ashcroft. That’s weird.

Andy in H-burg

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Oh no he didn’t

In a stunning interpretation of the Constitution, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales claimed that there is no express right to habeas corpus in the Constitution during his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. From Think Progress (which also has a partial transcript):

Gonzales was debating Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) about whether the Supreme Court’s ruling on Guantanamo detainees last year cited the constitutional right to habeas corpus. Gonzales claimed the Court did not cite such a right, then added, “There is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution.”

Specter pushed back. “Wait a minute. The constitution says you can’t take it away, except in the case of rebellion or invasion. Doesn’t that mean you have the right of habeas corpus, unless there is an invasion or rebellion?” Specter told Gonzales, “You may be treading on your interdiction and violating common sense, Mr. Attorney General.”

And this guy was considered by some to be a potential US Supreme Court justice?

Almost makes you miss John Ashcroft. (I said almost.)

Sara in Philly

One man come in the name of love

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday passed by without a word from us at SF, so I want to just jot down some quick personal thoughts.

I first saw Dr. King’s “I have a dream” speech in 10th grade in my world cultures class Or maybe it was contemporary problems. Regardless, I remember the classroom because the teacher who showed it to us was my favorite teacher in high school, Scott Pettis from Middletown High. The speech had a profound affect on me. I was just at the age, 15, when my values and thoughts outside my own little world were starting to come together and gel, and Dr. King’s words reinforced many of the values I was already starting to embrace.

Few speeches have moved me in that way since, although Barack Obama’s speech at the 2004 DNC convention gave me a similar feeling. (Note: That is not an endorsement. We are non-partisan, after all.)

Embracing Dr. King’s legacy is a common practice now. Public officials of all types and stripes laud his accomplishments and his message. Sadly, Dr. King’s message seems lost on many of those same public officials the other 364 days of the year.

These officials forget Dr. King’s message when they implement policies of mass incarceration, which have disproportionately affected minority communities. We’re losing an entire generation of black men- men who are my age- to the prison industrial complex with 1/3 (or so) of young black men in the custody of the Department of Corrections in one form or another. According to a board member of the NAACP of PA, there were 80,000 African-Americans in prison at the time of the Brown v. Board of Education, and today there are more than one million.

These officials forget Dr. King’s message when they continue to prop up the broken system of capital punishment, which adversely affects the poor and minorities, and refuse to fund our state’s public defender system. Nine of every 10 people on death row in PA were too poor to afford an attorney at trial. A defendant represented by the public defenders’ office in most counties in the Commonwealth will meet with his/her lawyer for the first time just a few minutes before his preliminary hearing.

These officials forget Dr. King’s message when they try every trick imaginable to suppress the vote of minorities and the poor. Dr. King believed in expanding the vote. Some of our elected officials believe in restricting the vote through photo ID requirements, limited voting machines in poor precincts, felon disenfranchisement, and other regressive policies.

And there are numerous non-ACLU issues which show a lack of appreciation for Dr. King’s legacy. I won’t get into them here since this is ACLU territory, but you know what they are.

ACLU-PA appropriately designates Dr. King’s birthday as a holiday, but, frankly, I wouldn’t mind working because this work is about carrying on his legacy. I did spend Monday doing something that felt appropriate for the occasion, but it is imperative that those of us who care about carrying on Dr. King’s message of hope and freedom in the 21st century find ways to do that all year long.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Bush administration official smears attorneys defending Gitmo detainees

Nothing like a good dose of incredulous outrage to start your day. This morning I read an editorial in the Washington Post about recent comments made by Curtis Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs. In an interview this week with Federal News Radio, Stimpson listed a group of US law firms defending detainees in Guantanamo. He continued on to say,

“I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms, and I think that is going to have major play in the next few weeks. And we want to watch that play out.”

When asked who was paying the firms, he said “It’s not clear, is it?” he said. “Some will maintain that they are doing it out of the goodness of their heart, that they’re doing it pro bono, and I suspect they are; others are receiving monies from who knows where, and I’d be curious to have them explain that.”

It shouldn’t surprise me that Stimson is mystified by the motivations of the attorneys defending detainees – it’s called a commitment to the rule of law and a belief in the Constitution.

(Incidentally, a lawyer from one of these law firms who is defending detainees in Guantanamo spoke at a vigil yesterday about his clients. His comments can be read in yesterday’s post.)

Sara in Philly

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American Injustice System

Today, January 11, 2007, marks the fifth anniversary since prisoners first arrived at Guantanamo Bay. Over 400 individuals remain in the prison, held without trial and without charges. Thanks to the unconstitutional and un-American piece of legislation called the Military Commissions Act, passed this fall by Congress, President Bush has the authority to hold these people indefinitely.

Today the ACLU of PA joined with Brandywine Peace Community in a vigil outside of the federal courthouse to recognize this anniversary and to demand that Guantanamo be shut down and that the prisoners being held there be released or tried. (This event was part of the International Day to Shut Down Guantanamo.)

At the event Chris Huber, a lawyer at Pepper Hamilton and an ACLU-Greater Philadelphia Chapter board member, gave a moving personal account about one of his two Guantanamo clients. Here are his comments:

We know there are hundreds of prisoners in Guantanamo, none of whom has had a fair hearing, the first of whom arrived five years ago. Let me take a few minutes to tell you about one prisoner at Guantanamo, a prisoner I happen to know because I represent him.

He is a Palestinian who has been in Guantanamo since June 14, 2002

Like many, if not most, of the prisoners at Guantanamo, he was not captured on a battlefield. Instead, he was sold to the Northern Alliance by villagers for a bounty.

The Northern Alliance turned him over to the United States and he was sent to the prison at Bagram and then Knadahar. After about six months, he was sent to Guantanamo. The government has never claimed that he ever used a gun or fought against the United States.

When he was being held by the Northern Alliance, during interrogations, he was beaten with a chain that was wrapped in a hose. During these interrogations, the interrogator did not write anything down.

Once he was turned over to the Americans, one strangled him several times – almost to the point of death. At Guantanamo, the interrogations and mistreatment continued. For 1½ months, they moved him from one cell to another every couple of hours so he could not sleep. They chained him to the floor with no chair in a squatting position and made him stay there for hours. They poured cold water over him and blasted cold air conditioning into his cell. He still has medical problems from this treatment.

During this period, one of his interrogators used the nickname “Torture.” I think this tells us all exactly what the government meant to be doing to the prisoners.

There are two stories about him that show his intelligence and his ability to keep thinking clearly even in the face of these harsh conditions.

First, the government asked him to take a lie detector test. He said he would take one, and answer any questions they wanted to ask, if they met one condition. He first wanted to be hooked up to the lie detector and he would give the interrogator ten questions to ask him. Only he would know the correct answer to these questions – he would not tell the interrogator the answers. Then, the interrogator would give him the result of the lie detector on his answers to these ten questions. If it accurately reflected whether he was telling the truth or lying, he would take the lie detector test the interrogator wanted to give him.

The interrogator refused this proposal.

Finally, he knew no English at all when he arrived at Guantanamo. Yet through his interactions with the guards and the interrogators and using only an Arabic/English dictionary, he was able to teach himself rudimentary English. Unfortunately, the army decided that allowing the prisoners to have Arabic/English dictionaries was “dangerous” and so took it away. The army now has an affirmative policy that it does not want the prisoners to learn English.

Sara in Philly

"Third rail" derailed

A poll released today by the ACLU of PA and four other groups indicated what many of us already knew. Support for the death penalty is on the descent. In the annual Penn State poll, participants were asked what punishment they prefer for murder- the death penalty, life without parole, or life with parole. 45.1% of people chose either life without (35.5%) or life with (9.6%) while 42.9% chose the death penalty. Support for the death penalty is down from where it was in 2003 when Quinnipiac University asked a similar question.

Peter Loge, a consultant to the anti-death penalty movement, recognized this in an op-ed that was published in The Hill after the 2005 general election in which abolitionist candidates won the gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia.

Since about 2000, the American people have gotten a much more nuanced understanding of the death penalty. They have learned about the costs. New York, for example, has spent about $200 million over the past 10 years on a capital-punishment system recently ruled invalid by a state court, and the state hasn’t executed anyone.

Americans have heard from murder-victim family members who oppose the death penalty. They have learned about the mistakes that are far too often made, mistakes that have sent at least 121 people to death row who did not belong there, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Many Americans have concluded that whatever their private moral positions on capital punishment, it is pretty clearly a deeply flawed system that may not be worth all the time, energy and money. And in the past several years, voters have not been supporting candidates who promise to be the executioner in chief, and they have not been punishing candidates who think the death penalty is a policy whose time has come and gone.

And now the news is hitting the hills and woods and cityscapes of Pennsylvania.

Andy in Harrisburg

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