A major victory for civil liberties was won in the California senate recently with the near unanimous passage of AB 351, a law that would ban state participation in federal programs that involve indefinite detention.
If you haven’t noticed, efforts to advance public policy have come to be defined by partisanship, bickering and endless stall tactics. Despite this adversarial climate, when it came to acknowledging the terrible policy of holding people indefinitely with no trial and no recourse, representatives from all sides of the political spectrum crossed party boundaries to cast their vote in opposition to this horrific practice.
If made law, AB 351 would prohibit state law enforcement agencies from sharing information, collaborating in any way or otherwise assisting in federal agencies that could arrest and hold people in a facility like Guantanamo Bay. This would mean extricating state participation in fusion centers and eliminating personnel and resource commitments in partnership with the armed forces when arrest and prosecution resulting in indefinite detention could occur.
AB 351 is a direct response to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which permits the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens as a tool in the so-called “War on Terror.” Section 1021-1022 of the 2013 version of the NDAA, signed into law by president Obama, invokes the specter of Japanese interment camps during WWII by specifically authorizing the armed forces to detain and hold American citizens without trial, indefinitely. An earlier attempt to challenge the constitutionality of the indefinite detention provision of the NDAA have failed in the Second Circuit Court on procedural grounds.
The passage of AB 351 through the California Senate is a tremendous step in the fight to restore constitutional protections and a powerful challenge to the federal government’s troubling policy of circumventing the constitution in their pursuit of ever-expanding domestic police powers.
Proof positive of the power of the policy is the bi-partisan partnership that defined its passage. Self described “Tea Party” assemblyman Tim Donnelly (R-Twin Peaks) reached across the isle from the right to join forces with one of the most liberal members of the Senate Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) to co-author the bill. This cross-party collaboration demonstrates the strong drive to preserve civil liberties heard in the voices of the people speaking through their representatives, regardless of party affiliation.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times after the bill’s passage, assemblyman Donnelly said:
“America is nation based on equal treatment under the law; every individual deserves his or her day in court, regardless of the accusations. Violating this core principle of freedom could easily lead us to repeat the tragic Japanese American internment camps. I am grateful to see the Legislature remains committed to ensuring this never happens again – not in our state – not on our watch,”
Co-author Senator Leno also stated, “It doesn't matter where one finds oneself on the political spectrum, these two sections of this national defense act are wrong, unconstitutional and never should have been included.”
All that remains for the bill is for Governor Jerry Brown to honor the will of the people and sign the bill into law. There is a possibility the governor will veto the bill despite its broad, unprecedented support. To demand he do the right thing and sign AB 351, privacy groups, constitutional preservation organizations and concerned citizens have been calling on their members to urge the Governor to support AB 351’s passage.
By signing the bill into law, the governor will be standing not only with Californians, but with the majority of Americans who still believe the Constitution should be honored and respected. The NDAA tried to rob people of their basic rights and what resulted was exactly the kind of sharp, decisive action some have come to believe was impossible in the current political climate.
AB 351 is a harsh indictment of unconstitutional policy and a crucial step on the path to restoring civil liberties for all people.
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