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Constitution in Crisis

September 2010, Vol. 9, No. 9


In this issue:


Honor our Constitution on its 223rd birthday

US ConstitutionIn 1787, the United States adopted the Constitution that still guides us today. Each year on the anniversary of its adoption—September 17, Constitution Day—Americans of all walks of life take time to recognize the importance of our Constitution. Every government-funded school must teach about the Constitution on September 17, and the holiday provides an excellent opportunity for all Americans, students and non-students alike, to reflect on the Constitution and the rights it guarantees us.

In the context of ever-increasing government spying, continuing torture and preventive detention at US prisons including Guantánamo Bay, and the anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment swirling through the country, it is more important than ever that we take this Constitution Day as an opportunity. By educating our friends and neighbors, grassroots activists can help reverse the degradation of constitutional rights and liberties by standing up for our most fundamental American values.

What will you do to mark Constitution Day in your community?

We at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee have collected a number of resources to help you observe Constitution Day in your classroom or community. You can host a documentary screening, give a guest presentation at a local school, or hold a grassroots teach-in and discussion. Our resources can help with all of these kinds of events and more.

Our Constitution Day resources also include lesson plans to help educators teach students from elementary school through college about the importance of constitutional rights.

And if there's a Constitution Day resource you need but can't find, please don't hesitate to contact Emma Roderick. We're eager to help any way we can.

BORDC News

BORDC seeks applicants for field organizer position

The Bill of Rights Defense Committee seeks a field organizer who will provide support, coordination, guidance, and other assistance to BORDC’s allied coalitions in local communities across the United States. This position offers a compelling opportunity to focus grassroots attention on issues of broad concern through a groundbreaking strategy that aims to transform the political landscape on issues such as racial and ethnic profiling, domestic surveillance, and police accountability, as well as executive accountability for human rights abuses. This three-month contract position could be extended contingent on funding, is available to applicants in any part of the country, and will require significant travel across the US.

For more information, including a full job description and application instructions, see the field organizer posting on our website.

Interns Shelby Brimmer, Corey Nasman, and My Nguyen join BORDC

This month, BORDC is pleased to welcome new interns Shelby Brimmer, Corey Nasman, and My Nguyen to our Northampton, MA, office for the 2010-2011 academic year.

Shelby is majoring in social thought and political economy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she is a member of the class of 2013. An activist since high school, Shelby will be a great addition to our national office.

Corey received his bachelor’s degree in resource economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 2009. His customer service experience and strong interest in civil liberties will greatly enrich BORDC’s team.

My graduated from Wesleyan University with a BA in Sociology in 2009 and will be taking classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this year towards a degree in public policy and administration. Her writing skills and public relations and marketing experience are sure to be an asset to BORDC.

BORDC in the news

Over the past month, BORDC has shared analysis and commentary on a wide range of national press outlets. The American Prospect featured an interview with Shahid Buttar, and online news sources such as Huffington Post and ACSblog published commentary from BORDC staff and volunteers. BORDC representatives have also been featured in ethnic media including IndiaWest and New America Media, as well as radio stations such as KPFA in northern California and WNPR in Connecticut. 

In addition, regional media outlets such as NBC Connecticut and the Valley Advocate have recently profiled our local and national organizing efforts.  While supporting grassroots action on the ground to shift the policy landscape, BORDC will also continue to help shape media coverage of constitutional issues.

If you’d like to write an op-ed or submit your writing for our blog, please sign up to be a volunteer writer.

Grassroots News

Patriot Award: Billy Corriher

Each month, BORDC recognizes an individual who has done outstanding work in support of civil liberties and the rule of law by honoring him or her with our Patriot Award. We invite our supporters to submit nominations for the Patriot Award. To nominate an advocate for civil liberties, please email Emma Roderick with the following information:

  1. The full name and contact information (email and phone number) of the person you’re nominating
  2. A few sentences about the work that s/he has done to support civil liberties
  3. A sentence or two about why you believe this individual should receive the award

Nominees can include community organizers, dedicated volunteers, lawyers, writers, educators, and many others. We’re excited to hear about anyone with a demonstrated commitment to civil rights and liberties.

Billy CorriherThis month, we highlight the excellent work of civil rights lawyer William (Billy) Corriher.

Billy started law school at Georgia State University during the Bush era, where he saw civil liberties and rights being eroded on a daily basis. Always a self-proclaimed “news junkie,” and a former journalist for a small newspaper outside of Atlanta, he kept aware of what the government was doing in the name of national security. One summer, he landed an internship doing public interest work with the ACLU of North Carolina, and found the work important and rewarding. Billy had gone to law school because he no longer wanted to be on the sidelines of the important civil liberties issues of our time.

Billy went on to work full-time with the ACLU, and contributed to several free speech cases. One particular case dealt with the right of an incarcerated writer to his manuscripts, which were regularly confiscated by prison guards. He also worked on immigration issues, researching and writing about the problems local police departments encounter while trying to enforce federal immigration policy.

Billy connected with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in 2009, and has tirelessly used his expertise both as a journalist and a lawyer to contribute to the fight to restore the rule of law. He’s written opinion-editorials about Arizona’s SB 1070 and the re-authorization of the PATRIOT Act; contributed to BORDC’s model legislation for local governments, the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act; and supported a number of legal research projects, including one on universal jurisdiction supporting BORDC’s campaigns for torture accountability at the local level. We’re fortunate for Billy’s support on these various projects, and look forward to working with him in the future.

Grassroots activists around the country defend civil liberties on the local level

Coalitions are moving full steam ahead to defend civil liberties on the local level across the US. A campaign in Hartford, CT, has introduced a version of the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act (LCRRA), and the bill is currently working its way through the committee process. BORDC staff member Emma Roderick and local organizer Mongi Dhaouadi, president of CAIR-CT, appeared on Connecticut’s RadioActive earlier this month to speak about the ordinance.

Another version of the LCRRA is set to be introduced in Berkeley, CA, later this month, and similar anti-racial profiling efforts are underway in Jackson, MS, and the University of Illinois - Urbana Champagne.

Meanwhile, activists in Durham, NC, are working on a resolution to approve the Mexican Matricula Consular as a valid form of ID, which could prevent arrests of undocumented people driving without a license and presumptuous deportation under the so-called “Secure Communities” program.

If you are working on local legislation to restore civil rights and liberties in your community, let us support you. And if you’d like some guidance and support to start your own campaign, please let us know—we’re eager to help!

Get involved in the People’s Campaign for the Constitution

Calling all educators

Are you a K-12 educator? We’re expanding our K-12 resources and lesson plans and looking for educators to develop more teaching tools. If you teach (or have taught) a class on civil liberties issues that you’d be willing to share with other teachers, or if you’re interested in developing lesson plans for use by other educators across the country, contact Emma Roderick.

In the meantime, please share the resources that BORDC has already compiled with teachers you know, and introduce BORDC to other educators who might be interested in participating.

Refer volunteers to BORDC

BORDC relies on volunteers for crucial research, writing, and outreach support. We cultivate leadership among volunteers, rather than using them for cheap labor. If you know of individuals seeking opportunities, please refer them to us.

We have numerous projects available for volunteers, such as identifying and researching potential local allies, researching civil liberties issues and writing for our blog, or participating in outreach and organizing activities, and can take on volunteers anywhere in the country. If you would like to volunteer or know someone who might, contact Emma Roderick.

Participate in the "Face the Truth" campaign’s week of national action

The week of September 26, the Face the Truth campaign will hold actions around the country to highlight the destructive effects of racial profiling. As the culmination of “Face the Truth” hearings recently hosted in cities around the country, the week of action will include a report of testimonies from affected individuals, as well as national and local events.

Consider hosting a Face the Truth town hall in your community or a Night of 1,000 Conversations to learn about how profiling impacts communities in your area. For more information, please contact Pabitra Benjamin.

Join an affinity network

The People’s Campaign for the Constitution has organized networks of legal professionals and educators from across the country. We are also developing groups for military service members and their families, health professionals, clergy and religious lay-leaders of all faiths, graphic and web designers, and software engineers. Browse our full list of groups and opportunities and contact Emma Roderick if you'd like to join one of the existing groups or start one of your own.

Update us about your local activities

Please send information about your actions and events to Emma Roderick, our grassroots campaign coordinator. We’ll publicize your efforts to help inform and inspire others.

We can also offer organizing, outreach, and communications support. Let us know about your group’s organizing needs. We’ll be excited to discuss how we can help.

Law and Policy

Controversy flares over fundamental religious freedoms

Over the past month, plans to build an interfaith community center in lower Manhattan have prompted a blistering national controversy. Despite appeals from national leaders as diverse as a Black Democrat in the White House and a Jewish Republican in the New York City mayor’s office, protests around the country decried the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque.” Still, organizers pledged to move forward, citing their goals of building bridges between faiths and their constitutional rights to religious freedom. Meanwhile, a pastor in Florida announced plans to burn copies of the Qu’ran before canceling them in the wake of pressure from voices including the Secretary of Defense, who noted that proceeding would endanger the lives of US troops.

For more information, read Shahid Buttar’s post on the People’s Blog for the Constitution, which further details the damaging effects of Islamophobia on the fabric of American society.

Lawsuit challenges warrantless laptop searches at border

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11 nine years ago, security measures have been heightened in airports and at border crossings throughout the US. While some of these measures have improved safety for travelers, others have infringed upon fundamental rights without actually making us safer.

The Bush administration expanded government authority to inspect travelers’ belongings, and the Obama administration has followed in its footsteps. One of the most egregious invasions of privacy undertaken in the name of national security has been the warrantless searches of laptops at border crossings. As Ellen Nakashima put it in the Washington Post,

At issue is the government's contention—upheld by two federal appeals courts—that its broad authority to protect the border extends to reviewing information stored in a traveler's laptop, cell phone, or other electronic device, even if the traveler is not suspected of involvement in criminal activity. In the government's view, a laptop is no different than a suitcase.

But since our laptops tend to hold much more private information than our suitcases—our banking information, business documents, and contact information for (if not actual correspondence with) friends and family, in contrast to a few pairs of socks and underwear—many travelers have rightly protested these invasive searches. This month, the ACLU filed suit to stop this practice on behalf of plaintiffs including criminal defense lawyers, press photographers, and a college student.

Unfortunately, many people have already been subjected to troublesome searches, as the ACLU explains:

6,671 travelers [had] laptops or other devices… searched between October 2008 and June 2010, according to the ACLU. Slightly less than half—45 percent—were US citizens....

The policy [allowing these searches] also permits agencies under certain circumstances to share the data found on travelers' devices, which was done 282 times between July 2008 and July 2009.

Appellate courts conflict over whether Fourth Amendment limits GPS surveillance

Recently, the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit unanimously ruled that warrantless use of GPS location devices by law enforcement officials violates the Fourth Amendment, as did a court in the Eastern District of New York. The western Ninth Circuit, however, reached the opposite (and implausible) conclusion that monitoring an individual’s location is categorically unlike a search, and therefore does not trigger Fourth Amendment rights.

As technology continues to develop, expanding the range of ways in which authorities can monitor, track, and record the private activities of law-abiding Americans, excessive limits on the Fourth Amendment’s protections threaten to render it meaningless. According to Art Spitzer of the ACLU of the National Capital Area, "We're gratified that a unanimous D.C. Circuit agreed that protecting civil liberties requires that the technology of the 21st Century be evaluated on its own terms, and not as if it were still the technology of past decades. That principle needs to be applied in many other contexts as well.”

Dismissal of Jeppesen by Ninth Circuit sends state secrets doctrine to Supreme Court

With five judges dissenting, an 11-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California dismissed Mohamed v. Jeppesen on September 8. The ACLU plans to appeal the decision to Supreme Court; as ACLU attorney Ben Wizner asserted:

To this date, not a single victim of the Bush administration's torture program has had his day in court....If today’s decision is allowed to stand, the United States will have closed its courtroom doors to torture victims while providing complete immunity to their torturers.

The five plaintiffs allege that Boeing subsidiary Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc. knowingly transported them for the CIA to other countries where they were imprisoned and tortured. The ACLU maintains that most of the evidence on which the plaintiffs rely is a matter of public record, and the dissenting judges published an appendix to the decision outlining that evidence. Both the Bush and Obama administrations have consistently urged dismissal of the case under the state secrets doctrine, arguing that allowing the case to go forward would expose secrets that would jeopardize national security.

A lower court ruled for the government, but in April 2009 a three-judge appellate court held that the state secrets doctrine could be applied to particular pieces of evidence but could not be used as an immunity doctrine to force dismissal of an entire case. The September 8 decision favored the government, but analysts have stressed how close the decision was and journalist Michael Doyle noted that even the majority seemed uncomfortable with its own decision, going “out of their way to identify other, non-judicial remedies for the brutalized men.”

The New York Times called the decision a “major victory for the Obama administration’s efforts to advance a sweeping view of executive secrecy powers,” while the Washington Post sadly noted,

Previously, the Justice Department said it will invoke the state secrets privilege "only in legally appropriate situations" and that the department "will ensure the privilege is not invoked to hide from the American people information about their government's actions that they have a right to know."

Read the latest news and analysis on our blog

Recent highlights from the People's Blog for the Constitution:

New Resources and Opportunities

September 28: Panel discussion at UPenn on post-9/11 civil liberties

The University of Pennsylvania is hosting a panel discussion on the state of civil rights and civil liberties in the United States in the post-9/11 context, focusing especially on the impact of the law on Muslims domestically and the battle for hearts and minds abroad. Panelists include Kermit Roosevelt, University of Pennsylvania Law School; Steve Vladeck, Washington College of Law, American University; Baher Azmy, Seton Hall University Law School; Hope Metcalf, Yale Law School; and Sarah Paoletti, University of Pennsylvania (moderator). The event is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Dawinder S. Sidhu.

October 5: The Most Dangerous Man in America premieres on PBS’s POV

The Most Dangerous Man in AmericaCo-winner of this year's Freedom of Expression Award from the National Board of Review (and one of their Five Best Documentaries of the Year), winner of the Special Jury Award at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and Academy Award® nominee for Best Documentary, The Most Dangerous Man in America tells the story of Daniel Ellsberg, a high-level Pentagon official and Vietnam War strategist, who in 1971 leaked 7,000 pages of top secret documents to The New York Times, exposing decades of government lies and making headlines around the world.

The film screened in theaters across the country over the past several months, but now you’ll have an opportunity to watch it at home. The broadcast premiere of The Most Dangerous Man in America will be October 5, 2010, on PBS’s POV. Check your local listings for time and channel.

The premiere provides an excellent organizing opportunity for grassroots constitutionalists. We encourage you to organize a group to watch the broadcast, hold a discussion of the issues the film raises, and brainstorm about actions you can take locally to support the Constitution and the rule of law.

In addition, teachers may legally record the broadcast off-air and utilize the recording for one year under off-air-record rights. If you’re looking for compelling films to show in the classroom, this is a great opportunity.

October 10-16: Berkeley Says No to Torture Week

Berkeley Says No to Torture Week, October 10-16, is being planned as a memorable week of conscience and community in action against torture. A collaboration of multiple organizations, the week will include programs, protests, debates, author events, and other community and campus happenings, including a stellar performance of “Reckoning With Torture.” Sponsoring organizations include The World Can’t Wait, Progressive Democrats of America, local National Lawyers Guild and ACLU chapters, Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Code Pink, activists with the Coalition for an Ethical APA, La Raza Centro Legal, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, law students, and religious activists. The groups are condemning the American torture program made infamous to the world under the Bush administration and its continuation under the Obama administration, as well as the shredding of basic legal and human rights for whole “enemy” populations.

For more information, call (415) 864-5153 or email sf@worldcantwait.net.

Revised Local Civil Rights Restoration Act

BORDC’s model ordinance concerning limits on local law enforcement—the Local Civil Rights Restoration Act (LCRRA)—has been updated to reflect feedback from our local coalition efforts. The latest amendments anticipate and address concerns raised by local police departments about their ability to protect public safety as they adapt their practices to our proposed reforms.

Please review the updated version of the LCRRA and consider presenting it to local allied organizations or your elected municipal representatives.

Young people around the country call for "common ground"

This month, a coalition of young people around the country joined forces with Yale law student and independent filmmaker Valarie Kaur to launch the Campaign for Common Ground. The campaign envisions “a country where everyone can live without fear” and “aims to transform polarization through the recognition of common ground.”

Common Ground CampaignInspired by populist assaults on religious freedom and pluralism, the campaign launched on September 11, 2010, and is currently circulating an online charter for Americans to stand against Islamophobia through courage and compassionate dialogue. Today, September 15, is the anniversary of the first death in a hate crime inspired by 9/11: the murder of Balbir Singh Sodhi, a Sikh gas station proprietor in Arizona. The campaign urges people to honor this day by signing the Charter for Common Ground.


Please support BORDC's work to defend the Bill of Rights

Contribute funds or stock online, or mail a check or money order to:

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060


Editor: Amy Ferrer
Managing Editor: Barbara Haugen
Contributing Authors: Shahid Buttar, Emma Roderick, Dawinder S. Sidhu, and Stephanie Tang

Banner Photo Credit: Storm Front by Matthew Johnston

Bill of Rights Defense Committee
8 Bridge St., Suite A
Northampton, MA 01060
www.bordc.org
info@bordc.org
Telephone: (413) 582-0110
Fax: (413) 582-0116