The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Civil Liberties Digest

Civil Liberties News for Week Ending 5/17

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly run-down of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ Ga. same-sex marriage @ Gitmo detainees listed @ Wiretapping call-in action @ NY DNA database fight @ Tex. lethal injection

Georgia same-sex marriage ban nixed by judge

A superior-court judge Tuesday struck down Georgia’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage, saying the ballot initiative that created the law violated the state constitution. In 2004, Georgia voters approved an amendment to ban same-sex marriage. But Judge Constance C. Russell said yesterday that voters must first be asked if they think same-sex couples should have any relationship rights.

"People who believe marriages between men and women should have a unique and privileged place in our society may also believe that same-sex relationships should have some place – although not marriage," Russell wrote, according to the Associated Press.

She said the ballot measure violated Georgia’s "single-subject rule," which prohibits multiple questions in one measure. The ballot question asked voters to simultaneously approve a ban on same-sex marriage and a prohibition on same-sex civil unions. Upholding the rule "protects the right of those people to hold both views and reflect both judgments by their vote," wrote Russell.

Guantánamo detainee list released

After years of stalling, the Pentagon has finally released what it says are the names of all inmates who have been or who are being held at the US military-run prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. The list of 759 names, hometowns and birth dates was pried out of the government’s grasp by a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Associated Press.

Earlier this year, the government released a partial list of detainees’ names, but the identities of the captives was buried in pages of other documentation about tribunal proceedings at the base.

Still, the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has led the charge to grant the detainees legal rights and access to US civilian courts, issued a statement Tuesday, calling on the government to release the names of prisoners the CIA is thought to be holding as "ghost detainees" in prisons around the world. The identities and locations of such detainees are not even known by the International Committee of the Red Cross.


Groups organize call-in over wiretapping

Hoping to capitalize on public outrage over the latest revelations that telecommunications companies helped the government amass huge amounts of information about their customers’ calls, groups fighting government surveillance have organized a national call-in campaign to ask lawmakers to take action.

The groups –including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union – are asking supporters to increase public pressure on lawmakers who have been reluctant to rein in the Bush administration.

Specifically, they are hoping callers will ask lawmakers to oppose proposed legislation that would legalize currently prohibited wiretapping and surveillance, and to demand a full investigation into the growing National Security Agency wiretapping scandal.


Rights groups fight proposed New York DNA database expansion

The debate over whose DNA should be kept on file by local and state authorities heated up in New York this week, with Governor George Pataki and law enforcement groups squaring off against civil liberties groups. The New York Senate has already passed a measure proposed by Pataki that would warehouse the DNA of all people convicted of crimes, even nonviolent ones. The Assembly has not signed off on the idea.

Aside from opposing the proposed expansion of what some believe would become the largest DNA database in the nation, the New York Civil Liberties Union used the media attention generated by the legislation to point to county databases run outside state regulation. The ACLU says people who were merely suspected of crimes or who submitted their genetic material in order to be ruled out from suspicion have unknowingly been filed in such databases.

"These ‘rogue’ databases operate outside the law, and yet the state has yet to rein them in," said Arthur Eisenberg, NYCLU Legal Director.


Battle over lethal injection reaches Texas

While the US Supreme Court considers a case argued last month over whether Death Row inmates can challenge lethal injection as a violation of their civil rights, state courts are increasingly, if temporarily, staying executions a wait and see approach.

On Monday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals granted a reprieve to Derrick Sean O’Brien, who received the death penalty after being convicted in the 1993 murder of two teenage girls. O’Brien was scheduled to be executed Tuesday.

In Florida, where the Supreme Court case originated, and in a handful of other states, inmates have successfully won temporary stays of execution based on the argument that lethal injection methods constitute cruel and unusual punishment. The court rulings have come as evidence mounts that the three-drug regimen used to kill Death Row inmates may in some cases cause excruciating pain.

O’Brien’s was the first successfully postponed over the lethal-injection argument in Texas, which kills more convicts than any other state. However, another execution – that of Jermaine Herron – is still scheduled to go forward Wednesday.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the May 17, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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