The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

News Digest

Civil Liberties News for Week Ending 5/25

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly run-down of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ NOLA Prosecutions Suspended @ ACLU Pushes State Spy Probes @ Marriage Amendment Advances @ CIA Nominee Approved @ High Court Endorses Police Entry

Judge suspends New Orleans prosecutions due to broke system

With the New Orleans public-defender system in dire financial trouble, Judge Arthur L. Hunter Jr. has suspended prosecutions in most cases where the defendant is too poor to afford a lawyer.

The New York Times reported Tuesday that the public-defenders system in the Crescent City is essentially out of money. The news comes on the heals of a US Justice Department report obtained by the LA Times two weeks ago finding that New Orleans need six times as many public defenders and $10 million just to be adequate.

The city’s public-defender system, like those throughout Louisiana, is funded largely through local court fees. Hunter, along with another judge, recently declared the funding scheme unconstitutional. The state plans to appeal.

ACLU pushes 20 states to probe NSA spying; FCC turns back

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday issued a barrage of state-level complaints in an attempt to spur investigations into telecommunication companies’ alleged assistance in the controversial National Security Agency spying program. ACLU said chapters in 20 states demanded that Public Utilities Commissions, attorneys generals or other officials probe local telephone companies for evidence of participation in tracking or eavesdropping on Americans’ communications.

The Federal Communications Commission has refused to investigate large companies implicated by news media in handing over customer records to the NSA. In a letter to US Representative Edward Markey (D-Massachusetts), the FCC wrote, "The classified nature of the NSA's activities makes us unable to investigate the alleged violations." The letter was dated May 22 and released to the public by Markey on Tuesday.

In addition to asking the FCC to reconsider that position, the ACLU filed complaints or requested investigations in Massachusetts, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Washington.

Senate Republicans take election-year stab at banning gay marriage

In what some observers saw as an attempt to whip up the party base ahead of upcoming mid-term elections, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to send a proposed anti-gay-marriage amendment to the floor for debate.

The amendment would change the US Constitution to ban state-sanctioned same-sex marriages. Baring significant change in support between the last vote on the proposed amendment and early June when a new vote is expected, the measure will fall short of the 67 votes needed to send it to the states for ratification. Yet, forcing the full Senate to consider the measure provides an opportunity for lawmakers hoping to run on anti-gay platforms.

Senators approve warrantless eavesdropper to head CIA

Republican and Democratic lawmakers joined together Tuesday to overwhelmingly approve as CIA chief one of the architects of the National Security Agency’s controversial domestic-spying program.

Members of the Senate Committee on Intelligence voted 12–3 to send Air Force General Michael Hayden’s candidacy to run the CIA to a vote by the full Senate. Despite concerns about installing a military officer at the head of the CIA and revelations that Hayden ran the National Security Agency when it decided to eavesdrop on calls without a warrant, only three Democrats voted against his nomination.

High court grants police entry in non-emergency situations

The US Supreme Court unanimously decreed that, in some cases, police can legally enter a home without a warrant or permission from the occupant, even if there is not a clear medical emergency.

In its May 22 ruling in the case of Brigham City v. Stuart, the court decided officers had not violated the Constitution when they entered a Utah home in which five people were engaged in physical altercation. The police entered without knocking and arrested the brawlers. Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the opinion on behalf of the unanimous court, acknowledged the officers did not see a serious enough injury to justify entry based on a medical emergency. However, Roberts wrote: "The role of a peace officer includes preventing violence and restoring order, not simply rendering first aid to casualties."

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the May 25, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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