The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Civil Liberties News Week Ending June 15

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly run-down of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ Pentagon sued over spy docs @ Media booted from Gitmo @ Bilingual ballots at risk @ Justices rule on death penalty @ Anti-affirmative-action ‘fraud’

Activists sue Pentagon over delayed FOIA requests

In an effort to pry information out of the government on its surveillance of nonviolent political groups, several organizations filed a lawsuit against the Defense Department over its refusal of grant Freedom of Information Act requests.

In a press release announcing the filing, the plaintiffs said that media reports about Defense Department spying activities led them to believe the Pentagon was gathering information on dissident groups and sharing its surveillance with other agencies through a database known as the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON). In December 2005, NBC News obtained part of the TALON database and found that it contained information about 48 anti-war meetings or protests.

In February 2006, the ACLU and other groups filed requests under the Freedom of Information Act, seeking any documents related to surveillance of protesters and peace organizations and the use of TALON to share information about those groups across agencies. The Defense Department has not yet complied with the requests.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of itself, the American Friends Service Committee, Greenpeace, Veterans for Peace, United for Peace and Justice, and 26 local groups and activists.

Citing ‘Fairness,’ Gitmo Officials Boot Media from Camp

The Pentagon yesterday ordered reporters for three major US news outlets to leave the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba, purportedly because officials had excluded other reporters from the site.

A spokesperson for the military said the journalists were expelled because the Pentagon had unfairly given them permission to enter the base, but had denied at least five other media organizations’ requests to cover the recent detainee deaths there.

"The Defense Department wants to be fair and impartial," Cynthia Smith, a civilian spokeswoman for the department, told the LA Times. "We got them on the next flight out of Guantánamo Bay to be fair to the rest of the media outlets that did not get a chance to go down there."

The Times was one of the outlets booted from the base. The others were the Miami Herald and the Charlotte Observer.

In an interview with Editor & Publisher, Tom Fiedler, executive editor of the Miami Herald, said: "My argument would always be that it is in the interest of the Department of Defense to be as transparent as possible… Given the controversy that has surrounded the detention facility since its inception, if the government has nothing to hide there, it ought to allow free and broad access to the news media there."

Immigrants appeal to Senate: renew Voting Rights Act

The Senate Judiciary Committee this week heard testimony from advocates for immigrant communities on the need to renew sections of the Voting Rights Act aimed at helping people with limited English skills at the polls.

Sections of the Act, including 203, which mandates bilingual election materials, are set to expire in 2007 if lawmakers do not renew them. The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Section 203 was added ten years later.

In a prepared statement before the committee, Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said Section 203 "has opened up the political process for Asian Americans, especially first-time voters and new citizens."

Citing a 2004 exit poll conducted by her group, Fung said, almost a third of the 11,000 Asian American respondents needed some form of language assistance to vote. "At the most fundamental level," Fung said, "translated ballots in voting machines have enabled Asian Americans to exercise their right to vote privately and independently inside the polling booth."

Also speaking before the committee were groups advocating against Section 203 on the grounds that it would discourage English proficiency or dilute the meaning of citizenship and national unity.

But speakers from groups representing voters who are not English proficient said that discrimination in education and limited opportunities for English language instruction create a reality in which inequality in poll access will exist unless remedied through laws like the Voting Rights Act.

High court rules twice in favor of Death Row appeals

The US Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that a challenge to lethal injection could proceed under civil rights law. The case was brought by a Florida Death Row inmate who says lethal injection constitutes cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court did not decide on the merits of lethal injection, but said Clarence Hill could move forward with his claim.

Similar claims have been brought in various states, and in April, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing how the three-drug combination used in most lethal injection executions may cause pain in some instances because of improper administration.

In another death-penalty-related ruling on the same day, the high court ruled 5–3 in favor of a Death Row inmate who is challenging his conviction based on new DNA evidence. In their first ruling on factoring new DNA evidence into old cases, the justices ordered a new hearing, based on the supposition that a jury may have ruled differently given the new evidence.

Suit filed in case of ‘fraudulent’ affirmative-action opposition

The Michigan Civil Rights Commission Monday blasted an anti-affirmative-action group for conducting a "fraudulent" campaign to put a measure banning the practice on the November ballot.

After an extensive public-hearing process, the Commission determined that the citizens’ group Michigan Civil Rights Initiative (MCRI) had misled the public when gathering the more than 300,000 signatures needed to put its initiative on the ballot. The Commission found that MCRI canvassers in multiple communities incorrectly told voters that the initiative was pro-affirmative action and that prominent black community leaders supported it.

The MCRI proposal would amend the state constitution to prohibit the use of affirmative action in public employment, education and contracting.

The Commission, which is a body of the state’s executive branch created by the Michigan Constitution, submitted its report to the state Supreme Court, which is currently considering a challenge to the ballot language brought by the civil rights group Operation King’s Dream.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Digest originally appeared in the June 15, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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