The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Civil Liberties News for Week Ending July 6, 2006

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly run-down of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ HIV transmission suit @ Questions over data mining @ House hits ‘sanctuary cities’ @ ‘Blackness’ matters to juries @ Bush ranch protesters sue

Court OKs suits over HIV transmission

Email to a Friend
Print-friendly Version
Add to My Morning Paper

The California Supreme Court ruled Monday that people who have reason to know that they are HIV positive and who infect others because they did not take precautions can be sued in civil court.

The ruling came in a legal dispute between married partners who both accuse each other of "bringing HIV into their marriage." The court ruled that the wife – identified only as Bridget B – could, during the discovery phase of her lawsuit against John B., find out some of her husband’s sexual history in the months leading up to and during their matrimony.

Bridget alleges that John claimed he was not infected with any sexually transmitted diseases and that he was monogamous with her, convincing her to have unprotected intercourse with him. After both Bridget and John tested positive for HIV, and after John and his doctor had allegedly accused Bridget of infecting John, he later revealed that he had engaged in previously undisclosed sex with men prior to their marriage.

The contentious decision, which split the judges 4–3, wrangles with the balance between preventing the spread of communicable diseases and medical and sexual privacy, as well as what personal information plaintiffs can be allowed to ask for in attempting to prove negligence in spreading infection.

New developments emerge in phone data-mining story

USA Today ran a follow-up article last week about the federal government’s quest to build a national database of telephone calls. The piece provides further sourcing for some of the claims made when the story broke in May, though some of the sources call into question some information in the original article.

In the May 11 story, USA Today reported that major telecommunications companies AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth had handed over domestic call records to the National Security Agency without being served with a warrant.

In its follow-up June 30, the paper reported nineteen anonymous lawmakers who have since been briefed on the program by intelligence officials said the NSA has collected Americans’ domestic phone-call records, including information about the numbers dialed and call length.

The paper also reported that five nameless lawmakers confirmed that AT&T is a participant in the program. AT&T has not denied or acknowledged its role in the scheme.

BellSouth and Verizon have both denied participation, however, and USA Today reported that three lawmakers said they had been told BellSouth refused to hand over call records to the government. Four lawmakers told the paper that Verizon, too, had declined to cooperate, but that MCI – which Verizon acquired early this year – had contributed to the NSA database. Verizon has refused to comment on whether MCI was involved.

House takes aim at ‘sanctuary cities’

The House of Representatives has approved a bill carrying an amendment meant to fiscally punish cities that restrict when local law-enforcement agents can communicate with federal agents about the immigration status of suspects.

The amendment, introduced by Representative John Culberson (R-Texas), was tacked to an appropriations bill for Science and the Departments of State, Justice and Commerce. It is targeted at so-called "sanctuary cities," which, to varying degrees, have enacted policies meant to restrict officials from inquiring into the immigration status of those they suspect to be undocumented.

The purpose of such policies, as they apply to law enforcement, is often to enhance relationships between local police and immigrant communities in order to encourage crime victims and witnesses to come forward.

The bill would withhold federal funds for law enforcement to cities that do not comply with federal law, which says no state or local government or official can "prohibit, or in any way restrict" law-enforcement officers from requesting or sending information about the citizenship or immigration status of any individual.

Study: ‘blackness’ matters to juries choosing execution

Building on previous research suggesting people in the United States equate "stereotypically black" facial features with criminality, academics have found that the same perceptions influence how black defendants are sentenced during capital murder trials.

The research, published by Cornell Law School, compared the physical characteristics of black defendants’ faces to determine how stereotypically black they looked to viewers who were not told the men were capital murder defendants. The researchers then matched the perceived stereotypical blackness rating of the defendants with the sentences handed down by juries to determine whether there was a correlation, after controlling for factors such as the severity of the murder, prior convictions, and the defendant’s and victim’s socioeconomic status.

The researchers found that, for black defendants accused of killing white victims, death sentences were twice as likely for those who rated high on the stereotype scale as compared with those who were perceived to be less stereotypically black. When the murder victims were black, there was no statistically significant difference in sentencing outcomes based on the perception of blackness.

The study was conducted by researchers at Stanford University, the University of California–Los Angeles, Yale and Cornell Law School.

Protesters sue over denial of parking near Bush ranch

Prominent anti-war activists are suing officials in McLennan County, Texas over ordinances against parking and camping near President Bush’s ranch. The activists allege the ordinances violate protestors’ free-speech rights.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas says it filed the lawsuit on behalf of anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan; Colonel Ann Wright, who resigned from the State Department to protest the Iraq invasion; and Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed top-secret strategic assessments of the US invasion of Vietnam in 1971.

According to the Waco Tribune-Herald, McLennan County commissioners passed the parking and camping bans last year, shortly after Sheehan’s demand to meet with Bush inspired hundreds of activists to join her in a weeks-long vigil outside his ranch while he was on summer vacation.

The bans prevent parking on 23 miles of road near the ranch and the erection of structures or latrines in public rights of way.

The ACLU says the prohibitions would force protestors, who plan to return this summer, to stand in direct sun and walk miles for a bathroom.

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Digest originally appeared in the July 6, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

Recent contributions by Jessica Azulay: