The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Civil Liberties News for Week Ending June 13

by Jessica Azulay

A weekly run-down of stories related to rights, privacy, etc. @ Mass. same-sex marriage @ Kentucky blog ban @ Ga. voter ID law zapped @ Alaska pot privacy OK’ed

Mass. legislature delays same-sex marriage ban

Massachusetts lawmakers put off a decision yesterday on whether move forward with amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriages. The amendment would overturn the marriage rights of gay and lesbian couples in the only state that currently recognizes them.

The anti-gay-marriage initiative was among about 20 slated for consideration during a special legislative session yesterday, but before discussing the marriage amendment, lawmakers voted to adjourn the session, effectively postponing debate until November. Proponents of the amendment will need only 50 votes out of 200 lawmakers to move the amendment to the next step: another legislative vote in 2008. If it passes that vote, it would go before voters in November of that year.

Opponents of same-sex marriage condemned lawmakers for not moving forward with the initiative and accused them of trying to insulate themselves from a tricky vote before the November 2006 elections.

Queer-rights activists celebrated the delayed vote, saying it would give them more time to lobby.

Rights activists have also tried, but failed, to convince the state Supreme Court to rule the ballot initiative unconstitutional on the grounds that it seeks to overturn a judicial decision. The court, which ruled in 2004 that prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the state constitution, ruled Monday that citizens must be able to vote on initiatives that would overrule the laws that previous court decisions were based on.

Though the court did not vote to overturn the amendment proposal, one of the judges wrote that if the amendment passes, the court may take up the issue again to determine “whether the initiative procedure may be used to add a constitutional provision that purposefully discriminates against an oppressed and disfavored minority of our citizens in direct contravention of the principles of liberty and equality protected by Article I of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights.�

Kentucky blog ban spurs protest

The consumer-advocacy group Public Citizen announced Monday that it had filed a lawsuit on behalf of a popular Kentucky blogger, whose site – along with others – has been made off-limits to state employees.

In what Kentucky Governor Ernie Fletcher said was coincidental timing, state employees’ access to Mark Nickolas’s website BluegrassReport.org from work was blocked just a day after Nickolas was quoted criticizing Fletcher in a New York Times article. Nickolas is a Democratic Party insider. Fletcher is Republican.

Fletcher’s office said the ban was part of an effort to keep state employees from wasting time on the Internet and that access to all blogs was being gradually curtailed. The state is not blocking access to traditional media websites.

In a press statement announcing the lawsuit, attorney Jennifer A. Moore said the ban “constitutes content-based discrimination.�

“While the state may regulate what its employees do during work hours,� she said, “it cannot selectively control the reading material of employees based on content. The state also cannot discriminate based on traditional and non-traditional media sites.�

Ga. judge overturns voter ID requirements

A federal judge in Georgia has rebuffed state efforts to enforce a strict voter-identification law that civil liberties activists had challenged as discriminatory.

US District Judge Harold Murphy yesterday ruled for the second time in two years that Georgia cannot require voters to present a government-issued photo ID at the polls because doing so would be unfair to people who do not have passports or drivers’ licenses. Last year, Murphy said the requirement was unlawful because of the fees associated with obtaining the IDs.

This year, after the state legislature revised the law to provide free identification, Murphy agreed with civil-rights groups that the time and transportation required to obtain the identification cards would discourage voting. Murphy also noted that no confirmed cases of fraud involving in-person voting had been documented in the state for years.

Alaska pot-smoking privacy protections upheld

An Alaska court struck down part of a new statewide anti-marijuana law Monday, saying that constitutionally guaranteed privacy rights protect people possessing and using small amounts of pot at home from criminal prosecution.

As previously reported by The NewStandard, Governor Frank Murkowski signed HB 149 into law on June 2, attempting to reverse a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision that established privacy protections for marijuana use at home. Superior Court Judge Patricia Collins Monday based her ruling on the state supreme court’s precedent.

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the new law on behalf of two anonymous marijuana users. According to the Associated Press, the state intends to appeal the ruling.


 

The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.


This News Digest originally appeared in the July 13, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Jessica Azulay is a staff journalist.

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