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DHS' Threat to Prosecute Officials of Sanctuary Cities Is Unconstitutional

American Civil Liberties Union - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 17:30
The Constitution guarantees that state and local governments can opt out of the federal deportation system.

In testimony before Congress yesterday, Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen confirmed that her agency is seeking the prosecution of state and local officials in jurisdictions that limit their entanglement with federal immigration enforcement.

Even in the context of the Trump administration’s frequent disregard for the Constitution, Nielsen’s threat to prosecute mayors, legislators, and police chiefs over policy disagreements is shocking. There is no basis in federal law to prosecute government officials who decide, with and on behalf of their constituents, that their communities are better served by opting out of participation in the federal deportation system. And that kind of prosecution would be an assault on the principles at the core of our constitutional system.

Nielsen’s threat may or may not be empty. Either way, it is unacceptable.

We are now nearly one year into the Trump administration’s seemingly endless attempts to threaten, cajole, and coerce local governments into abandoning what is commonly referred to as “sanctuary” policies. There are hundreds of such jurisdictions that, in a variety of ways, have decided not to entangle themselves in the federal government’s deportation program. Those communities have decided it’s not worth the financial burden or legal risk or harm to public safety and community trust — or all of the above.

Unhappy with those decisions, the administration has tried a laundry list of tactics over the last year to intimidate localities into giving up. Its attempts to take away federal funding, for example, have been met with defeat after defeat after defeat in the courts. And its attempt to publicly embarrass localities into changing their policies with a weekly report had to be suspended when Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s rampant errors came to light and law enforcement rightly balked at this form of bullying.

The most recent broadside in this campaign is the administration’s decision to float the possibility of criminal prosecutions. In an interview earlier this month, Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan said he had asked the Justice Department to look into charging local officials with violating a federal statute for “harboring” noncitizens. Yesterday, Secretary Nielsen doubled down, confirming that her agency had sought such prosecutions. And, like Homan, she made clear that the threat of prosecution was being used as a political cudgel.

These threats are lawless and baseless. Local officials commit no crime when they and their communities decide not to participate in deportations. They do not, as Homan wrongly claimed, harbor anyone from deportation by simply opting out. ICE can arrest people on its own — and in fact Congress gives the agency billions of taxpayer dollars each year to do just that.

But local police are under no obligation to use their time and resources to help with arrest, detention, and deportation. Local jails need not allow ICE agents to roam their facilities, conduct interrogations, and make arrests without a judicial warrant. And government officials need not share home addresses of local residents to make it easier for ICE to carry out its mass deportation campaign. The point of sanctuary policies is non-participation, meaning that if ICE wants to arrest and deport people it must do the work itself. There is nothing at all criminal about that, and it is irresponsible to suggest otherwise.

In fact, state and local governments’ ability to opt out of the federal deportation system is constitutionally guaranteed. The framers of the Constitution recognized that distributing authority — including between the federal government and the states — protects against the accumulation and abuse of power by a tyrant or group of tyrants. As the Supreme Court has explained, this principle prevents the federal government from requiring state and local officers to become de facto federal agents. Therefore, even if the administration’s imaginary crime of declining to help ICE deport people actually existed, it would be struck down as unconstitutional.

Of course, these threats may be empty, like the now-disavowed threats to strip “sanctuary” cities of all their federal funding. But, regardless, the idea of these prosecutions is insidious. At bottom, the administration’s complaint is that localities are adopting policies with which it disagrees. This idea of locking up elected officials for their political speech, beliefs, and votes is contrary to the First Amendment and the democratic principles on which our country was founded. Even the suggestion is dangerous and reprehensible.

Join us at #YLC2018!

National Association of the Deaf - Wed, 01/17/2018 - 09:07

Join us at #YLC2018 at Stayton, Oregon!

Important dates this year:

  • February 2nd — Leaders (campers) application deadline
  • March 31st — Builders (staff) application deadline
  • July 12 – 18 — Staff Training
  • July 19 – August 16 — YLC Camp!
  • August 17- 19 — Staff Wrap-Up

Don’t wait, apply today!

 

Intel Dem decries White House 'gag order' after Bannon testimony

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 21:00
The top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee on Tuesday night slammed what he described as a "gag order by the White House" following testimony from President Trump's former chief strategist, Stephen Ban...
Categories: The Hill

'Total free-for-all' as Bannon clashes with Intel members

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 20:19
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon on Tuesday rocketed to the center of the public controversy surrounding the Trump campaign and Russia.
Categories: The Hill

Majority of National Park Service advisory board resigns amid protest

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 19:15
A majority of the members of a National Park Service advisory board resigned their posts Monday night in protest of how Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has treated them, according to a new report....
Categories: The Hill

Big Corporations Make Millions by Selling People a Chance to Get Out of Jail

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 18:15
Who benefits from wealth-based incarceration? The bail sharks.

If you got arrested, could you come up with the bail needed to buy your immediate freedom?

For most people, the answer is no. Even though those arrested haven’t been convicted of a crime, the only way for them to get out of jail while they await their day in court is to come up with an alternative source of money. Enter big insurance companies like Lexington National. They’ll get you out, but you have to pay them a fee that you’ll never get back, which guarantees them a hefty profit regardless of the outcome of the case.

If you think this is corporate greed run amok, you aren’t alone. The legal right to turn a profit on bail is a rare phenomenon globally: It's only legal in the U.S. and the Philippines. And for good reason.

After all, the people accused of a crime — and their families desperate to have them home — are hardly in a position to bargain. Since they run the risk of losing their job or home, the accused are at the mercy of bail bond companies, which have a huge amount of leverage over people who sign their exploitative contracts. That’s why bail contracts often contain terms like installment plans and high interest rates that lead to years of debt.

These contracts might even allow a bail bond agent to return a person to jail simply because their collateral loses value — after, for example, a car crash or a house fire — or because they got a new phone number without immediately notifying the insurance agent. These contracts often also allow bond companies to follow their “clients” and to demand detailed information about their lives — like where they go, who they see, and when they get a new job — or to search their family’s property at any time without notice or a warrant.

And no matter what happens, the person who entered into a bail bond contract — often a mom, wife, sister, or other female family member — is on the hook to pay. Even if a person does everything he is required to, and even if he is eventually found not guilty, he’s paying the company’s fee.

These “bail sharks” have a pretty sweet deal, altogether raking in about $2 billion a year. And because these companies are so profitable, they are able to pour money into state-level candidates, committees, parties, and ballot measures to push back against the growing national momentum for bail reform. For example, Lexington National is working in states across the country to fight reforms that threaten their profits. They even went so far as to sue New Jersey after the state overhauled its money bail system.

Last year, the Garden State moved to a system that no longer relies so heavily on money bail. Before the change, it was common for people who could not afford to pay bail to be jailed awaiting trial for months. The average wait was a whopping 10 months.

Courts in the state now rarely set money bail, instead allowing most people to return home. The number of people locked up in the state’s jails awaiting trial has plummeted, and people are showing up to court as required. Reform is working for the people of New Jersey.

Lexington National isn’t so pleased, however. They are suing the state to bring back money bail. It’s not hard to guess why. Lexington National filed suit, arguing that there is a constitutional right to money bail. They do not argue that more people should be released before trial. Rather, they contend that people should have the right to pay cash bail to secure their release. Put simply, Lexington National wants to preserve the bail system to protect its bottom line.

New Jersey provides an example of a successful alternative to relying so heavily on money bail. That threatens the industry’s profits, not just there, but in all the other states considering making the same move away from money bail.

Litigation isn’t the only way Lexington National tries to subvert bail reform.

In Maryland, the company donated thousands of dollars since 2011 to the chairs of legislative committees that oversee legislation that would impact the state’s bail bond industry as well as other legislators during the election cycle. In 2014, it contributed to a failed campaign effort in California to keep penalties — and therefore bail amounts — high for low-level property and drug crimes. These investments give Lexington the opportunity to try to exert their influence over lawmakers who are actively considering reforms to the bail system.

And when they win, communities of color lose. Companies like Lexington National prey upon communities already targeted by the criminal justice system. Black people are more likely to be arrested because of over-policing, more likely to be assigned cash bail than white people arrested for similar crimes, and more likely to have a higher bail amount set.

Because cash bail disproportionately impacts Black communities, bail bond companies exert a huge amount of influence over their freedom and sap community resources. In 2015, for example, approximately 4,900 families in New Orleans paid $4.7 million in nonrefundable premiums to for-profit bail companies like Lexington National. Eighty-four percent of the bail premiums and associated fees were paid by Black residents.

We’ll continue to regularly highlight bail sharks like Lexington National to emphasize just how broken our money bail system really is. If the same companies that profit off of the status quo are influencing the lawmakers who could pass meaningful reforms, our bail system will continue to exploit vulnerable communities, especially communities of color, and fuel mass incarceration.

In 2018, states across the country will consider pursuing meaningful reforms to their money bail system. But by shining a light on the predatory activities of bail sharks, we have a chance to fight back and secure the smart justice reforms our country deserves.

The Trump Administration Abandons Its Obligations to Trans Students

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 18:00
The Education Department says that claims of discrimination against transgender students are now outside its jurisdiction.

The Trump Administration didn’t wait long to deliver its first blow to equality for transgender communities in 2017.

Last February, the administration withdrew guidance issued by the Departments of Education and Justice in 2016 that helped public schools implement Title IX, the 45-year-old federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education to make schools safer and more just for transgender students. Now, according to new reporting by the Huffington Post, the Trump administration is doubling down on exclusion and bigotry, with the Department of Education dismissing complaints of discrimination brought by transgender students.

The Huffington Post reports that it uncovered at least three cases of alleged anti-transgender discrimination that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights dismissed over the past few months. In one case in Texas, a transgender student accused his high school of not allowing him to use the bathroom that corresponds to his gender identity or room with his teammates when they traveled overnight. In response to his complaint, the department’s Office for Civil Rights cited the administration’s rescission of the Obama guidance for its dismissal of the teenager’s complaint.

There’s a good reason the Trump Department dismantled the guidance. When it was issued, the guidance provided important clarity to public schools across the country on the steps they needed to take to ensure that they were respecting the civil rights of their transgender students, such as using the appropriate pronouns when addressing a transgender student. When the Trump administration withdrew the guidance, it sowed confusion by removing that clarity.

However, it did not — nor could it — remove the underlying legal requirements on school districts. Courts have repeatedly concluded that federal civil rights laws like Title IX protect transgender students against discrimination, including in the context of restroom and locker room use. The exact kind of cases that the department’s Office for Civil Rights is now killing.

According to the Department of Education, claims of discrimination against transgender students are now outside of its jurisdiction. But nothing could be further from the truth. The Trump administration is simply choosing to abandon their obligation under federal law. With this shameful inaction, the Trump administration is attempting to write transgender students out of the protections of Title IX.

The Trump administration may abdicate its responsibility to transgender students, but the ACLU will not. Just because the Department of Education may choose not to uphold the law, it doesn’t mean the law has changed. The ACLU will continue to fight — including in court — for transgender students’ right to an education free from discrimination.

If you or a trans student you know has suffered discrimination at school, contact the ACLU.

WH doctor: Trump in 'excellent' health, mentally fit for office

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 16:01
"There's no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues," the doctor said.
Categories: The Hill

Martin Luther King Stood for More Than Love

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 12:30
On MLK's birthday, we owe thanks to everyone who continues to work for racial justice with their backs as straight as can be.

This piece originally appeared at The Hill.

Martin Luther King often spoke of the need for unconditional love. In 1955, he told Black America, “We want to love our enemies — be good to them. This is what we must live by; we must meet hate with love. We must love our white brothers no matter what they do to us.” In his remarks on the King holiday, President Trump referred to love five times in three sentences.

“[King] would later write, ‘It was quite easy for me to think of a god of love mainly because I grew up in a family where love was central.’ That is what Reverend King preached all his life. Love. Love for each other, for neighbors, and for our fellow Americans. Dr. King’s faith in his love for humanity led him and so many heroes to courageously stand up for civil rights of African-Americans,” Trump said.

That is a whole lot of love, especially if it is the kind that says we love you no matter what you do to or say about us. I am not discounting the power of love, but celebrations of King focus on his “dream” and what he saw “at the mountaintop” because those things focus on the hoped-for end result: racial justice, brought about by love.

To finish reading this piece at The Hill, please click here.

Mueller has subpoenaed Bannon in Russia probe: report

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 11:49
Former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon was subpoenaed last week by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the federal probe into Russian interference in the presidential election, ...
Categories: The Hill

Trump crushes Bannon while Bannon testifies on Russia

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:45
It is unwise for the president to attack someone who will testify under oath before Congress and Robert Mueller.
Categories: The Hill

The People v. Donald Trump

American Civil Liberties Union - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:45
In the first year of Trump’s presidency, the courts have acted exactly how the Founders intended them to.

Legal scholars and progressives have long expressed doubt about the utility of courts in advancing social justice. They argue that courts are inherently conservative, that victories often prompt costly backlashes, and that focusing on courts diverts attention from the more important work that needs to be done in the political arena.

The first year of the Trump administration suggests that this skepticism is overstated. Much to the president’s dismay, those he calls “so-called judges” have repeatedly ruled against the Trump administration. Judges appointed by Republicans and Democrats alike have enforced constitutional guarantees against a president who has shown little regard for the Constitution.

In this respect, the courts have performed just as Alexander Hamilton hoped they would. In the Federalist Papers, Hamilton argued that a judiciary with life tenure and the power to declare the political branches’ actions unconstitutional was essential, so that judges could serve as “the bulwarks of a limited Constitution.” Rarely has that role been more essential.

Consider the results.

Muslim ban 

Multiple courts have invalidated all three versions of President Trump’s travel ban, enacted to make good on his campaign promise to prohibit Muslims from entering the country. The first court ruling against the ban came in an ACLU case filed just one day after Trump introduced it. Trump abandoned the first two versions of the ban after courts repeatedly ruled them illegal. The third and most recent version, also declared invalid by the courts, is now headed to the Supreme Court. But already, Trump has been forced to revise and limit his initial action.

Transgender military ban 

Two federal courts have preliminarily struck down President Trump’s prohibition on transgender people serving in the military, a policy he announced on Twitter without even consulting the military, which had previously determined that there was no reason to exclude transgender servicemembers. In December, two federal appeals courts unanimously rejected the administration’s effort to lift those injunctions, pending appeal. Cutting its losses, the administration chose not to seek Supreme Court review.

Abortion access 

Federal courts in the District of Columbia have twice ordered the Trump administration to stop obstructing access to abortion for teenagers in federal immigration custody. The head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, Scott Lloyd, has no experience with immigration but is an ardent opponent of abortion. He has refused to allow four undocumented minors in federal custody to obtain abortions, even though they have a constitutionally protected right to do so. After federal courts repeatedly ruled for the women, the Trump administration backed down in the two most recent instances, releasing the women from its custody when the ACLU filed suit.

DACA

In December, a federal court in San Francisco temporarily ordered the administration to allow “Dreamers,” the undocumented immigrants whose parents brought them here as children, to renew their applications for protection from deportation, under the program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA. On Jan. 13, the administration announced that it would follow the order and allow DACA recipients to renew their status pending a final resolution of the lawsuit.

“Enemy combatant” detention

In December, a federal court ordered the Trump administration to afford the ACLU access to an unnamed U.S. citizen the military has been detaining in an undisclosed location in Iraq without charges and without access to a lawyer for four months. The government chose not to seek an immediate appeal, and allowed the ACLU to consult with the detainee, who confirmed that he wanted legal help to challenge his detention. In Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court sharply rejected President George W. Bush’s assertion that he had unchecked power to hold U.S. citizens as “enemy combatants,” yet Trump is at it again.

Contraception insurance coverage

A federal court in Pennsylvania has preliminarily enjoined President Trump’s rollback of an Obamacare requirement that employers cover the cost of contraception in the insurance plans they provide to their employees.

Sanctuary cities

A federal court in California barred the Trump administration from denying federal funds to cities and counties that adopt “sanctuary” policies and decline to enforce federal immigration laws. (Under the Tenth Amendment, states cannot be compelled to enforce federal law, but the Trump administration threatened to make big funding cuts to coerce states into doing so.)

Voter suppression

On Jan. 3, President Trump disbanded his controversial “voter integrity” commission, designed to establish a basis for supporting Republican voter suppression efforts. Trump’s order ending the commission explained that “rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission.” The commission had been sued not only by numerous civil rights groups, but even by one of its own members.

Not every constitutional challenge has been successful. A federal judge in New York recently dismissed a case charging Trump with violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which forbids the president from accepting any “emolument,” or payment, from a foreign or domestic state official. The court did not rule on the merits, but merely concluded that the plaintiffs did not have sufficiently concrete injuries to raise the claim. (Two other Emoluments Clause lawsuits are pending, brought by members of Congress and the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia.) But other than this decision, the Trump administration has been singularly unsuccessful defending its actions in court.

In some sense, the long line of victories is a sign of how careless Trump has been when it comes to constitutional constraint. Trump’s utter disregard for convention, including in constitutional matters, does not play well with courts, whose job is to maintain those very conventions. In addition, there can be little doubt that the overwhelming public condemnation of many of these initiatives, by experts and ordinary citizens alike, and by Republicans as well as Democrats, has played an important part in buttressing the judicial push-back. We should never underestimate the power of dissent and criticism as a constraint on government abuse.

The battle is by no means over. Most of these cases are ongoing. The Supreme Court has yet to rule on the merits of any of them. It will almost certainly take up the challenge to the latest version of the travel ban later this year, and that will be Trump’s first test in the Supreme Court. (The Court has stayed the lower courts’ injunctions pending its review).

It remains to be seen whether the Supreme Court will be as forceful a “bulwark of a limited Constitution” as the lower courts have been. But one thing is clear: thus far, the federal courts have been willing to do just what Hamilton hoped they would: Stand up to the president in defense of liberty.

Adult film star: Trump and Stormy Daniels invited me to 'hang out'

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 10:31
An adult film star who is friends with Stormy Daniels says that the actress and President Trump once invited her to "hang out" with them after reports emerged last week that a Trump lawyer once paid Daniels $130,000 in hu...
Categories: The Hill

Iowa voters laugh after GOP senator says Trump is standing up for Norway

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 09:15
Voters in Iowa laughed when Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) told them that President Trump was standing up for countries like Norway.Constituents asked Ernst what she would do to stand up to Trump after his comments refer...
Categories: The Hill

Dems say they have 50 votes in Senate to overrule net neutrality repeal

The Hill - Tue, 01/16/2018 - 08:49
Senate Democrats have put together 50 votes for a measure meant to block the Federal Communications Commission's December decision to end net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration.Democrats are...
Categories: The Hill

Trump said he didn't care about CBC's demands during tense immigration meeting: report

The Hill - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 22:01
President Trump told lawmakers that he didn't care about the demands of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) during a tense meeting on immigration last week, ...
Categories: The Hill

Pastor condemned Trump's 's---hole' remark in service Pence attended: report

The Hill - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 20:31
A Maryland pastor condemned President Trump's comments calling Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries" at a service attended by Vice President Pence, ...
Categories: The Hill

US officials warned Kushner about friendship with Wendi Deng Murdoch: report

The Hill - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 17:15
U.S. officials warned Jared Kushner last year that his friend, Chinese-American businesswoman Wendi Deng Murdoch, could be taking advantage of her close friendship with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, to promote China...
Categories: The Hill

Trump attacks 'Dicky Durbin' over 's---hole' remarks

The Hill - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 15:43
President Trump blasted Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) on Twitter Monday, claiming the senator "totally misrepresented" his comments after Durbin said Trump called Haiti, El Salvador and African nations "shithole countries."...
Categories: The Hill

Sanders calls out Amazon after 2-year-old orders Batman toy using Echo

The Hill - Mon, 01/15/2018 - 10:56
'Alexa, we have a problem,' Sanders writes from official White House Twitter account.
Categories: The Hill

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