Blog of Rights

This Week in Civil Liberties (03/22/2013)

By Rekha Arulanantham, ACLU at 5:08pm

How many friend-of-the-court briefs have been filed in support of Edie Windsor case against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

What bill has been proposed a second time with no changes to the privacy problems that caused President Obama to threaten a veto last year?

Which Senators proposed a bill that would require law enforcement to get a warrant before access your email and other online communications?

What 1963 Supreme Court case held that anyone accused of a felony offense should have guaranteed access to defense counsel, regardless of ability to pay?

We argued in court this week that law enforcement must get a warrant before attaching what surveillance device to your car?

Voices Against DOMA: We've Got Friends

We're almost there – next week, on March 27, the Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of the DOMA in Windsor's case. Essentially DOMA requires the federal government to treat legally married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples. In June, the Court will rule on whether DOMA violates equal protection by treating married gay couples as unmarried in over 1,100 federal programs.

The Supreme Court has been inundated with legal briefs from "friends of the court" supporting the ACLU's argument that DOMA is unconstitutional. Edie has now been joined by 46 other briefs filed by one of the most extraordinary collections of "friends of the court" ever assembled.

With CISPA, "It's all just a little bit of history repeating..."

The Propellerheads may have been talking about fashion trends when they sang that "to me it seems quite clear that it's all just a little bit of history repeating." But that sentiment rings loud and true today when talking about the privacy-busting cybersecurity bill CISPA.

Leaders of the House Intel Committee reintroduced CISPA with the same privacy flaws as last year. While they suggested at its unveiling that they worked with the privacy community and addressed our concerns, they didn't. This is the same bill, with the same problems.

The Bipartisan Push for Digital Due Process Rights Grows Stronger Every Day

This week the ACLU joined Americans for Tax Reform to push for an update to Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA), a little-known law which safeguards internet communications but hasn't been touched in nearly 30 years. Sen. Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) introduced a bipartisan bill that would do just that: it would require police to get a warrant before accessing email and all other online communications, like Facebook posts or photos we store in the cloud with Google, Yahoo, or any other provider.

Gideon Real Stories Project: Massive Caseloads in Memphis, Tennessee

Benjamin Rush, Jr. is a public defender in Memphis, Tennessee. Lawyers in his Shelby County office have caseloads that are three to four times larger than the national average, and Rush reports that he is often able to spend only minutes with his clients before they enter the courtroom. Not only are public defenders in Shelby County strapped for time and resources, but, according to Rush, "we face problems that regular criminal justice attorneys don't face – and that's poverty."

In deciding Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the Supreme Court held that our Constitution mandates that anyone accused of a felony offense should have guaranteed access to defense counsel to represent them, even if they cannot afford one. This promise was meant to ensure that the poor of our nation have equal access to justice. Fifty years after Gideon, this promise remains woefully unfulfilled.

ACLU in Court Today Arguing that GPS Tracking Requires a Warrant

Should law enforcement agents have to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to attach a GPS tracker to a vehicle and track its movements? Several months ago we asked the Third Circuit Court of Appeals to consider our argument that they should (you can read our amicus brief here). This week, we will be in court arguing that point in the case of Harry, Mark, and Michael Katzin.

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