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Legal news from Friday, December 16, 2011




DOJ says Arizona sheriff's office has history of violating civil rights
Dan Taglioli on December 16, 2011 3:04 PM ET

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[JURIST] The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] Thursday announced the findings of its three-year civil rights investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO). The investigation concluded that there is reasonable cause to believe that MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of violating the Constitution [DOJ press release] and laws of the US in three areas. First, the DOJ found that the MCSO engages in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing, specifically in racial profiling of Latinos and in the unlawful stops, detains and arrests resulting therefrom. Next, the DOJ found that the MCSO unlawfully retaliates against people who criticize its policies and practices. Finally, the DOJ found reasonable cause to believe that the MCSO operates its jails in a manner that discriminates against Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient, routinely punishing Latino inmates that are limited-English-proficient when they fail to understand commands given in English, and denying critical services that are provided to other inmates. Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez made the findings announcement, criticizing the MCSO for failing to cooperate with requests for information, which caused the investigation to to take longer than expected. Perez concluded,
The problems identified in our letter of findings are very serious. They affect public safety, officer safety on the street and in the jail, and they implicate important constitutional protections. Effective policing and constitutional policing go hand in hand. Other departments have recognized this, and we are working collaboratively with us to address important issues. ... If collaboration again proves elusive, we will not hesitate to take prompt, appropriate legal action.
The investigation found discriminatory policing that was deeply rooted in the culture of the department, one that breeds a systemic disregard for basic constitutional protections, the problems of which are compounded by the MCSO's penchant for retaliation against people who speak out against them. The DOJ is also reviewing allegations that the MCSO has failed to investigate a large number of sex crimes.

The role of local law enforcement has garnered much focus in recent years, especially in the area of immigration control, since the passage [JURIST report] of the infamous Arizona immigration law [SB 1070 materials; JURIST news archive], which led to passage of similar enforcement laws in other states. Critics of these laws call them "racial profiling" laws or, more aptly, "show me your papers" laws because they require all immigrants to carry their documents with them at all times for production on demand by state law enforcement officers. In November Margaret Hu [official profile] of Duke University School of Law wrote [JURIST commentary] that the recently enacted state-level immigration laws go against long-held American ideals and cultural values. The DOJ has now challenged the constitutionality of three state immigration laws, those of Arizona, Alabama [JURIST reports] and South Carolina. In September 2010 more than 500 international, US, state and local human rights and immigration advocacy organizations sent a letter [JURIST report] to US President Barack Obama expressing concern over the use of local law enforcement agencies in the enforcement of federal immigration law, specifically pointing to the MCSO and an example of an authority with a history of racial profiling. In October 2008 an Arizona federal district court ruled that conditions in Maricopa County corrections facilities violate the constitutional rights of its prisoners [JURIST report].




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Obama announces nominees for civil liberty and privacy oversight agency
Matthew Pomy on December 16, 2011 2:05 PM ET

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[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] nominated three individuals [press release] to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) Thursday, which had been vacant since 2007. He named David Medine [Findlaw profile] as his nominee for Chairman as well as Rachel Brand [NCLC profile] and Judge Patricia Wald [Inns of Court profile] as members of the board. The board serves to assist the president [WH backgrounder] in ensuring that privacy and civil liberties are adequately considered while implementing anti-terrorism policies. The board is also charged with:
"Advising on whether adequate guidelines, supervision, and oversight exist to protect these important legal rights of all Americans. In addition, the Board is specifically charged with responsibility for reviewing the terrorism information sharing practices of executive branch departments and agencies to determine whether guidelines designed to appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties are being followed."
The nominations have been sent to the Senate for confirmation hearings.

Legal experts, right groups, and Democrats criticized [CAP op-ed] the board while it was operating under George W. Bush [WH profile] for being too close to the administration when it approved [JURIST report] a controversial surveillance bill in 2007. The board was originally recommended [text, PDF] by the 9/11 Commission [text, PDF]. It was then established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 [text, PDF]. It began functioning in March 2006 after not meeting [JURIST reports] for more than a year since it was established in December 2004.




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UN report details global violence against LGBT individuals
Dan Taglioli on December 16, 2011 1:54 PM ET

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[JURIST] The UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] Thursday released the first ever UN report [text, PDF] on the global human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. The report details LGBT people around the world being killed or enduring hate-motivated violence [UN News Centre report], torture, detention, criminalization and discrimination in jobs, health care and education because of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Prepared in response to a request from the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) [official website] earlier this year, the report draws from information included in past UN reporting, official statistics on hate crimes where there are available, and reporting by regional organizations and some non-governmental organizations. The report finds that a more extensive study and regular reporting are required for a more comprehensive analysis, but concludes that:
on the basis of the information presented herein, a pattern of human rights violations emerges that demands a response. Governments and inter-governmental bodies have often overlooked violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The mandate of the Human Rights Council requires it to address this gap: the Council should promote "universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner."
According to the report, homophobic and transphobic violence has been recorded in every region of the world, LGBT people are often targets of organized abuse and violence against LGBT persons tends to be especially vicious compared to other bias-motivated crimes. Furthermore, violent incidents or acts of discrimination frequently go unreported because victims do not trust police, are afraid of reprisals or are unwilling to identify themselves as LGBT.

The investigation and report were requested by the UNHRC "Human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity" resolution [JURIST report], passed in June. The resolution is the first to call for an end to sexuality discrimination worldwide and to recognize it as a "priority" for the UN. The UN has faced difficulty passing resolutions on gay rights issues, due to no international consensus on the morality of homosexuality. Last year, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official website] called for countries around the world to abolish laws discriminating against gay and lesbian individuals [JURIST report]. Two years ago, the UN passed a gay rights declaration [text, PDF], which the US signed and sponsored [JURIST report]. The declaration, a nonbinding measure that does not have the full force of a resolution, called on states to end criminalization and persecution of homosexuals. This declaration was recalled by the new resolution. Although 85 countries signed the declaration [US Ambassador statement], 57 countries, primarily in Africa and the Middle East, signed an opposing statement. The year before, the UN General Assembly [official website] was divided over the issue of decriminalizing homosexuality [JURIST report] as 66 nations signed a statement calling for decriminalization, and nearly 60 nations signed an opposing statement. As of the 2011 International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) [advocacy website] State-Sponsored Homophobia report [text, PDF], 76 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships, and five enforce the death penalty against homosexuals.




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Animal rights activists challenge terrorism law
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 1:49 PM ET

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[JURIST] A group of animal rights activists on Thursday challenged [complaint, PDF] the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act [text, PDF] which they claim violates their rights to peaceful protest. The lawsuit, filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] by the Center for Constitutional Rights [advocacy website], claims that the law is overly broad and criminalizes activity that is protected by the First Amendment [text]. According to the complaint:
The AETA fails to define key terms, but its plain language criminalizes core political advocacy and speech that are protected by the First Amendment. For example, it punishes otherwise lawful and innocuous speech or advocacy that causes a business that uses or sells animal products to lose profit, even where that lost profit comes from a decrease in sales in reaction to public advocacy. Thus, AETA effectively criminalizes the very purpose of the First Amendment—changing people's minds. ... The law is also uncommonly broad, insofar as it defines an "animal enterprise" to include almost any business that buys or sells animal products. As such, it insulates a large number of businesses from the types of criticism that are deeply rooted in our constitutional tradition.
The plaintiffs claim that fear of prosecution has stopped them from engaging in lawful activism.

The AETA was signed into law by then-president George W. Bush in 2006, replacing the 1992 Animal Enterprise Protection Act. Supporters claim that the law contains adequate First Amendment protections. The law has rarely been used over the past five years.




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States seek to delay immigration cases pending Supreme Court ruling
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 1:12 PM ET

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[JURIST] Alabama and Georgia filed motions Thursday in the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] seeking to stay proceedings [press release] on challenges to their immigration laws pending a ruling by the US Supreme Court [official website] in Arizona v. United States [docket]. The Supreme Court agreed [JURIST report] Monday to rule on a challenge to Arizona's controversial immigration law [SB 1070 materials], which criminalizes illegal immigration and requires police officers to question an individual's immigration status if the officer has a "reasonable suspicion" to believe an individual is in the country illegally. Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said, "[t]he Arizona case will substantially affect many of the legal questions that are critical to Alabama's appeals pending in the 11th Circuit." Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens said, "[w]e strongly believe that, as the Supreme Court has said before, immigration is a partnership between the states and the federal government, and we hope that the Court will reaffirm that partnership."

Earler this week Human Rights Watch reported that Alabama's immigration law is resulting in human rights violations. Last week Alabama Governor Robert Bentley [official website] announced that he would work with lawmakers to make the law more effective [JURIST report]. In November the US Commission on Civil Rights [official website] announced that it will examine the impact [JURIST report] that state-enacted immigration enforcement laws have on individual civil rights. Challenges are also pending to immigration laws in Utah and South Carolina [JURIST reports]




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ICC prosecutor urges international cooperation in arresting Darfur suspects
Jaclyn Belczyk on December 16, 2011 11:55 AM ET

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[JURIST] International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo [official profile] on Thursday urged international cooperation in executing arrest warrants for suspects accused in the Darfur conflict [ICC materials]. Presenting his report [text, PDF] to the UN Security Council [official website], Ocampo emphasized that all states parties to the Rome Statute have an obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Following his report, Ocampo spoke to reporters [video] and indicated that individuals sought by the court, including Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir [ICC materials; JURIST news archive], continue to commit war crimes in the region. Also Thursday, Ocampo said that the death of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi [JURIST report] may be a war crime.

The ICC currently has four cases in Darfur, Sudan. Al-Bashir faces seven counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as three charges of genocide [JURIST reports] and remains at large. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for Ahmad Muhammad Harun Ahmad Harun and Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-Al-Rahman Ali Kushayb, who also remain at large. Bahar Idriss Abu Garda appeared voluntarily before the ICC in 2009, and the ICC declined to confirm charges [JURIST report]. He is not currently in custody. Finally, a trial is currently pending [JURIST report] for Abdallah Banda Abakaer Nourain and Saleh Mohammed Jerbo Jamus




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