Civil rights and civil liberties dominated the first week of April:

1. McCutcheon v. FEC

On Wednesday, April 2, the Supreme Court delivered a powerful blow to campaign contribution limits in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. Chief Justice John Roberts stated that limits on aggregate contributions “intrude without justification on a citizen’s ability to exercise ‘the most fundamental First Amendment activities,’” namely, the “right of citizens to choose who shall govern them.” Justice Breyer, dissenting, took the unusual step of reading his entire 30-page dissent from the bench, emphasizing the enormous consequences the decision will have: “Before today’s decision, the total size of Rich Donor’s check to the Joint Party Committee was capped at $74,600—the aggregate limit for donations to political parties over a 2-year election cycle. After today’s decision, Rich Donor can write a single check to the Joint Party Committee in an amount of about $1.2 million.”

2.  Drone Strikes

U.S. District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer dismissed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the targeted drone strikes in 2011 on three American citizens in Yemen. Attorneys representing Anwar Al-Aulaki, his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman, and Samir Khan argued that the U.S. deprived the individuals of their right to life without due process. Judge Collyer ruled that the claim should not advance because the suit would require the court to recognize a new Bivens remedy. She emphasized the judicary’s “exceedingly limited role” in the “delicate area of warmaking, national security, and foreign relations.” However, Judge Collyer rejected the Obama administration’s argument that the court could not hear this case because it raises a “political question.” (In Au-Aulaki v. Obama (2010), D.C. District Court Judge John Bates dismissed a case brought by Nasser Au-Aulaki (Anwar Al-Aulaki’s father) due to the “political question” rationale.)

3. Torture Report

The U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence voted to declassify part of its own  report that details the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation and detention methods. The report totals an astonishing 6300 pages and alleges that the CIA “misled the public about the severity and the success of the enhanced interrogation program.” Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein has been instrumental in the battle to declassify the report. Also at issue in the controversy is the media’s portrayal of Senator Feinstein, including remarks by a former CIA director about Senator Feinstein’s “deep emotional feeling” about the issue. The New Yorker blasts the former director’s comments as part of a “reflexive tendency to disparage or dismiss a woman in politics (or in business, or anywhere).”

4. Equal Pay

On a positive note, President Obama will announce two new executive actions designed to work toward closing the wage gap for women. One of the executive orders will ban “retaliation against employees of federal contractors for disclosing or inquiring about their wages,” and the other will “instruct the Department of Labor to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit data on compensation paid to employees.” The announcement comes on Equal Pay Day (April 8), the date that marks the amount of time a woman must work into 2014 to earn what men earned in 2013.

[Cartoon on left – source]

[Cartoon on right – source]

[Cover image source]