Welcome to This Week in Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
This week, a white supremacist terrorist attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during evening prayers. Meanwhile, President Trump vetoed a bill that would have prevented him from declaring a national emergency to fund his border wall, California Governor Gavin Newsom suspended use of the death penalty in that state, and the Connecticut Supreme Court allowed families of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting to continue their wrongful death suit against Remington Outdoor Co., manufacturer of the AR-15 rifle.
Two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, targeted by white supremacist terrorist attack; at least 50 people dead. The gunman broadcast the killing live on the internet after posting a white supremacist manifesto on his Facebook account. New York Times. The attack follows a rise in violent white extremism in the United States and around the world. NPR. Police departments in major American cities have increased police presence at mosques. New York Times.
Trump vetoes bill overturning declaration of national emergency to fund border wall. The bill returns to Congress, which lacks a two-thirds majority to override Trump’s veto. New York Times. While state attorneys general challenge Trump’s national emergency declaration in the federal courts, some members of Congress have proposed overhauling the National Emergencies Act of 1976 to make it more difficult for presidents to circumvent Congress by declaring a national emergency. New York Times.
California Governor Gavin Newsom suspends death penalty in California. Newsom’s executive order does not change the convictions or sentences of the 737 people on death row in California, nor does it repeal the death penalty (only California’s voters can do that). But it does suspend all executions in the state for as long as Newsom is governor. In a press conference on Wednesday, March 13, Newsom cited a National Academy of Sciences report estimating that 1 out of every 25 people on death row is innocent. “If that’s the case,” Newsom said, “that means if we move forward executing 737 people in California, we will have executed roughly 30 people that are innocent.” CNN.
Connecticut Supreme Court allows suit against AR-15 manufacturer to proceed. The court overturned the dismissal of a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by families of the victims killed in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn., against Remington Outdoor Co. Although the court upheld the dismissal of several claims brought by the plaintiffs, it allowed the plaintiffs to bring claims against Remington for violating Connecticut’s consumer-protection law, which prohibits advertising and marketing that is “immoral and unscrupulous.” The plaintiffs alleged that Remington intentionally expanded the AR-15 market to court high-risk users. Wall Street Journal.
Federal judge rules against Trump administration’s policy of denying Special Immigrant Juvenile Status to immigrants 18-20 years old. Before 2018, illegal immigrants under the age of 21 who were abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent could receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which would allow them to apply for a green card. Since early 2018, federal immigration authorities have denied the status to immigrants over the age of 18. On Friday, March 15, U.S. District Judge John Koeltl found the policy change “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act, and asked the parties to propose ways to implement his decision. Wall Street Journal.
Federal judge temporarily blocks Kentucky law prohibiting abortion after fetal heartbeat detected. The ACLU challenged the law, signed by Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin on Friday, March 15, in a lawsuit on behalf of EMW Women’s Surgical Center, Kentucky’s only licensed abortion clinic. Fetal heartbeats are usually detected around six weeks into pregnancy. About 90 percent of abortions in Kentucky are performed after six weeks into pregnancy, according to the ACLU. Judge David J. Hale of the Western District of Kentucky halted enforcement of the law until he could hold a hearing on its constitutionality. New York Times.
Massachusetts woman sues the Federal Bureau of Prisons over its policy prohibiting methadone treatment. Stephanie DiPierro of Everett, Mass., represented by the ACLU of Massachusetts, is scheduled to begin a yearlong sentence in federal prison next month. She is recovering from heroin addiction, and receives daily doses of methadone to control cravings and withdrawal symptoms. While the federal prison system uses methadone to detox new inmates who are dependent on opioids, it allows only pregnant inmates to take anti-craving medications for ongoing treatment. Approximately 40 percent of federal inmates have a substance abuse disorder, and newly released inmates, many of whom have lost their opioid tolerance while incarcerated, have been shown to be at especially high risk of overdosing. Ms. DiPierro brings her suit under the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects people with disabilities from discrimination by federal agencies. New York Times.
Southern Poverty Law Center fires co-founder Morris Dees. SPLC President Richard Cohen announced that Dees would be dismissed on Wednesday, March 13, but did not specify why. Dees co-founded the Montgomery-based SPLC in 1971 with civil rights attorney Julian Bond, and led the organization in successful efforts to redraw Alabama’s legislative districts, improve conditions for Kentucky cotton millworkers, and bankrupt the Ku Klux Klan. In an emailed statement, Cohen explained that “[a]s a civil rights organization, the SPLC is committed to ensuring that the conduct of our staff reflects the mission of the organization and the values we hope to instill in the world. When one of our own fails to meet those standards, no matter his or her role in the organization, we take it seriously and must take appropriate action.” Montgomery Advertiser.
Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 campaign staff vote to unionize. The campaign voluntarily recognized the union once a majority of the staff’s bargaining unit employees signed union cards designating the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 400 to represent them. Sanders’ 2020 campaign is the first major-party presidential campaign to have a unionized workforce. Politico.
College admissions scandal threatens protections for students with disabilities. On Tuesday, March 12, federal prosecutors charged 50 people with taking part in a scheme to purchase admission to prestigious American universities. Prosecutors allege that participants in the scheme had their children purport to have learning disabilities in order to receive extra time on standardized tests. Students with disabilities and disability rights advocates fear that the scandal will threaten existing protections for students with disabilities. WABE.