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ACLU Plans Ballot Initiative Campaigns on Criminal Justice, LGBT Discrimination

The American Civil Liberties Union is planning a major political advocacy program, including pursuing ballot intiatives to try to enact criminal justice reform and protections for gays, lesbians and transgendered people, the Washington Post's James Hohmann reports. The ACLU will pick three states with high incarceration rates and then sponsor ballot initiatives with the goal of driving sentencing reform. The ACLU also has raised $5 million to try to enact protections for nondiscrimination protections for LGBT individuals.

ACLU Sues For Records Over TSA's Behavioral Detection Program

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the airport-security practice known as behavioral detection in which officers send "suspicious passengers" for additional screening, the Washington Post's Josh Hicks reports. The ACLU has filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit because the Transporation Secuirty Administration hasn't turned over any records about the practice, which advocates suspect leads to racial profiling.

ACLU Challenges Missouri's Ban on Same-Sex Marriage

The ACLU of Missouri has filed a lawsuit to challenge Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage, Missouri Digital News reports, and Missouri's governor says he supports the right of gays to marry as long as voters approve it. The plaintiffs argue the ban violates their due process and equal protection rights.

Free Speech Issue Triggered By Revenge Porn Law?

California has passed a law to criminalize, as a misdemeanor, posting "identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without permission with the intent to cause emotional distress or humiliation," The Guardian reports. The ACLU opposed the legislation on free-speech grounds.

Leading First Amendment Attorney: Snowden Could Make Out Public Interest Argument

Submitted by Amaris Elliott-Engel on Tue, 09/24/2013 - 23:35

Leading First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams said that if leaker Edward Snowden is ever brought into a criminal court in the United States, a lawyer for Snowden might very well persuade a jury that his disclosure of the level of surveillance conducted on the American citizenry was in the public interest.

"If Mr. Snowden comes home some day, we'll have some interesting cases involving him," Abrams said during a talk given at the New York Law School tonight.

However, Abrams said that the U.S. Supreme Court is much less likely than it was during the Pentagon Papers era to let judges question the judgment of the U.S. Department of Defense and other governmental agencies that releasing national-security information would do great harm.

Abrams has worked on such First Amendment cases such as the Pentagon Papers in which historical information about the United States' military involvement in Vietnam was disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg; defending Al Franken from a trademark lawsuit brought by Fox News Channel over the use of the phrase "fair and balanced;" and Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart, in which the Supreme Court held that prior restraints on media coverage during criminal trials are unconstitutional.

Further, while Abrams praised Snowden for releasing information on the surveillance of Americans, he questioned the point of exposing the level of American spying on foreign leaders. 

While an ardent First Amendment proponent, Abrams said that he never thought that speech by hate groups like the Nazis has done any particular good. "Some speech does some real harm, but it's worth the price," he said.

Abrams also said First Amendment challenges could be successful in the right cases against  "ag gag" laws, which criminalize the undercover trespassing and subsequent exposure of practices at any facilities involving animals. The ideal test cases would be those involving journalists publishing information from their sources about alleged wrongdoing, he said. Journalists do not have the right to trespass, but the "statutes are so obviously designed not to protect property but to protect against revelation of confidential information," he said.

New York Law School Professor Nadine Strossen, who is a leading First Amendment advocate in her own right as the past president of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she would like to see the standards governing content for broadcast television changed.

Cases that were primed to challenge the harsher regulation that broadcast TV faces from the Federal Communications Communication over indecent material ended up not going anywhere, Strossen said. Those cases didn't involve "toplessness" or "bottomlessness," but four-letter swear words, she said. She also noted the irony that profanity like "shit" and "fuck" could be uttered in the highest court in the country but not on broadcast television. "The Supreme Court can say it but you can't say it over the air," Strossen said.

Abrams, who has represented many media organizations in his career, said that journalists are "best as truth-gatherers" and detecting when people are lying. But one of the greatest weaknesses of media organizations is trivializing important matters that the public is capable of understanding, he said.

Healthcare Providers Defend Electronic Health Records Against ACLU Concerns in Alaska

The ACLU has raised concerns that the Alaskan Health Information Exchange for sharing electronic health records is not secure against hackers and governemental intrusion by the NSA. For example, the ACLU opined: "Let’s be clear: electronic medical records can be a good thing. They can improve our health and make it easier for doctors to care for us. But a medical exchange that isn’t secure against spies and hackers is bad for Alaskans." The full OP/ED can be read here:

But healthcare providers hit back, arguing the exchange is secure and that penalties for not ensuring patient privacy are high.

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