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Today, attorneys from Muslim Advocates and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit to reverse a federal district court's dismissal of Hassan v. City of New York, a case that challenges the New York City Police Department's (NYPD) blanket surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey. The plaintiffs - among them a decorated Iraq war veteran, Rutgers University students, a coalition of New Jersey mosques, and the former principal of a grade-school for Muslim girls, targeted and surveilled by the NYPD solely on account of their religious affiliation and without any criminal suspicion - had their day in court when lawyers presented oral argument inside a courthouse filled with concerned community members. This is the first time a federal appellate court will review the legality of the NYPD's religious surveillance program.
"Today marks a critical day on the path to justice for all the victims who have been treated like criminals simply because of their faith," said Glenn Katon, legal director of Muslim Advocates. "The NYPD has abused its powers for too long and has brazenly violated our core constitutional values of freedom and equality under the law, and we hope that today's argument will pave the way to a ruling to protect Americans of all faiths against discrimination by law enforcement."
Since 2002, the NYPD has spied on at least 20 mosques, 14 restaurants, 11 retail stores, two grade schools, and two Muslim Student Associations in New Jersey alone. The monitoring has included video surveillance, photographing, community mapping, and infiltration of places of worship, student associations, and businesses. Internal NYPD documents, including a list of 28 "ancestries of interest," reveal that the NYPD used racial and ethnic backgrounds as proxies to identify and target adherents to the Muslim faith. Although the NYPD recently disbanded one of the main units through which it conducted the surveillance, there is no evidence that it has abandoned the underlying unlawful targeting and profiling of Muslims.
"By creating a Muslim exception to the bedrock principles of equality and religious freedom, the lower court opinion signals that Muslims are to be second-class citizens," said Center for Constitutional Rights Legal Director Baher Azmy, who argued the case today. "The Constitution prohibits singling out an entire faith for discriminatory policing, simply because a handful of totally unrelated adherents committed criminal acts. Painful historical lessons remind us that courts should not sanction such overt discrimination by law enforcement, even in times of fear."
The argument is part of the plaintiffs' appeal of a New Jersey trial court's dismissal of the case in February 2014, when it ruled in a 10-page summary opinion, that the surveillance did not harm any of the eleven plaintiffs and that if anyone did suffer harm, it was caused not by the unlawful surveillance program, but by the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting of the Associated Press that exposed it. The court also accepted the City's argument that its targeting of Muslims for their faith alone was justified in response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. According to the NYPD itself, in more than ten years of operation, the City's Muslim spying reports failed to produce a single lead.
"100 Blacks supports the plaintiffs in their case against the City of New York for the NYPD's discriminatory Muslim surveillance program," said Noel Leader, co-founder of 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care. "Such police tactics are not only wrong morally and constitutionally, but they also are ineffective police strategies that do not keep us safe."
"Today is an important day in the history of civil rights," said Farhaj Hassan, U.S. Army reservist and lead plaintiff in Hassan. "This lawsuit stands up for Americans of all faiths and upholds our Constitutional rights. There's no reason that the people of my community, my mosque, or any other individual should be treated like a second-class citizen by law enforcement just because of their faith. Our police force is supposed to protect us, not spy on us because of how we pray."
For more information about the case, please visit www.muslimadvocates.org/endspying and https://www.ccrjustice.org/hassan.
Hassan was initially filed by Muslim Advocates; the Center for Constitutional Rights and Gibbons, P.C. have joined as co-counsel. It is the first case to challenge the NYPD's Muslim spying program.
Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization working on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths. Through high impact lawsuits, policy advocacy, and community education, Muslim Advocates serves as a resource to empower communities and ensures that the American Muslim community is heard by the courts and leaders at the highest level of government. Visit Muslim Advocates atwww.muslimadvocates.organd follow @muslimadvocates.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.(212) 614-6464
"A key player in the extreme MAGA House majority now admits what anyone paying attention has suspected all along," said one watchdog group.
Through their actions in recent months, House Republicans have made clear that they view the debt ceiling standoff as a hostage situation that they can exploit to advance their political agenda—which includes draconian cuts to social programs and massive handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
On Tuesday, just days before the June 1 "X-date," Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) came right out and admitted it, telling reporters that "my conservative colleagues for the most part support Limit, Save, Grow, and they don't feel like we should negotiate with our hostage."
Semafor's Joseph Zeballos-Roig published audio of Gaetz's comments on Twitter:
\u201cThere\u2019s a lot of interest in the Gaetz audio, so here it is. I conducted a brief interview with him before a House vote earlier today to get his views on debt limit talks. @semafor \n\nH/t @joeposner @thejulianlim\u201d— Joseph Zeballos-Roig (@Joseph Zeballos-Roig) 1684866850
The Limit, Save, Grow Act is legislation that Republicans passed in a party-line vote last month, staking out their position that the debt ceiling shouldn't be raised unless rich tax cheats are protected and an axe is taken to spending on federal nutrition assistance, Medicaid, affordable housing, childcare, and other key programs.
The House GOP, officially led by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) but heavily influenced by the far-right Freedom Caucus, has held to that position, threatening to force a debt default and unleash global economic chaos unless their demands are met.
Gaetz, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, suggested Tuesday that the deal McCarthy struck with his far-right flank to secure the speakership—specifically the rule allowing just one lawmaker to call a vote to unseat the speaker—has kept the Republican leader committed to debt ceiling brinkmanship.
"I believe the one-person motion to vacate has given us the best version of Speaker McCarthy and I think he's doing a good job," Gaetz said Tuesday.
Democratic lawmakers and progressive watchdog groups saw Gaetz's remarks as a frank acknowledgment of what they've said since the start of the debt ceiling standoff.
"A key player in the extreme MAGA House majority now admits what anyone paying attention has suspected all along: Congress Republicans consider the U.S. economy and millions of jobs a 'hostage' while making unreasonable austerity demands that especially hurt low-income veterans and seniors," said Jeremy Funk, spokesman for Accountable.US. "Anyone who doubts the looming default crisis and recession is not entirely manufactured by the MAGA majority need only give the fringe Freedom Caucus a call and hear it from the horse's mouth."
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), the top Democrat on the House Budget Committee, wrote on Twitter that "Matt Gaetz just admitted Republicans are holding the U.S. economy hostage."
"The pro-default extremists in the GOP are willing to risk economic calamity to force their cruel cuts on American families," Boyle wrote. "House Democrats will not let that happen."
Boyle is leading a longshot procedural effort known as a discharge petition to force a vote on a debt ceiling increase as the Republican leadership remains committed to pursuing deep spending cuts that Democrats in the House and Senate have dismissed as nonstarters.
Not a single House Republican has signed the discharge petition, and two Democrats—Reps. Jared Golden of Maine and Ed Case of Hawaii—have yet to sign.
With negotiations between the White House and Republicans at a standstill, a growing number of congressional lawmakers—including prominent progressives such as Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)—are imploring President Joe Biden to use his 14th Amendment authority to unilaterally avert a default, an option the president has thus far resisted.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who has said the 14th Amendment "should be on the table," pointed to Gaetz's comments Tuesday as further confirmation that Republicans are not negotiating in good faith.
"I want to be clear about what the Republican Party is taking hostage. It is not Democrats. It is the entire U.S. economy," Ocasio-Cortez toldCNN late Tuesday. "It is extreme, and it is not acceptable."
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) added on Twitter that Gaetz and the GOP "are playing a dangerous game and, like every hostage situation, someone is likely going to be hurt."
"We have to rescue the American people," she wrote.
An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.) as a Republican.
While a DOJ attorney declined to disclose the government's position, one observer said it seems to be: "Stop trying to make us... get rid of the debt ceiling. That sort of thing is for high-level insiders only, not pesky labor unions that are going about it all wrong."
With a "significant gap" remaining between what House Republicans and White House negotiators want to resolve the debt limit fight, a federal judge on Tuesday scheduled a hearing next week for a related lawsuit brought by a union for government workers.
Attorneys for the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE)—which represents about 75,000 workers across federal agencies—sued President Joe Biden and Treasury Secretary Yellen in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts earlier this month. The union's legal team requested emergency action by the court in a filing on Friday.
During a Tuesday videoconference, Judge Richard Stearns gave the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) until May 30 to file a response detailing the department's position on presidential authority relating to the public debt and scheduled a hearing for May 31—the eve of the so-called X-date, or when Yellen warns the government could run out of money.
While NAGE wants a decision from the court before the X-date, Stearns, an appointee of former President Bill Clinton, "sounded skeptical of arguments from the union's lawyers that disaster for the nation is impending if he did not put the case on an even faster track," according toPolitico.
"If the emergency is as dire as you think it is, I would think that it's within the power of the president to address it using executive branch authority," the judge said. He added that "I understand there are time constraints, given that events are developing probably even as we're meeting, that probably make a decision prior to June 1st impossible."
Politico also noted that during the conference, DOJ lawyer Alexander Ely declined to disclose the department's position on whether the 14th Amendment's declaration that "the validity of the public debt of the United States... shall not be questioned" means the president can disregard the debt limit on constitutional grounds.
\u201cAs I read this, the government's position in the suit is:\n\n"Stop trying to make us to get rid of the debt ceiling. That sort of thing is for high-level insiders only, not pesky labor unions that are going about it all wrong."\n\nAh, the eternal cry of elites against activists.\u201d— David Rosen (@David Rosen) 1684867753
Thomas Geoghegan, an attorney for NAGE, said that "what we're faced with, I fear, is that the government doesn't really have a position on this, but there is no time to prevent irreparable injury."
As Common Dreamsreported Monday, Revolving Door Project executive director Jeff Hauser argued that not only should U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland "refuse to defend the unconstitutional legal incoherence that is the debt ceiling," but also the DOJ should "file papers supporting the National Association of Government Employees' request, and should do so as soon as possible."
"NAGE's argument is sound," Hauser said. "While President Biden may be willing to keep channels open until the very last minute with nihilistic, bad-faith Republican lawmakers, the Justice Department's obligation is to the Constitution, which is unequivocal."
The American Prospect executive editor David Dayen—who has been closely following the case—noted on Twitter that the DOJ and NAGE's formal request for the Tuesday conference states that "defendants intend to file an opposition to plaintiff's emergency motion for preliminary injunction."
Law Dork's Chris Geidner responded that "it's not necessarily opposition to the underlying arguments. It's possible that their opposition is either to a court ordering this or employees, through litigation, ordering them to do so. I'd think it would be unusual for any executive to argue otherwise."
The Tuesday conference came as the head of another union representing federal workers sent a letter to the White House.
"Many federal agencies that deliver services directly to the public, like the Social Security Administration, are already at the breaking point from years of inadequate funding," American Federation of Government Employees national president Everett Kelley wrote to Biden, warning the House GOP's proposed spending cuts "would be an economic and humanitarian calamity."
"I urge you not to yield to threats but instead to heed the advice of many legal scholars who have concluded that you have the inherent power, and indeed the duty, to avoid a default under the Constitution's 14th Amendment," Kelley added. "You have additional authorities to mint platinum coins under 31 USC § 5112. Please use these authorities now before it is too late."
As Matt Bruenig, president of the think tank People's Policy Project, highlighted in a blog post Tuesday, minting the coin isn't Biden's only option—he could also have the Treasury "issue bonds with a face value of $0 that only paid its holders a set amount of interest each year for a certain number of years. In this scenario, people would still buy the bonds in order to receive the interest, but there would be no principal and thus no face value."
"My current thinking on the best way for Biden to deal with the debt limit is to sell zero-principal bonds," Bruenig wrote. "These would not count as debt under the wording of the debt limit statute because they have a $0 face value. If this was challenged, then the administration has three different defenses to the challenge: that zero-principal bonds do not contribute to the debt limit, that the debt limit is unconstitutional, and that illegally selling bonds is no more unconstitutional than illegally raising taxes, selling assets, or cutting spending.
"But whichever course of action Biden chooses," he concluded, "we should be clear that he has other options than agreeing to crack the whip against America's poor."
"Harlan Crow thinks he is the law," remarked one legal expert. "The billionaire and his lawyer apparently believe they get to stop congressional investigations if they so choose."
Legal experts and U.S. Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin on Tuesday derided billionaire Harlan Crow's refusal to answer the panel's questions regarding years of gifts—including luxury vacations and private school tuition—bestowed by the Republican megadonor upon Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his family.
In a letter to Durbin (D-Ill.) responding to requests for information about the private jet, yacht, and upstate New York resort owned by Crow and his holding companies, Michael Bopp of the law firm Gibson Dunn—which represents Crow—asserted that the Judiciary Committee "has not identified a valid legislative purpose for its investigation and is not authorized to conduct an ethics investigation of a Supreme Court justice."
Durbin responded to Bopp's letter with a statement arguing that the missive "did not provide a credible justification for the failure of Mr. Crow and three corporate entities to respond to the committee's written questions."
"First of all, the committee did not receive individual responses from anyone representing the three companies," Durbin said. "That is untenable since the gifts and access to justices that these companies provided are highly relevant to the committee's legislative efforts on ethics reform."
\u201cSCOOP: Here's the letter that Justice Clarence Thomas's benefactor Harlan Crow sent to the Senate Judiciary Committee last night. His lawyers, from top firm Gibson Dunn, are arguing Congress doesn't have the authority to investigate the Supreme Court.\n\nhttps://t.co/PAtQvK7a8S\u201d— Emily Birnbaum (@Emily Birnbaum) 1684861388
"Second, the letter claims that Congress lacks authority to enact ethics legislation that applies to Supreme Court justices—a claim belied by multiple congressionally enacted ethics laws that Chief Justice [John] Roberts highlighted as applying to Supreme Court justices in his April 25 'Statement on Ethics Principles and Practices,'" Durbin continued.
"Further, Mr. Crow's letter relies on a separation of powers defense when Mr. Crow does not work, and has never worked, for the Supreme Court," the senator added. "Harlan Crow believes the secrecy of his lavish gifts to Justice Thomas is more important than the reputation of the highest court of law in this land. He is wrong."
Chris Geidner, a former legal editor and Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News, wrote on his Law Dork Substack:
What is perhaps most remarkable about the letter is not even its dismissal of the congressional oversight request—which absolutely must be followed at the earliest possible moment by the committee's issuance of a subpoena—but, rather, the underlying basis for that decision. In the letter, Bopp concludes—again, on Crow's behalf—that "Congress lacks the authority" to pass ethics legislation relating to the Supreme Court.
Bopp cannot state that as a matter of law—and dismiss Durbin's request based on that knowledge. This is so because Chief Justice John Roberts himself has acknowledged that Congress has already passed ethics legislation that applies to the justices. What's more, Roberts also explained in 2011 that the court has never addressed whether Congress can do so but that the justices "nevertheless comply with those provisions."
"Harlan Crow thinks he is the law," Geidner contended. "The billionaire and his lawyer apparently believe they get to stop congressional investigations if they so choose."
\u201cthe tl;dr of this letter is "the separation of powers means supreme court justices can do whatever they want & congress can't do shit about it."\n\n(can't wait to read neil gorsuch's ~fantastico~ rewriting of this into a supreme court opinion.)\u201d— Leah Litman (@Leah Litman) 1684863630
MSNBC legal analyst Jordan Rubin, a former Manhattan prosecutor, quipped that Crow's "arrogant and misguided" response to Durbin "practically begs for a subpoena."
Rubin's remarks echo
progressive calls to subpoena both Crow and Thomas.
In addition to Durbin, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has also asked Crow to account for gifts he gave to Thomas and his family, and called the billionaire's rationale for not doing so "a joke."
"The bottom line is that nobody can expect to get away with waving off finance committee oversight, no matter how wealthy or well-connected they may be," Wyden said earlier this month.