Topic: Law and Civil Liberties

But What About the Children?

Sometimes the Supreme Court makes news for the cases it doesn’t take, not just the opinions it produces in cases it hears.  Today marked one such occasion, when the Court denied cert in Dupuy v. McEwen, in which Cato filed an amicus brief.

For more than a decade, the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services has investigated parents based on anonymous tips of abuse or neglect, and deemed them “indicated” after a cursory investigation by state officials who have no effective check on their unilateral authority. Unlike actual child abuse cases, in which the State removes children from abusive situations with judicial approval, the State takes a different route with “indicated” parents – threatening them with what it calls a “Safety Plan.” In so doing, the State demands that parents abandon their homes and families pending an investigation of unlimited duration. Frequently State officials will threaten to remove children immediately into foster care if the parents do not “consent” to the plans without counsel and without negotiation. According to the Seventh Circuit, parents are not allowed to challenge the plans in a judicial or administrative forum if they “consent” to the State’s demands, even if they do so only after being threatened with the loss of their children. Our brief, which supported the class of parents petitioning the Supreme Court for review of these practices, argued that these “Safety Plans” violate the Due Process Clause because they infringe on fundamental family rights without affording any opportunity to challenge state action. They also vest unfettered discretion in state officials to infringe on parents’ fundamental rights. Finally, they represent an unconstitutional condition that forces parents to make an agonizing choice between abandoning their children in the hope that the State’s vague concerns would be mollified by subsequent investigation, or taking the risk that the State would make good on its threat to remove their children into foster care without a hearing.

We had some hope on this case – as did SCOTUSblog – because the Court had asked Illinois to respond to the cert petition (immediately after receiving our amicus brief I should add!), and also because SCOTUSblog had picked it as “one to watch,” but it was not to be. It’s not a tremendously surprising outcome given the tangled procedural history underlying the case – making it a less than ideal vehicle for presenting these issues – but still a disappointing result for parents, children, and freedom from state coercion.

What Do You Call the Ring in a Bull’s Nose? Perhaps “KST”?

While the country moves forward with increasing confidence in its ability to meet the security challenges posed by terrorism, the administration seems still utterly, utterly spellbound.

Take, for example, National Security Presidential Directive 59/Homeland Security Presidential Directive 24. Issued June 5th, it (take a breath … wait for it …) “establishes a framework to ensure that Federal executive departments and agencies … use mutually compatible methods and procedures in the collection, storage, use, analysis, and sharing of biometric and associated biographic and contextual information of individuals … .”

That means, roughly, “Let’s get our act together on biometrics and biometric surveillance, people!”

The directive uses a set of initials I hadn’t come across before: “KST.” This stands for “known and suspected terrorists.” As in, we’re going to “collect, store, use, analyze, and share biometrics to identify and screen KSTs and other persons who may pose a threat to national security.”

Now, to be clear, there are terrorists, and there may be some in the country - terrorist precursors, perhaps. But I don’t think there are enough of them, or enough danger from them, to merit awarding them their own initials. Even in acronym- and initial-happy Washington, D.C., these things are reserved for things of greater significance.

This reveals the thrall in which the administration is still held by terrorism. “We’re not up against a few small bands of sociopathic ideologues. No, we’re up against a movement with all the power of our ‘FBI’, ‘CIA’, ‘DoD’, and ‘DoJ’.”

I’ve posted here before about terrorism as a strategy, suggesting certain counter-strategic behaviors. Terrorists gain by drawing attention to themselves, wrapping themselves in the romance of rebellion, and being seen as legitimate rivals to their enemies. By dubbing the threat “KST,” the administration grants terrorists that legitimacy. It tells audiences ideologically and physically near terrorists that we’re still scared, which does terrorists a tremendous favor. (I, for one, am not scared; I’m embarrassed.)

On the merits, biometrics are occasionally necessary, but essentially impotent against the well-known technique of using “clean-skin” terrorists (see, e.g., 9/11, Oklahoma City). The NSPD/HSPD doesn’t appear to have a lot of substance other than to promote more ferment and federal spending on biometric surveillance technology.

Boumediene Ruling

The Supreme Court issued a very important ruling regarding the “Great Writ” of habeas corpus today.

Lengthy ruling … which I’m still studying, but the key line thus far is this: “The test for determining the scope of this [habeas] provision must not be subject to manipulation by those whose power it is designed to restrain.” George W. Bush and his lawyers purposely kept prisoners off of U.S. soil and argued that habeas was not available to non-citizens beyond U.S. territory (Gitmo).  Today, the Supreme Court rejected that claim.

More here and here.

Civil Liberties in Britain

David Davis, the shadow home secretary in the United Kingdom (that is, the prospective attorney general should the Conservative Party take power), has resigned his seat in the House of Commons to protest Parliament’s approval of a bill that would allow the government to hold terror suspects up to 42 days without charges.

Davis, generally regarded as a Thatcherite, said:

Until yesterday I took a view that what we did in the House of Commons representing our constituents was a noble endeavour because for centuries of forebears we defended the freedom of people. Well, we did, up until yesterday.

This Sunday is the anniversary of Magna Carta, a document that guarantees the fundamental element of British freedom, habeas corpus. The right not to be imprisoned by the state without charge or reason.

But yesterday this house allowed the state to lock up potentially innocent citizens for up to six weeks without charge.

He denounced the bill as “the one most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedom” and went on to cite ID cards, “an assault on jury trials,” and “a DNA database bigger than any dictatorship has” as other elements of that erosion.

Davis said he would run in a special election to reclaim his seat by campaigning “against the slow strangulation of fundamental British freedoms by this government.” Observers expect him to win handily, as the Labour Party has fallen dramatically in the polls. But Conservative leader David Cameron has already appointed a new shadow home secretary, so Davis may have forfeited his leadership role.

I’m reminded of Phil Gramm, a Democratic congressman, who worked with President Reagan and the Republicans to cut taxes and spending in the early 1980s. When the Democratic leadership removed him from the Budget Committee, he switched to the Republican Party. Saying that the voters of his district should have the chance to decide whether they wanted a Republican representative, he resigned, ran in the special election as a Republican, was easily elected on Lincoln’s birthday, and the following year waltzed into the U.S. Senate.

Will Davis find such success by resigning and giving the voters a chance to assess his performance? Only time will tell… In the meantime, you can watch the video of his five-minute speech here.

E-Verify: What’s Going on with the 5.3%?

In a recent post on E-Verify, the system for conducting federal immigration background checks on American workers hired to new jobs, I criticized an assumption on the part of DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker that the 5.3% of people who receive “final nonconfirmations” from the system are illegal immigrants:

Baker’s conclusion that the 5.3% of workers finally nonconfirmed are illegal workers is without support. The statistic just as easily could show that the 5.3% of law-abiding American-citizen workers are given tentative nonconfirmations, and they find it impossible to get them resolved. More likely, some were dismissed by employers, never informed that there was a problem with E-Verify; some didn’t have the paperwork, the time, or the skills to navigate the bureaucracy; and some were illegal workers who went in search of work elsewhere, including under the table.

Yesterday at a meeting of the DHS Data Privacy and Integrity Advisory Committee, a new data point opened a small window onto the situation of the 5.3%. To review, 94.2% of the workers submitted to the system are confirmed as eligible for work within 24 hours. Of the 5.8% tentatively nonconfirmed, .5% successfully contest their nonconfirmations, leaving us with 5.3% who receive final nonconfirmations for reasons yet unknown.

Staff of the DHS’ U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau reported yesterday that they had recently added a “doublecheck” on tentative nonconfirmations, asking employers to review the data they had entered for errors. During the two months this has been in place, it has lowered the tentative nonconfirmation rate by 30%. That’s right - 30% of the tentative nonconfirmations had been caused by employers’ fat fingers. (“Fat fingers” is not a knock on employers’ fitness - it’s a techie term for data entry errors.)

If we assume that the figures recited above are from a period before the new fat-finger doublecheck, the 5.8% tentative nonconfirmation rate should have dropped 1.74% since the double-check was implemented. Next, assume (generously) that all of the .5% successfully contesting their tentative nonconfirmations were part of this cohort - the victims of employers’ fat fingers. This leaves 1.24% of workers submitted to E-Verify during this period who were eligible to work but victims of employers’ data entry errors - and who failed to contest their nonconfirmations.

There is plenty of room for error in this extrapolation, and I’ll happily publish refinements or corrections to what I’ve written here, but it looks like more than 1 in 100 employees are tentatively nonconfirmed by E-Verify and go on to final nonconfirmation even though they are eligible to work under the immigration laws. That’s a huge percentage considering that millions of Americans’ employability is on the line. The burden is on DHS and other proponents of electronic employment eligibility verification to figure out what’s going on and to fix it.

E-Verify is not ready for prime time, and we wouldn’t want it even if it was.