[Vision2020] Stealth Habeas Amendments
Bruce and Jean Livingston
jeanlivingston at turbonet.com
Sat Sep 23 13:05:06 PDT 2006
If habeas corpus issues interest you, this will make you realize just how much the "Great Writ" is under attack...
----- Original Message -----
Sent: Thursday, September 21, 2006 10:33 PM
Subject: Stealth Habeas Amendments
from the Justice Project:
Habeas Under Attack Again
Last week, criminal justice advocates mobilized against a potentially devastating blow to habeas corpus rights. Despite widespread opposition to the Streamlined Procedures Act and other legislation that would effectively repeal the "Great Writ" of habeas corpus, members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees worked behind closed doors last week to attach such measures to a Department of Defense (DOD) Authorization Bill.
Some 300 pages of non-germane language, including habeas repeal measures, could be tacked on to the DOD bill -- the primary purpose of which is to provide resources for troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Much of this maneuvering has been taking place though back door channels, and regular order, which assures that both chambers of Congress have a fair opportunity to consider the legislation, has been skirted. Alarmingly, the texts of some of the measures have not been seen by many members and their staff nor by the public. This method of passing unpopular measures has, unfortunately, worked in the past. Last year, during eleventh hour Patriot Act reauthorization discussions, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) inserted two provisions that significantly limit the ability of the Great Writ to enforce important Bill of Rights protections.
In recent years, thanks in part to the work of The Justice Project and our supporters and allies, Congress overwhelmingly supported the passage of the bipartisan Innocence Protection Act to correct some of the problems in the criminal justice system that lead to wrongful convictions. The habeas repeal provisions worked on this week would undercut much of that progress and increase the risk that innocent people will remain in prison or even be executed.
Habeas repeal provisions have been opposed (pdf) by the Conference of Chief Justices, which includes the highest judicial officers from each of the fifty states and all US territories, the Judicial Conference of the United States (the principal policymaking body with regard to the US Courts), over thirty former judges, and more than sixty former prosecutors from across the political spectrum, because there is no evidence that this legislation is needed.
The Justice Project and our allies remain on the offensive; habeas repeal language could easily be attached to a number of pieces of legislation in these final few days before Congress recesses for the midterm elections or in a potential lame duck session later this fall. Residents of the following states can contact their Congressional representatives (who hold leadership positions or sit on committees considering these measures) through our website and encourage them to oppose changes that limit our habeas protections: CA, DE, MA, MI, PA, TN, WI and VA. Also, some districts in IL, OH and NC.
Our habeas webpage will be updated with the latest information.
Habeas Protection Campaign
[About the Legislation][Letters, Testimony and Editorials Opposing the Legislation]
Habeas Repeal Measures Increase Threat of Wrongful Convictions
Although there is widespread opposition to the Streamlined Procedures Act and other legislation that would effectively repeal the "Great Writ" of habeas corpus, members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees continue to work behind closed doors to pass these reforms. Efforts are currently afoot to attach widely criticized habeas measures and 300 pages of other non-germane matters to a Department of Defense Authorization bill that is presently in conference and will be finalized in the coming days. This closed-door strategy is nothing new: in the past, Congress permitted widely opposed habeas legislation to bypass normal review. During eleventh hour Patriot Act reauthorization discussions, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) inserted two provisions that significantly limit the ability of the Great Writ to enforce important Bill of Rights protections.
Now, the DOD Authorization bill -- the purpose of which is to provide resources for forces in Afghanistan and Iraq -- is being weighed down and slowed by controversial and wrong-headed crime legislation that has otherwise been unable to garner majority support in both houses of Congress. Members of both parties who have fought on principle to resist these regressive changes to habeas should continue to do so and not be made to appear anti-patriotic when they rightfully object to this unnecessarily bloated DOD bill.
Regular order -- which assures that both Chambers of Congress have a fair opportunity to consider the legislation -- has been skirted; indeed, the texts of some of the added measures has not been seen by many members and their staff nor by the public -- there is only one proper course of action -- remove the non-germane matters from the bill.
In recent years, Congress overwhelmingly supported the passage of the bipartisan Innocence Protection Act to correct some of the problems in the criminal justice system that led to wrongful convictions. The habeas repeal provisions would undercut much of that progress, and increase the risk that innocent people will remain in prison or even be executed.
On June 12, 2006, the United States Supreme Court's 5-3 decision in House v. Bell reaffirmed how critically important it is that access to habeas corpus remain available to state prisoners in this country. Indeed, if habeas "reforms" that have been introduced in Congress were the law, Mr. House almost certainly would have been out of court without anyone considering the merits of his arguments. Errors routinely occur during the trial phase and state courts often fall short in their responsibility to correct these errors; by cutting federal courts out of the review process, as Congress is attempting to do, these errors will go uncorrected, increasing the likelihood that innocent people will languish in prison, or even be executed.
The Streamlined Procedures Act and the habeas provisions found in the Patriot Act and other drastic habeas repeal measures are opposed by a broad array of groups and individuals including the Conference of Chief Justices, the Judicial Conference of the United States, more than 60 former prosecutors, 30 current and former judges, and a number of leading conservatives. In the past months, the U.S. Conference of State Chief Justices passed a resolution opposing the legislation and urging that additional study and analysis of current laws governing habeas corpus petitions be undertaken. In September, the Judicial Conference of the United States -- an entity created by Congress in 1922 to "serve as the principal policy making body concerned with the administration of the United States Courts" -- similarly urged further study before any changes are made to the writ of habeas corpus.
The Streamlined Procedures Act:
a.. Is opposed by a broad array of groups and individuals, including the Conference of Chief Justices, the Judicial Conference of the United States, more than 60 former prosecutors, 30 current and former judges, and a number of leading conservatives. In the past months, the US Conference of State Chief Justices passed a resolution opposing the legislation introduced by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA) and urging that additional study and analysis of current laws governing habeas corpus petitions be undertaken. In September, the Judicial Conference of the United States -- an entity created by Congress in 1922 to "serve as the principal policy making body concerned with the administration of the United States Courts" -- similarly urged further study before any further changes to habeas are made.
b.. Would generate numerous complicated legal issues and years of litigation and delay. Contrary to the title of the legislation, the Streamlined Procedures Act would generate years of delay in the resolution of prisoner appeals because it would overturn a series of Supreme Court decisions, disregard long-established principles of federalism, and invite constitutional challenges on the theory that it impairs the independence of the federal courts. In 1996, Congress amended the habeas corpus statute by enacting the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The AEDPA contained numerous provisions that have required years of review by the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts to authoritatively interpret. If passed, the Streamlined Procedures Act would pose similar problems for the courts.
c.. Would lead to more errors and unfairness in the justice system. The current system of indigent defense in the United States -- in which defenders are chronically underfunded and have far too many clients -- often fails to guarantee defendants a fair trial and state courts fall short in their responsibility to correct the errors that occur during the trial phase. By cutting federal courts out of the review process, these errors will go uncorrected, calling into question the integrity of the criminal justice system. Additionally, while finality is important to the victims of crime and to the public in general, no one wants an innocent person to be convicted of a crime, especially when the punishment is death, and when it may well mean that the real perpetrator remains free to commit more crimes.
d.. Would increase the likelihood that an innocent person will be executed. The rising number of innocent prisoners being freed from jails around the US in recent years has revealed serious flaws in our criminal justice system. Congress has worked to correct some of these problems with last year's enactment of the Innocence Protection Act, but the Streamlined Procedures Act would undercut much of that progress. When an innocent person is convicted of a crime it is most often because the defendant received ineffective assistance of counsel or an act of police or prosecutorial misconduct occurred in the case. Innocent prisoners need to be able to challenge their cases by filing habeas corpus petitions that can then clear the way for them to prove their innocence.
Despite this widespread opposition, habeas repeal measures are being attached to other bills making their way through Congress, including the Patriot Act and the Omnibus Crime Bill. You can help by taking action today!
Status of the Legislation in the Senate:
The Senate Judiciary Committee held its second hearing on the bill on Wednesday, November 16th. A hearing on the legislation took place on July 13 featuring witnesses including former US Solicitor General Seth Waxman, innocence expert Barry Scheck and death penalty attorney and law professor Bryan A. Stevenson arguing that the bill would increase the likelihood of innocent people being executed. The witnesses also noted how the legislation undermines recent bipartisan action by Congress to address inaccuracy in the criminal justice system, through the Innocence Protection Act, and conflicts with the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. has amended the legislation twice addressing some of the concerns about the original bill; however, the amended version remains a serious threat to fairness and accuracy in the criminal justice system.
Take action today to stop this legislation in the Senate!
Status of the Legislation in the House:
The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security held its second hearing on the House version of the bill, HR 3035, on Thursday, November 10th. At the hearing, Washington, DC attorney Ruth E. Friedman, a former senior counsel at the Equal Justice Initiative, commented that the legislation was written based largely on anecdotal information about cases in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Friedman noted, "Unlike any prior reform or revision, this legislation would strip the federal judiciary of jurisdiction to consider claims of serious constitutional error arising from state court convictions. In so doing, it would dismantle years of Supreme Court jurisprudence and wreak havoc on the administration of criminal justice. HR 3035 would deal this crippling blow to habeas corpus without any evidence of a need for such extreme measures." Read Friedman's full testimony (pdf).
Take action today to stop this legislation in the House!
About the Legislation
a.. Full Text of S 1088, including Sen. Specter's substitute language
b.. Full Text of HR 3035
Lives at Stake
a.. Here is a sampling of the innocent people who might have been executed or left to languish in prison if the Streamlined Procedures Act were law while their cases were under review.
b.. Here are more examples of cases involving egregious prosecutorial misconduct and other injustices that the Streamlined Procedures Act would leave untouched.
Opposing the Streamlined Procedures Act
a.. View a list of organizations and individuals opposing the legislation.
Letters and Statements
a.. Letter from the Judicial Conference of the United States to Sen. Specter. The Judicial Conference is comprised of Senior Circuit Court Judges and District Judges.
b.. Joint Resolution on S 1088 from the Conference of Chief Justices and Conference of State Court Administrators.
c.. Letter from Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson to the National Conference of Chief Justices.
d.. Letter from 31 current and former federal and state judges to Sen. Specter and Sen. Leahy.
e.. Letter from California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald M. George to Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).
f.. Letter from 71 current and former federal and state prosecutors to leadership of House and Senate Judiciary committees.
g.. Letter from former FBI directors William H. Webster and William S. Sessions to Sen. Specter and Sen. Leahy.
h.. Letter and memo from the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit conservative legal organization dedicated to the defense of civil liberties and human rights.
i.. Letter from the American Conservative Union to senators.
j.. Letter from the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists to Senator Specter.
k.. Letter from former Georgia Congressman and prosecutor Bob Barr to Sen. Specter.
l.. Letter from Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Chairman of the Domestic Policy Committee of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, to senators.
m.. Letter from the American Bar Association to Sen. Specter and Sen. Leahy.
n.. Letter from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to Sen. Specter.
Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary - November 16, 2005
a.. Seth Waxman, Former US Solicitor General
b.. Judge Howard D. McKibben, United States district court judge from the District of Nevada and Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction
Testimony before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary - July 13, 2005
a.. Seth Waxman, Former US Solicitor General
b.. Barry Scheck, Co-Director, Innocence Project and Prof. Of Law, Cardozo Law School, Yeshiva University
c.. Bryan A. Stevenson, Director, Equal Justice Initiative of Alabama and Prof. Of Clinical Law, NYU School of Law
Testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security - November 10, 2005
a.. Ruth E. Friedman, Attorney, Washington, DC
Testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security - June 30, 2005
a.. Bernard E. Harcourt, Professor of Law, University of Chicago
Editorials and Op-Eds
a.. Read quotes from select newspaper editorials regarding the Streamlined Procedures Act of 2005.
b.. Editorial: "The erosion of the Great Writ" from the American Judicature Society. October 25, 2005.
c.. Op-Ed: "Stones in the pathway of justice" by Dale A. Baich as published in the Arizona Republic on September 18, 2005. Baich is an assistant federal public defender who handles death penalty appeals and adjunct professor of law at Arizona State University College of Law.
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