A coalition of civil, political, and labor rights activists gathered on the steps of the New Haven Free Library on Tuesday to publicize a “Taking Back Our Rights” conference on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Quinnipiac Law School.Experts at the conference will address the erosion of constitutional rights by politicians in Washington, D.C., the members of the newly formed coalition said Tuesday. Roger Vann, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut said, “it’s been a perfect storm of abuses,” from voting rights to reproductive freedoms, “they’re attacking us from all sides.” He said the conference will give citizens an opportunity to question some of these abuses before there’s an attempt to codify them in law.
Henry Lowendorf, a New Haven peace activist, said Tuesday that Congress has allowed the president to “shove a dagger into the U.S. Constitution.” To illustrate his point, Lowendorf used last week’s legislation that denies detainees the right to habeas corpus, as an example. In addition to the denial of their due process rights, the new legislation gives the president and all his men discretion in defining who the enemy is and how long they should be held in a secret prison, Lowendorf said. He said the president may even apply the definition of enemy combatant to U.S. citizens who oppose the war in Iraq. In a speech prior to last week’s vote, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., warned his colleagues of the moral implications and the separation of powers issue raised by the legislation. “We can, and we must, balance our responsibilities to bring terrorists completely to justice, while at the same time protecting what it means to be American,” Dodd said. Connecticut’s other Senator, Joseph Lieberman, who is up for re-election, voted in favor of the legislation. “The nation and our military need a process under law to deal with a new category of enemies—the foreign terrorists who are determined to kill innocent Americans—when they are captured, detained, and determined to be enemy combatants,” Lieberman said in a statement following the passage of the legislation. The legislation passed in the Senate, 65 to 34. But Connecticut has a more intimate connection to the recent infringement on the Constitution. First, there’s the librarians who stood up to the FBI and National Security Administration when it wanted information about a library patron’s computer usage. The federal government dropped the investigation in late June when it was able to dismiss the terrorist threat it thought existed. Click here for the story on the librarians. In addition to the librarians, the state is being sued by the federal government for its attempt to protect the privacy rights of telephone consumers. In May, the ACLU filed a complaint with the Department of Public Utility Control Commission to find out if the two telecommunications companies and their affiliates participated in the federal government’s warrantless wiretap program. In early September, before any records were turned over to the ACLU, the feds sued both the DPUC and the phone companies, claiming the state has no right to the information, which may or may not exist, and the phone companies may not release it. Vann said the DPUC is moving forward in challenging the lawsuit. In addition, it has looked at ways to strengthen the law so that future consumers are able to find out if their phone has been tapped. According to the feds’ lawsuit against the DPUC, more than 30 class action lawsuits have been filed since January 2006, alleging telecommunication companies have unlawfully provided assistance to the National Security Administration.Registration for the conference begins at 8:30 a.m. at the Quinnipiac University Law School’s Grand Courtroom at 275 Mount Carmel Ave. in Hamden.