November 2006 Newsletter

29 November 2006

Since our last newsletter, the shift in control of Congress has created some potential for improvements in the national civil liberties picture; but we will certainly have to hold timid feet to the fire in order to retrieve even a part of what has been lost so far in the six years of Bush/Republican one-party domination.

Senator Leahy, new chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said he will introduce a bill to restore the habeas corpus rights gutted in the Military Commissions Law which so disgraced the Congress just prior to the election. But other Democratic leaders have not given even this minimal measure high priority; and of course Bush could veto any change in the law: it’s unlikely that the Democrats have a veto-proof majority to restore abridged rights. Whether the Supreme Court will do the job that Congress fails to perform is subject to guesswork and the wavering decisions of one or two justices. Much might depend on the swing vote of Justice Kennedy, a slim reed to rely on for the future of the Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, it is now unlikely that Bush & Co. will be able to shove through the Senate more blind worshippers of executive power, whether to the Appeals Courts or, should a vacancy occur, to the Supreme Court. Considering the precarious protection left in the Supreme Court (after the Roberts and Alito appointments) for formerly recognized rights, that is one gain from the election for which we can be grateful.

Aggressive use of the Congressional powers of investigation; e.g. of Guantanamo or the NSA eavesdropping, could produce some positive results. CCDBR proudly harkens back to our event honoring Congressman John Conyers, who will take over as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Although both he and Nancy Pelosi have said that “impeachment is off the table,” the subpoena power of a congressional committee can bring forth information leading who knows where.

We want to help revive the Chicagoland Coalition for Civil Liberties and Rights — the local coalition effort to match the Chicago City Council resolution against the Patriot Act with a similar resolution by the Illinois legislature. Indeed, the legislative and administrative incursions on civil liberties since the Patriot Act have grown so appalling that we must consider “Patriot Act” to be a shorthand symbol for a whole range of threats.

Some new funding will now enable us to move ahead with our Acting Free program with Pegasus Theater. This program, which will encourage high-school students to develop plays that center on Bill of Rights issues, should grow from a small beginning to signficant proportions.

All who attended our recent celebration of Frank Wilkinson’s life left feeling inspired by his example and reinvigorated in our commitment to keep up the struggle he advanced so remarkably. Statements by Frank’s widow Donna, Rachel Rosen DeGolia, Frank Rosen, Tim Black, Kit Gage, Congressman Danny Davis, and others made this a very memorable occasion.

Pearl Hirshfield’s donation of an Alexander Calder print which we sold at auction yielded significant new funds for our work. We must particularly thank Nancy Mikelsons, who took the lead in organizing the event, along with Don Goldhamer and Milt Herst. We still have CDs of the remarkable Studs Terkel/Wilkinson radio interview which anyone interested can purchase: not a bad holiday present!

Please save the date of 15 March 2007 for our evening tribute to Sister Helen Prejean, whose leadership in opposing the injustices of the death penalty was dramatically portrayed in the film “Dead Man Walking.”

As always, we welcome and are grateful for your financial contributions.

Bob Clarke