Federal Legislative Update
Congressional Agenda Includes Individual Rights Issues
Abortion, Military Tribunals, Health-Based Initiatives Introduced in Summer Session
During the summer, Congress considered several legislative items of interest to the Section, including bills that would authorize the use of military tribunals to try individuals accused of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks; institute security-related immigration reforms; help ensure that innocent defendants are not executed; and criminalize "partial-birth" abortion.
In September, President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly to urge military action against Iraq in the absence of a strict and comprehensive weapons inspection regime. He also sought congressional support for unilateral military action against Iraq by the United States in the event U. N. action is not sufficiently forthcoming. As the IRR News Report went to press, both the U. N. and Congress were actively considering the president’s proposals.
Military Tribunals Act of 2002
On July 9, Rep. Schiff (D-CA) introduced HR5071, to authorize the President to establish military tribunals to try individuals allegedly responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks against the United States. Upon introduction, the bill was referred to the Committee on Armed Services and the Committee on the Judiciary, for a period to be determined by the Speaker, in order for each committee to consider the provisions falling within their jurisdiction. (At the 2002 ABA Midyear Meeting in Philadelphia, the ABA adopted Section-sponsored policy urging that due process, assistance of counsel, presumption of innocence, proof beyond reasonable doubt, and other established fair trial safeguards be accorded to defendants in military tribunals.)
On June 25, Rep. Gekas (R-PA) introduced the Securing America’s Future through Enforcement Reform (SAFER) Act (HR5013), to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to bar the admission, and facilitate the removal, of alien terrorists and their supporters and fundraisers; to secure our borders against terrorists, drug traffickers, and other illegal aliens; to facilitate the removal of illegal aliens and aliens who are criminals or human rights abusers; to reduce visa, document, employment, and voting fraud; and to reform the legal immigration system. On July 18, the bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims.
On June 21, Rep. Pastor (D-AZ) introduced the Immigration Adjustment Act of 2002 (HR4999), to adjust the status of certain aliens with longstanding ties to the United States and of those who have been lawfully admitted as permanent residence. On Aug. 20, the measure was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims.
On Sept. 24, Rep. Hansen (R-UT) introduced HR5440 to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act concerning loss of nationality for treason or terrorism against the United States. The bill was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.
Innocence Protection Act
On July 18, the Innocence Protection Act of 2001 (S486), introduced by Sen. Leahy (D-VT), was reported favorably by the Committee on the Judiciary. The bill would amend the federal judicial code to authorize a person convicted of a federal crime to apply for DNA testing to support a claim of innocence. It sets forth guidelines for a court to use in ordering DNA testing; post-testing procedures; provisions regarding preservation of evidence; criminal penalties for destroying or altering DNA evidence; and provisions regarding post-conviction DNA testing in state criminal justice systems. It also would establish the National Commission on Capital Representation; withhold funds from states not complying with standards for capital representation; and express the sense of Congress regarding the execution of juvenile offenders and the mentally retarded. The bill and its companion in the House, HR 912, introduced by Rep. Delahunt (D-MA), enjoy broad bipartisan support. The Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime held a hearing on HR 912 in June.
On June 19, Rep. Chabot (R-OH) introduced the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2001 (HR4965), to prohibit the procedure known as "partial-birth" abortion. On July 25, the bill was received in the Senate.