As lawmakers completed their work before breaking for the mid-term election, legislation allowing the President to establish special tribunals for terrorism detainees topped the agenda. After the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Congress began considering legislation to give the President power to put detainees on trial in special tribunals. The bill passed the House of Representatives on Sept. 27, and passed in the Senate on Sept. 28. Five amendments to the legislation were considered in the Senate, including a proposal by Sen. Specter (R-PA) to grant detainees the right to file habeas corpus appeals in federal courts, but none were incorporated in to the legislation. While the legislation grants detainees more rights than they had in the previous system, it also allows for forms of trial evidence to be used that would not be permitted in regular courts, such as hearsay and, in certain circumstances, coerced testimony.
On July 27, President Bush signed HR 9, which extends the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for another 25 years. The new law includes a clarification of the definition of “discriminatory effect,” and adds authority for parties involved in voting rights cases to recover expert witness fees. ABA Governmental Affairs Director Robert D. Evans sent letters to both the House and Senate urging their approval of this important legislation. He expressed the ABA’s position on the Act and noted that while the U.S. has made “significant progress since the original passage of the act, continued implementation and enforcement of the act is necessary to prevent and provide redress for voting discrimination.”
Stem cell research legislation also has been at the forefront of debate in Congress. Both the House and Senate passed HR 810, to amend the Public Health Service Act to provide for human embryonic stem cell research. On July 19, the President vetoed the legislation, and one day later, signed HR 3504 into law, making it illegal to obtain for research purposes, any human tissue resulting from a human pregnancy deliberately initiated to provide such tissue or from a human embryo or fetus gestated in the uterus of a nonhuman animal. On July 18, the Senate unanimously passed S 2754, supporting research for developing stem cells with properties similar to embryonic calls without destroying the embryos. The House was unable to reach the two-thirds majority on this legislation, and is expected to reconsider the bill later this year.
Other issues of importance to the Section include:
On Sept. 6, Rep. Waters, (D-CA) introduced HR 6038, to provide for an effective HIV/AIDS program in federal prisons. The bill was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.
On July 27, the President signed HR 4472 (P.L. 109-248), to protect children from sexual exploitation and violent crime, to prevent child abuse and child pornography, to promote Internet safety, and to honor the memory of Adam Walsh and other child crime victims.
On July 25, the Senate passed, by a vote of 65-34, S 403, to amend Title 18, United States Code, to prohibit taking minors across state lines in circumvention of laws requiring the involvement of parents in abortion decisions.
On Aug. 3, the Senate passed S 1899, to amend the Indian Child Protection and Family Violence Prevention Act to identify and remove barriers to reducing child abuse, and to provide examinations of certain children.
On Sept. 13, Rep. Ryan (D-OH) introduced HR 6067, to provide for programs that reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, help women bear healthy children, and support new parents. The bill was referred to both the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Civil Rights/Constitutional Law
On July 24, the President signed HR 42 (P.L. 109-243), to ensure that the right of an individual to display a flag of the United States on a residential property not be abridged.
On July 28, Rep. Davis (D-AL) introduced H. Res 969, urging the Secretary of Defense to immediately institute a zero-tolerance policy with regard to racial and ethnic extremism in the military. The resolution was referred to the House Armed Services Committee.
On Aug. 8, Sen. Brownback (R-KS) introduced S 3788, to clarify federal law to prohibit the dispensing, distribution, or administration of a controlled substance for the purpose of causing, or assisting in causing, the suicide, euthanasia, or mercy killing of any individual. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On July 26, Sen. Specter (R-PA) introduced S 3731, to regulate the judicial use of presidential signing statements in the interpretation of acts of Congress. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On July 25, Sen. Sessions (R-AL) introduced S 3725, to reduce the disparity in punishment between crack and powder cocaine offenses, and to more broadly focus the punishment for drug offenders on the seriousness of the offense and the culpability of the offender. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Sept. 20, the House passed, by a vote of 228-96, HR 4844, to amend the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 to require any individual who desires to register or re-register to vote in an election for federal office to provide the appropriate state election official with proof that the individual is a citizen of the United States to prevent fraud in federal elections.
On July 19, Rep. Hefley (R-CO) introduced HR 5839, to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, to prohibit the establishment of leadership political action committees. The bill was referred to the Committee on House Administration.
On Sept. 20, Rep. Paul (R-TX) introduced HR 6125, to prohibit discrimination by group health plans and employers based on genetic information. The bill was referred to the House Committee on Government Reform, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the House Committee on Ways and Means.
On Sept. 14, Sen. Frist, (R-TN) introduced S 3892, to reduce the number of deaths along the border between the United States and Mexico by improving the placement of rescue beacons. The bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
On Sept. 25, the House passed HR 3127, to impose sanctions against individuals responsible for genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, to support measures for the protection of civilians and humanitarian operations, and to support peace efforts in the Darfur region of Sudan, clearing the measure for the President.
On Aug. 3, Sen. Santorum (R-PA) introduced S 3787, to establish a congressional Commission on the Abolition of Modern-Day Slavery. The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
On Sept. 14, the Senate passed by unanimous vote HR 4954, to improve maritime and cargo security through enhanced layered defenses.
On Sept. 7, Sen. DeWine (R-OH) introduced S 3874, to provide in statute for the conduct of electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists for the purposes of protecting the American people, the nation, and its interests from terrorist attacks while ensuring that the civil liberties of United States citizens are safeguarded.