In an outspoken affirmation of constitutional rights and due process, the California Bar Association’s Conference of Delegates last week called on the state’s members of Congress to support amending the USA Patriot Act to uphold fundamental constitutional rights.

In a resolution passed Oct. 13 by an overwhelming vote, delegates called on the members of Congress to act “in light of the fundamental precept that in times of crisis, it is imperative that the government respect constitutional rights and procedural due process, even as it protects life, property and national security.”

California lawyers, the resolution said, “have a major role in upholding constitutional and human rights, at all times, including those times when those rights appear to be in conflict with efforts made in the pursuit of national defense.”

The resolution specifically supported the American Bar Association’s August resolutions, which urged protection for the rights of immigration detainees. The ABA resolutions called for disclosure of names, detention facilities and charges against detainees and insuring their immediate access to attorneys and family members. Other concerns included prompt charging of detainees and their prompt release when charges are not brought, and making removal hearings public unless a valid reason exists to close them.

The California resolution also supported the ABA’s position that the Bush administration’s November 2001 Military Order regarding “detention, treatment and trial of certain non-citizens in the war against terrorism” should not apply to U.S. citizens and others lawfully present in the U.S.

The delegates said that indefinite detention should not be permitted, and trial and appeal procedures should be governed by the Uniform Military Code of Justice. They called for prompt notice of charges, representation by counsel of choice, and adequate time and facilities to prepare for trial procedures. Other calls included the assistance of an interpreter and the privilege against self-incrimination.

The California Bar Association delegates also called on the president and Congress to address risks to constitutional rights, including spying on privileged communications between detainees and their attorneys, selectively targeting persons from Middle Eastern and South Asian countries for interviews and deportation without reasonable cause, secret searches of homes and offices, infiltration and spying on domestic religious and political organizations. The resolution also warned about subpoenaing personal records from libraries and forcing the libraries to keep the subpoenas secret, and implementing the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS), which encourages Americans to spy on others in the United States.

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