Small towns challenge the U.S. governments practice of military recruiting of minors

“United States of America v. City of Arcata; City of Eureka.” So reads the heading to a lawsuit filed in December 2008 by the United States Department of Justice, acting on a complaint by the Department of Defense. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate the Youth Protection Act, a ballot initiative ordinance, passed by 73% of Arcata voters and 57% of Eureka voters, last November. Arcata and Eureka are neighboring, small cities on California’s north coast. Also known as Ballot Measures F and J, the ordinances protect minors from aggressive military recruiting tactics. They prohibit recruiters from initiating contact with minors in Arcata or Eureka for the purpose of military recruitment. They in no way prevent anyone from contacting a recruiter, if he or she chooses to do so. Having had their democratically-enacted ordinances challenged, the cities are now striking back. On February 12, the cities of Arcata and Eureka filed counter-claims against the United States and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, to uphold their right to protect minors from being targeted by military recruiters. The lawsuits ask for a ruling by the federal court in San Francisco that the Youth Protection Act is legal and valid, and that the cities may begin to enforce its provisions. Arcata and Eureka are also asking the court to issue an injunction prohibiting U.S. military recruiters from violating the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflicts. This Protocol, adopted by the U.S. Senate in December 2002, prohibits the U.S. from recruiting children under the age of 17 into the military. The Protocol is an international treaty which was ratified by the U.S. Senate and, as such, is the Supreme Law of the Land as provided for in the U.S. Constitution. Proponents of the Measures and citizens of Arcata and Eureka have consistently emphasized that the Ordinance is not intended to be anti-military. Dave Meserve, of the Vote Yes on Measures F and J Committee, states: “We fully support the men and women who are currently serving in the armed forces, and we hope for their safe and speedy return from war zones. We also believe that it is our fundamental right to protect children from aggressive and misleading recruiting tactics. Now is the time to stop recruiting kids!” Brad Yamauchi, an attorney with Minami Tamaki LLP of San Francisco, along with the Law Offices of Michael S. Sorgen, is representing the City of Arcata in this matter on a pro bono basis. Eureka’s legal filing was executed by their City Attorney, Sheryl Schaffner, with pro bono assistance from San Francisco attorney Dennis Cunningham. The Vote Yes on Measures F and J Committee, as proponents of the measures, have also filed answers and counter-claims with the court, along with a motion to intervene in the case as an additional defendant. Their attorney, Sharon Adams, who is also working pro bono, filed the documents on their behalf. The Department of Justice will now have the opportunity to respond to the lawsuit of the cities and the motion of the proponents to intervene, and the federal court will then proceed with scheduling hearings on the matter. The legal team defending the measures is asking anyone who has experienced or witnessed inappropriate military recruiting practices directed at minors please to send a written account of your experience to: info@stoprecruitingkids.org. Such first person accounts may be very helpful in demonstrating the need for the ordinance. Meanwhile, the people of Arcata and Eureka continue to demand that the United States of America must, “Stop Recruiting Kids!”