Local Institute Looks to Enforce Constitutional Rights

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    Illustration by Christine Hipp

    The Romero Institute is proposing to make Santa Cruz a civil rights enforcement zone, in response to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed into law by President Obama in December of 2011. The act authorizes $662 billion in funding for national defense and the United States’ interests abroad.

    The proposal would nullify sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA, which allow the U.S. military to indefinitely detain — without trial — any person, including U.S. citizens suspected of being affiliated with terrorist organizations or activities.

    The Romero Institute, headed by attorney Daniel Sheehan and based in Santa Cruz, provides legal consultation, litigation and public education. The Romero Institute first suggested the idea to former Santa Cruz mayor and current city council member Ryan Coonerty.

    Santa Cruz City Council members have also expressed their concern with sections 1021 and 1022 of the act and passed a resolution on April 10 detailing their disapproval. The resolution claimed that sections 1021 and 1022 violate the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and would “corrode the ideals of presumed innocence and right to a fair trial,” according to the resolution.

    Coonerty said the resolution passed by the Santa Cruz City Council reflects similar concerns with constitutional rights and is a step in the right direction.

    “I think it’s incumbent of every citizen to be aware of federal legislation,” Coonerty said. “When we passed the resolution, we were trying to express our concerns with civil rights.”

    The resolution passed by city council members was given to U.S. Senate representatives and has no bearing on bringing about immediate federal legislative change.

    “The National Defense Authorization Act, passed at the federal level, cannot be trumped by local or state governments and so the resolution was only passed to express our concerns,” Coonerty said.

    However, the Romero Institute has decided to push even further. Sheehan and the Romero Institute have been working to draft a letter urging the District Supervisors to ensure constitutional rights are protected for all citizens.

    “[These sections] are unconstitutional and should not be enforced,” Sheehan said. “We would like the Santa Cruz Council and District Supervisors to declare Santa Cruz a civil rights enforcement zone.”

    President Obama argued in a signing statement that section 1021 “breaks no new ground” and only restates the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, according to Courthouse News.

    The President’s sentiments, however, have not been shared by all. On May 16, Federal District Judge Katherine Forrest granted a preliminary injunction blocking provision 1021 of the act.

    “Section 1021 tries to do too much with too little,” Forrest said. “It lacks the minimal requirements of definition and scienter that could easily have been added, or could be added, to allow it to pass constitutional muster.”

    For Sheehan, the issue comes down to natural rights.

    “Our citizens have these rights,” Sheehan said. “Anyone who comes in and tries to infringe them is in violation of the law and you can therefore take all necessary action to prevent the violation of constitutional rights of our citizens.”

    Sheehan said a precedent will be set for other counties and cities as Santa Cruz moves to protect constitutional rights.

    “If we are adequately upset about this, so should they be,” Sheehan said. “We as citizens have the obligation to use any means necessary to protect constitutional rights.”