Latest News from the Brennan Center

September 8, 2011

New Fronts in the War on Voting

The nationwide wave of state legislation rolling back opportunities to vote is now attracting federal attention, both from Congress and the Justice Department. Today, a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on whether this legislation poses "barriers to the ballot." TPM reports on the Republican witness on the hearing's expert panel, controversial Bush-era Justice Department official Hans von Spakovsky, a longtime advocate for restrictions on voting rights. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice has already raised questions about South Carolina's voter photo ID law, and will be reviewing others.

Reports Question NYPD Counterterror Tactics

The Associated Press released an investigation of NYPD intelligence gathering tactics, detailing numerous examples of racial profiling and intrusion into ethnic communities looking for “hot spots” of terrorist activity. The Brennan Center has called on the City Council to hold a hearing on the department’s activities. The Center released two reports earlier this year that examine domestic counterterror investigations. Read analysis from Faiza Patel in the American Prospect, CBS New York, and Mother Jones.

A Strike Against Government Secrecy

In response to a 2004 Brennan Center Freedom of Information Act request, a federal judge ordered the release of a Bush-era Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that questioned the constitutionality of a federal statute governing federal grants for humanitarian organizations. The statue requires certain groups to pledge opposition to prostitution in order to receive federal funding for humanitarian and anti-HIV/AIDS work abroad. OLC later reversed course, and the government has been defending the statute's constitutionality in a separate lawsuit, in which the Brennan Center recently scored a victory in the Second Circuit.

America Ten Years after 9/11

“Although people may disagree about whether the past decade's changes have made us safer, there is no doubt they have undermined our historical commitment to human rights,” wrote Faiza Patel in The National Law Journal. The Brennan Center has highlighted policy changes since 9/11 in a number of ways. In June, the Center hosted Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for a discussion on the nation’s response to terrorism. The Center also posted a three-part discussion of U.S. detention policy between Emily Berman and Seton Hall Law Professor Jonathan Hafetz.

Brennan Center Welcomes New COO and VP, Programs

The Brennan Center is pleased to announce two additions to its leadership team. John F. Kowal joins the Center as Vice President of Programs. In this role, Kowal will be responsible for coordinating and guiding the organization's programmatic work, including its Democracy, Justice, and Liberty and National Security Programs, as well as its Washington, D.C. office. John Anthony (Tony) Butler joins the Center as its new Chief Operating Officer. In this role, Butler will be responsible for all of the organization’s administrative, financial and operational activities, as well as oversee its strategic planning process.

New Fellow Bart Gellman Joins the Brennan Center

The Brennan Center also welcomed a new Liberty and National Security fellow, Barton Gellman, a two-time Pulitzer prize-winning author of Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency, which was named New York Times Best Book of 2008 and is currently being adapted for an HBO miniseries. Formerly a Washington Post reporter, Bart is an editor at large for Time Magazine and the author of its CounterSpy blog about privacy and digital secrecy. You can learn more about him at his website, here.

Ideas on Democracy, Justice, and the Rule of Law

A Look Back on the Supreme Court’s Term – Sidney Rosdeitcher

Sidney Rosdeitcher, a senior policy advisor at the Brennan Center, published the first of three pieces analyzing the Supreme Court’s recent term. The first piece tackles the Court’s decisions on class action lawsuits, which “are often an indispensable device for providing access to justice for vulnerable or disadvantaged persons.” Look for more in the coming weeks on national security, civil liberties, and money in politics.

Astroturfing Voter ID – Keesha Gaskins

With the current expansion of Voter ID law changes throughout the states, it is essential to remember that every citizen has the right to vote and inhibiting minorities from voting goes against our democracy. Minorities should not be burdened by those who wish to destroy this right.

What We’re Reading Today

See what the Brennan Center’s reading in this daily round-up of quick hits, clips, and opinion pieces touching on key issues of democracy, justice, liberty and national security

Read more blogs here.


- Sept. 15 – Senior Counsel Adam Skaggs will discuss "Corporate Political Activity and Disclosure after Citizens United" at Baruch College in New York City.

- Sept. 19 – Michael Waldman debates former FEC Chair Bradley Smith on campaign finance law at Colgate University in Hamilton, NY.

- Sept. 22 – Monica Youn participates in a Supreme Court preview hosted by The American Constitution Society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

The Brennan Center In the News

- Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) wrote an op-ed in the New York Times on new threats to voting rights, arguing “a majority of state legislatures have passed or considered election-law changes that, taken together, constitute the most concerted effort to restrict the right to vote since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965." The congressman cited Brennan Center research on Florida’s election law changes showing how Florida’s new restrictions would disproportionately hurt minority voters.

- The New York Times editorial page urged the deficit reduction committee to commit to transparency, citing a Brennan Center letter to the committee.

- USA Today covered the deep cuts facing civil legal aid programs, quoting Rebekah Diller, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.

- An Albany Times Union op-ed about the lack of history taught in NY schools cited the Brennan Center’s A Report Card on New York's Civic Literacy. Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice also wrote about the Report Card.

- In The National Law Journal, the Brennan Center’s Faiza Patel writes on how policy changes since 9/11 have undermined our commitment to human rights.

- Faiza Patel provided analysis on the NYPD’s intelligence gathering tactics for the American Prospect, CBS New York, and Mother Jones. Patel and Emily Berman also wrote on this “dragnet surveillance” for Salon.

- The Brennan Center’s Elizabeth Kennedy called on committee members to disclose campaign contributions, ties to corporations, and relationships with political groups, writing op-eds for the Boston Herald, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Los Angeles Daily News.

- Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center, commented on the National Organization for Marriage’s refusal to disclose donor information for The Huffington Post.

- Bloomberg quoted Lawrence Norden, Democracy Program Deputy Director, on the rash of election law changes in states across the country.