CONSTITUTION PROJECT (CP)
- Works to undermine U.S. national security on constitutional grounds
- Has recommended that foreign detainees (including suspected terrorists) should be released on American soil
- Receives financial support from the Open Society Institute
- Criminal Sentencing: CP favors "reasonable alternatives to confinement."
- Death Penalty: CP contends that capital-punishment sentencing is fraught with inequities against poor people and nonwhites, and that many defendants have been wrongfully convicted.
- Right to Counsel: CP says that many states and localities are "not providing competent criminal defense counsel, despite the constitutional requirement that they do so."
- Immigration: CP states that "many" of the post-9/11 "iimmigration initiatives and reforms" that the U.S. government enacted "in the name of national security" raise "serious constitutional concerns."
- NSA Surveillance: CP condemned the National Security Agency’s warrantless domestic wiretapping program when that program was first disclosed to the public in December 2005.
- State Secrets Privilege: CP argues that the "state secrets privilege," which "protects evidence from public disclosure if such disclosure would threaten national security," was "misinterpreted as providing an absolute privilege" by the Bush administration.
- Watch Lists: CP says that watch lists such as the post-9/11 “no fly” list used for screening airline passengers "can lead to ... invasions of privacy [and] to ... serious damage to reputation, employability, the right to travel, or other constitutionally protected freedoms."
Founded in 1997 by Virginia Sloan and Morton Halperin, the Constitution Project (CP) is a nonprofit organization whose objective is to influence court decisions and public opinion on contentious constitutional and legal issues. This is primarily done by way of reports, recommendations, amicus briefs, opinion articles, sponsored events (such as panel discussions), and “expert” opinions offered to the media and legislative committees. Much of CP’s work since September 11, 2001 has sought to challenge the legality of military commissions; end the detainment of "enemy combatants” (a term whose meaning CP says has become "overbroad"); condemn government surveillance of terrorists; and limit the President's executive privileges.
While claiming to promote constitutional values, CP has repeatedly argued on behalf of enemy combatants whom it depicts as victims of American injustice. CP’s “Liberty and Security Committee” heads this initiative, which has led the organization to defend numerous confirmed terrorists. In 2002, for instance, CP submitted an amicus brief for a case involving Khaled El-Masri, a violent German national with suspected ties to terrorist organizations. Another amicus brief was submitted in support of Osama bin Laden's bodyguard and chauffeur, Salim Ahmed Hamdan. CP argued that Hamdan’s habeas corpus rights had been unconstitutionally denied and, more generally, that the military commission process was unjustifiable.
CP also filed several amicus briefs in support of Jose Padilla, an American Islamic convert with a violent history, who, according to CP, was being unlawfully detained. Arguing on similar grounds in a 2009 amicus brief, CP petitioned for a group of Uighur detainees at Guantanamo Bay to be released on American soil. In the 2010 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals case Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, CP supported the plaintiffs who claimed that the U.S. government had unlawfully monitored them via wiretapping. In some cases, such as in al-Odah v. United States and Boumediene v. Bush, CP argued that it was illegal for the American government to detain terror suspects because the evidence against them had been obtained through “torture.”
Over the years, CP has collaborated on amicus briefs and other legal documents with such organizations as Human Rights First (here), People for the American Way (here), the Brennan Center for Justice (here), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, (here).
In November 2009, CP, along with Human Rights First, drafted a statement titled “Beyond Guantanamo” which called for the processing of all terror suspects in federal courts rather than in military tribunals. Signatories included members of the Century Foundation, the American Bar Association, the New America Foundation, September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, the American Civil Liberties Union, and several other groups.
Among the key issues upon which CP focuses its activism are the following:
Formerly based out of Georgetown University’s Public Policy Institute, CP now holds an independent office in Washington, DC. The organization's president is Virginia Sloan, who also sits on the board of directors for the Law Office of the Southern Center for Human Rights. A particularly notable CP board member is Morton Halperin. CP’s policy advisory committee includes, among others, New Israel Fund board president Peter Edelman; former Democratic congressman Abner Mikva; Facebook "public policy associate" Corey Owens; and George Mason University history professor Roger Wilkins. John Podesta was once on CP’s Liberty and Security Committee.
George Soros's Open Society Institute has awarded grants yearly to CP since at least 2000; between 2000 and 2008, these grants totaled more than $1.8 million cumulatively. CP has also received funding in recent years from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
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