MoveOn.org is surveying its members' enthusiasm for a campaign to restore constitutional rights in an online poll that may shape the group's "next steps." The initial poll began circulating among MoveOn's 3.3 million members last week, without referencing constitutional rights, but MoveOn has now added a choice for a "Campaign to restore Constitutional Rights and Liberties."
The change was first noticed by a Nation reader, "RLAWRENCE," who wrote a comment about it in response to a blog post on The Notion Monday afternoon. MoveOn Executive Director Eli Pariser confirmed the addition today. The constitutional rights item was inserted in place of a potential campaign to "Stop Republicans from pardoning the President for his illegal wiretapping program before Democrats take power."
The attention on habeas corpus is coming at a crucial time. Today the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on "Restoring Habeas Corpus," which former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith live-blogged here. Chairman Pat Leahy outlined the stakes in his prepared opening statement:
Habeas corpus was recklessly undermined in last year's legislation. Senator Specter and I urged caution before taking that dangerous step, but fell just a few votes shy on our amendment to restore these protections. It is now six months later with the election behind us. I hope that the new Senate will reconsider this historic error in judgment and set the matter right. It is urgent that we restore our legal traditions and reestablish this fundamental check on the ability of the Government to lock someone away without meaningful judicial review of its action. The time to act is now.
Leahy's bipartisan bill has 16 cosponsors, and there are probably enough votes for it to pass the Senate if it were brought to a vote today. But a stand-alone bill will face a certain veto from President Bush. The Democratic Congress must attach habeas restoration to essential legislation, such as defense spending bills, to force a confrontation with Bush.
The Democrats have tons of support here: 71 percent of Americans back habeas corpus for all, including detainees; a huge bipartisan group of legal experts support habeas; Democratic voters and the netroots care deeply about this issue; and MoveOn is ready to take up the fight. Matt Stoller, a nationally recognized leader in netroots organizing, wrote yesterday that from his frequent work with MoveOn, it's clear that habeas corpus is "an organizational priority" for the group and a "core issue to their members." (He also offered a thoughtful critique of my post about MoveOn.) So that should be motivating for Congressional Democrats: The netroots, grassroots and public opinion writ large support restoring the great writ. In a healthy democracy, this kind of public consensus would drive policy, be it restoring the Constitution or ending the Iraq occupation.