Civil liberties, at home and abroad; saving Jeff Wood from Texas’s death row.



Word in Washington is that the Senate’s anticipated approval of the White House-backed

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act

(FISA) granting telecom companies retroactive immunity for warrantless wiretapping–see “Fizzling on FISA” on page 3–will take the debate about civil liberties “off the table” for the 2008 election. Groups such as the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and the ACLU won’t let constitutional questions fade altogether. But it is too bad the United States lacks a risk-taking champion of privacy rights like British Parliamentarian

David Davis

. A leader of the opposition Conservative Party, Davis persuaded fellow Tories to oppose the Counter-Terrorism Bill, passed by Prime Minister

Gordon Brown

‘s Labour government to extend the period in which suspects can be held without charge to forty-two days.

Davis, who termed the anti-terror legislation “perhaps the most salient example of the insidious, surreptitious and relentless erosion of fundamental British freedoms,” resigned his Yorkshire seat and forced a new election in which he is campaigning on one issue: the “choice between a vision of a free Britain which protects our fundamental freedoms and respects personal privacy and Gordon Brown’s vision of an over-weaning, interfering, and increasingly authoritarian state interfering in every nook and cranny of our daily lives.” Davis’s bold stand has drawn praise from


, the British equivalent of the ACLU, and Labour leftists such as former Cabinet member

Tony Benn

, who hailed Davis for forcing a referendum “on what I regard as a catastrophic assault on civil liberties.” Benn is not alone in suggesting that, if Davis wins the high-profile July 10 election, as is expected, he will return to Parliament with a mandate from the people to fight the “strangulation of British freedoms.”   JOHN NICHOLS


Justice Kennedy

‘s June 25 opinion striking down the death penalty for child rapists followed the Supreme Court’s trend of narrow rulings that restrict, but do not abolish, capital punishment. Nonetheless, the decision’s essential principle–that only intentional first-degree murderers should face the death penalty–ought to increase scrutiny on Texas’ notorious “Law of Parties,” which allows the state to impose the death penalty on anyone involved in a crime that leads to murder, even if the accomplice had nothing to do with the murder itself. Indeed, the life of

Jeff Wood

, who faces execution on August 21, may be at stake. Wood was involved in the murder of a convenience store clerk in 1996–he drove the getaway car in what started as a robbery–but nobody, not even Texas prosecutors, asserts that he was the gunman; Wood maintains that the robbery was not planned. Readers are encouraged to petition Texas Governor

Rick Perry

to commute Wood’s sentence, as he did in the similar case of

Kenneth Foster

. An online petition can be found at   PETER ROTHBERG

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