Prison-based gerrymandering; a college journalist’s big scoop about Bill Clinton; our day in court



On July 9, after five weeks of political paralysis caused by the momentary defection of Democrats

Hiram Monserrate


Pedro Espada

to the GOP side, the New York State Senate finally got its act together. But the crisis raises serious questions about the awkward balance of power in Albany and the frail nature of the Democratic majority (32-30) in the Senate.

According to the

Prison Policy Initiative

(PPI), which studies how prison populations affect state and local politics nationwide, New York is a grand perpetrator of prison-based gerrymandering. Despite the fact that the state Constitution explicitly declares that a person’s residence doesn’t change while in prison, thirteen upstate counties continue to ignore that, claiming inmates as constituents even though they can’t vote in those upstate counties. Without these so-called constituents, seven districts wouldn’t be drawn the way they are now. PPI argues that the disparity in population creates an extra Senate seat for upstate New Yorkers while disenfranchising downstaters.

Unfortunately, while New York may be one of the most exceptional examples of prison-based gerrymandering, it is not alone. PPI has found similar abuses in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, Nevada, Wisconsin and Texas, among others.

What continues to feed this cycle of misrepresentation in New York are the repressive Rockefeller drug laws. For decades upstate conservatives, like Senator

Dale Volker

, have resisted any major reform of these laws. Democrats managed to make a dent a few months ago by passing some minor revisions that would redirect resources to rehabilitation and repeal many of the mandatory minimum sentencing practices. But the road ahead will be difficult, since shipping nonviolent criminals upstate protects so many seats.   DARIUS DIXON



Campus Progress

‘s July 8 national conference, 20-year-old emerging journalist

Michael Tracey

found himself in possession of a major scoop: former President

Bill Clinton

had admitted, for the first time, to supporting same-sex marriage. Clinton made the revelation to Tracey while mingling with attendees after delivering the conference’s keynote speech.

Immediately, Tracey began thinking about the best way for a student journalist to break the story. The stars aligned the next day at

The Nation/Campus Progress Youth Journalism Conference

, where Tracey approached Nation senior editor Richard Kim, who was facilitating a workshop on turning ideas into articles. Their meeting led Tracey to write an article for, which in turn ignited a minor media storm. ABC reporter

Jake Tapper

subsequently grilled White House press secretary

Robert Gibbs

over whether or not Clinton’s change of tune had any impact on Obama’s position (the current president supports civil unions, but not marriage, for same-sex couples). Later,

Jimmy Fallon

quipped on

Late Night

, “Bill Clinton revealed that he now supports same-sex marriage–even though he opposed it during his presidency. To be fair, during his presidency he also opposed his own marriage.”

“I don’t know if President Clinton expected that his rope-line conversation would end up in scores of publications from DC to the Netherlands,” commented

David Halperin

, director of Campus Progress, “but our national conference is about activism, journalism and the energy and determination of young people.”

Tracey says that while mainstream media might refuse “to ask the tough questions,” his experience has proved that “anyone who is motivated enough to really make a difference can do it…. Citizen journalism is alive and well.” His plans for the next year include launching an alternative publication at

The College of New Jersey

, where he will be a senior.   ALEX DiBRANCO


Last year Congress compounded the damage of George W. Bush’s secret wiretapping program by passing the

FISA Amendments Act

. The FAA gives the government even broader authority than it enjoyed under the original program. It now has legal permission to carry out massive dragnet searches of the international communications of US citizens without individual authorization, without revealing the people to be surveilled and without probable cause–a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s strictures against unreasonable search and seizure. Not only can the government collect such communications; it can retain them indefinitely and disseminate them within the government and to foreign governments. The FAA also immunizes the private telecommunications companies that abetted the government’s domestic spying.

As soon as the FAA was signed into law, the


and The Nation (on behalf of certain of its contributors, including columnist

Naomi Klein


Chris Hedges

) filed suit in federal district court to overturn it as unconstitutional. We were joined by

Amnesty International


Human Rights Watch

, the

Global Fund for Women


PEN American Center

and several other organizations. As part of our work, the plaintiffs regularly engage in sensitive communications with whistleblowers and other sources abroad who are under threat of imprisonment or assassination by their own governments or extremist groups. In allowing the government to spy on these communications and pass them on to others, the law dangerously compromises their confidentiality.

In July the ACLU legal team and the Justice Department presented oral arguments before

Judge John Koeltl

of the Southern District of New York. Both sides received tough questioning from the judge, on the issue of standing and on the merits.

A comprehensive government report on the wiretapping program, just released by the inspectors general of five agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency, questions its legality and effectiveness. The report indicates that the Bush administration used overhyped threat assessments to justify it and that the administration’s initial legal review was inadequate. It also says officials “had difficulty citing specific instances” where the program aided the fight against terrorism.

It’s a shame to see the Obama administration’s Justice Department defending this dangerous statute. We’re hoping Judge Koeltl will show better judgment and strike it down.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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