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2009-04-14

California Towns Fight Back Against Justice Department Suit to Overturn Youth Protection Act that Bars Military from Recruiting Minors

Guests

David Meserve, Member of the Stop Recruiting Kids coalition, which spearheaded the successful ballot measure banning military recruitment of minors in the towns of Arcata and Eureka. He is a former member of Arcata’s city council.

Sharon Adams, San Francisco-based attorney with the Stop Recruiting Kids coalition. She is a board member at large of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area Chapter.

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Last November, residents of Eureka and Arcata passed a ballot initiative known as the Youth Protection Act that bars the US government from trying to enlist youths under the age of eighteen in any branch of the US armed forces. But just days after the laws went into effect, the Justice Department filed a suit seeking to overturn them. The Justice Department’s civil action says the initiatives are invalid because they conflict with federal law. Both towns are refusing to cave. They’ve hired lawyers and filed counter-claims challenging the federal government’s action. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Two Northern California towns are finding themselves in a showdown with the Pentagon over a ban on recruiting minors for the military. Last November, residents of Eureka and Arcata passed a ballot initiative known as the Youth Protection Act. The measure bars the US government from trying to enlist youths under the age of eighteen in any branch of the US armed forces. But just days after the laws went into effect, the Justice Department filed a suit seeking to overturn them. The Justice Department’s civil action says the initiatives are invalid because they conflict with federal law. Both towns are refusing to cave. They’ve hired lawyers, filed counter-claims challenging the federal government’s action.

I’m joined now by two guests involved with this local grassroots effort. David Meserve is a member of the Stop Recruiting Kids coalition, which spearheaded the successful ballot measure banning military recruitment of minors in Arcata and Eureka, former member of Arcata’s city council. Sharon Adams is also with us. She’s a San Francisco-based attorney with the Stop Recruiting Kids coalition, board member at large of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area Chapter.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

DAVID MESERVE: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: When did you pass this, David?

DAVID MESERVE: We passed it last November as a ballot initiative.

AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly what it says.

DAVID MESERVE: Well, what it actually says is that no person who is employed by or an agent of the United States government shall, within the city limits of Arcata, recruit, initiate contact with for the purpose of recruiting, or promote the future enlistment of anyone under the age of eighteen.

AMY GOODMAN: How much was this being done before? And how much is it continuing?

DAVID MESERVE: Well, it happens nationwide, that the recruiters target kids at increasingly younger ages, but certainly down to fourteen, fifteen and sixteen, not to actually enlist, but to encourage them to think about enlisting in the future and to portray the military life as something that would be a good choice for them.

AMY GOODMAN: What was the vote in Eureka and Arcata?

DAVID MESERVE: Well, in Arcata, it passed by 73 percent margin, and in Eureka, by 57 percent. And we were actually — we had kind of thought that it was going to pass in Arcata. Arcata is known as a fairly liberal town, has done things like this in the past. The really exciting thing was it passing in Eureka, which is much more of a kind of working-class town, logging, fishing, etc. And we felt that we had really succeeded in Eureka, because we intended this as a nonpartisan measure, as something that did not require being anti-military to pass it. All we were really saying is that it’s inappropriate to recruit kids into the military. And apparently that message rang true for the people of Eureka.

AMY GOODMAN: OK, so it hasn’t been implemented yet. The Justice Department is not pleased. Explain what they’re doing.

DAVID MESERVE: Well, the Justice Department immediately sued to invalidate the measure —-

AMY GOODMAN: This was under President Bush?

DAVID MESERVE: This was under President Bush. There were those who encouraged us to delay things until President Obama was in office, but we don’t really think that there would have been much difference, and they certainly haven’t dropped the lawsuit since he’s been in office.

So, they are trying to invalidate the measure under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, and we are fighting back legally and saying that the government really needs to remember that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution also includes the Bill of Rights and also includes treaties signed by the US government.

AMY GOODMAN: We tried to have a representative from the Justice Department on the show today, but they did not get back to us. Sharon Adams, explain the significance of these two referendum that have been passed by these towns and the Justice Department taking them on.

SHARON ADAMS: Well, the Justice Department is saying that they violate the Supremacy Clause, as David said. And -—

AMY GOODMAN: And explain exactly what that is.

SHARON ADAMS: The Supremacy Clause is an article in the Constitution that says that the laws of the United States are the supreme law of the land, but it also includes in there the treaties that the United States has signed. So, one of our arguments is that there’s a protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. That’s a treaty that the United States has signed. And in that treaty, it specifically discusses recruiting. And it specifically says, as far as the United States is concerned, that the United States will not recruit under the age of seventeen. And what we see over and over is that they are actually recruiting under the age of seventeen. So what we are saying is that there is no violation of the Supremacy Clause. What we’re saying is that the Supremacy Clause — the laws of the United States and this protocol are actually in — they’re in accord. And what’s happening is that the way that the recruiting is actually happening is not in accord with the existing laws in the United States and with the treaties.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you going to do now, David Meserve? You used to serve on the city council, but these laws are now not in effect.

DAVID MESERVE: Well, we’re moving ahead to defend them, and we’re also hoping that other cities want to follow suit. We’re encouraging other cities to think about ballot initiatives like this in the future, because it is a way for people to speak out from a grassroots level. And we’re also asking that they hold back a little bit and take a look at how the case turns out and whether there are any changes that would be advised for cities who will be doing this in the future, because we think it’s really important for cities and communities to be able to speak out and say that we believe that it’s wrong to recruit kids, and we believe that we have the power of the law on our side, as well as just the power of the right of what should be.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the federal government saying it trumps what you want in your local town?

DAVID MESERVE: Well, we don’t think that the federal government does trump it, both because of the optional protocol and also because of the Ninth Amendment. And under the Ninth Amendment, there is the right to privacy, and we believe that intrinsic in that is the right to protect children from being approached by recruiters.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Sharon Adams, about a different issue, maybe somewhat related. I was speaking at the Federal Reserve here at lunchtime in San Francisco yesterday, and a woman came up to me from the National Lawyers Guild, and she talked about the attempted impeachment of a judge here, Jay Bybee, talking about the torture memos. Can you talk about the efforts around these torture memos and what you’re doing?

SHARON ADAMS: Well, the National Lawyers Guild has filed in California a complaint with the State Bar of California against William Haynes. William Haynes was the attorney for Donald Rumsfeld and the Department of Defense, and William Haynes wrote a memo that basically recommended that Donald Rumsfeld approve certain enhanced interrogation techniques. And based on this recommendation by William Haynes, Donald Rumsfeld did do that. It was directly linked — it has been directly linked to the torture abuses that occurred at Abu Ghraib.

So, what we did with the Guild was we filed a complaint with the State Bar against William Haynes, who is registered in-house counsel here in California, because he’s now working at Chevron Corporation in San Ramon. And we are seeking to have him disciplined for his actions in writing those — in making that recommendation that led to approval of basically torture techniques.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have Jay Bybee, this impeachment effort?

SHARON ADAMS: Right. The impeachment effort is being done by a slightly different group, but they are trying to go through the Democratic Party and get an actual resolution trying to get Jay Bybee impeached, because the only way to get him removed from the bench right now is through Congress, through an impeachment action. So they’re trying to do a grassroots movement to begin that.

AMY GOODMAN: And John Yoo, who’s a professor here at UC Berkeley in Berkeley, California, though he’s teaching at Chapman Law School down in —-

SHARON ADAMS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: —- near Los Angeles.?

SHARON ADAMS: He is not registered in California as an attorney. He teaches here, but he’s not a registered attorney here. His registration is in Pennsylvania. So the Guild is also trying to — is working on a complaint against him in Pennsylvania, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And how does this relate to the latest news we have out of Spain? Scott Horton is reporting that the proceedings will move against a number of these men.

SHARON ADAMS: I think it’s just the tide is turning. I really do. I’m just — every time I hear some new little bit of news, I feel that maybe the world is waking up from slumber.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us, Sharon Adams and David Meserve, coming down from Northern California from Arcata and Eureka, of Stop Recruiting Kids coalition.

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