Friday, May 13, 2005

ACLU-PA steps up

Much love to Paula Knudsen, staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, for today's letter to the editor. Here's the version that Paula sent to the paper:


In a recent article, Dave Arnold, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for District Attorney in Lebanon County, suggested that the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania endorses his opponent, incumbent Deirdre Eshleman. As a non-partisan organization, ACLU-PA does not endorse candidates for office. Instead, we educate the public on issues related to civil liberties and, if necessary, file litigation on those issues. In a recent debate, Mr. Arnold raised two issues of concern to ACLU-PA, the death penalty and defense counsel for the poor.

Whether defending Japanese Americans unfairly interned during World War II or aiding in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the ACLU has always been at the forefront of the civil rights issues of the day. Regrettably, the death penalty in Pennsylvania has become a civil rights issue. The commonwealth’s death row shamefully houses the second-highest minority rate in the country at close to 70%. A majority of those sentenced to death in this state are from Philadelphia, and an incredible 84% of those defendants from Philadelphia are African-American.

In March, 2003, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias released a report calling for a wide variety of reform. The committee felt that bias against minorities and the poor was inherent in the state’s system of capital punishment, so it called for a two year moratorium on executions in order to further examine the issue. The committee also noted that 9 of every 10 death row inmates were too poor to afford their own attorney at trial, and while many in our public defenders offices are hard-working, honest litigators, too often they are underpaid, overworked, and lacking the necessary resources.

ACLU-PA does not endorse political candidates. Our number one client is the Bill of Rights.

Paula K. Knudsen, Esq.
Staff Attorney
ACLU of Pennsylvania


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