Today in OpenGov: Can you keep a secret (law)?


In today's edition, exploring the Department of Justice's secret body of law, clearing criminal records with technology in Illinois, breaking down the DOJ IG's review of James Comey, and more. 

washington watch

Image via Pixabay.
  • The Department of Justice controls a whole category of secret law. How long can it stay that way? "…it turns out there’s a whole category of American law that is above such checks and balances. The public knows nothing about it and there’s no way to challenge it in court, let alone debate it in the halls of Congress. For decades, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has flexed its interpretive power as the ultimate arbiter of what the law is for the executive branch, building a whole body of secret law that remains shielded from public view. Very little is known about these opinions—which carry the force of law, resolve disputes between agencies, direct the conduct of federal officials and can even affect civil rights and liberties." (POLITICO)
  • A free speech group is asking Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to stop blocking people on Twitter. "The Knight First Amendment Institute, which has led a legal fight against Trump for blocking critics on Twitter, has officially asked Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) to stop similar practices. The institute sent a letter to Ocasio-Cortez’s office late yesterday, urging her to unblock anybody who was targeted 'because of the viewpoints they have expressed,' while also acknowledging that some blocks might be 'both reasonable and constitutionally legitimate.' Multiple US courts have ruled that government social media accounts can be constitutionally protected public spaces, including the Twitter account of President Donald Trump whom the Knight Institute sued for blocking accounts for political reasons in 2017. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this decision last month." (The Verge)
  • The EFF is suing DHS for information about warrantless GPS tracking at the border. "The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit Aug. 27 seeking legal and training documents that could shed new light on how the federal government is interpreting its legal authority to place GPS trackers on vehicles entering the United States. The Freedom of Information Act lawsuit targets the Department of Homeland Security and component agencies Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection release" (Federal Computer Week)
  • The DNC wants to reject "virtual caucuses" in Iowa and New Hampshire over security concerns. "The Democratic National Committee will recommend rejecting a plan for “virtual caucuses” in Iowa and Nevada, introducing a level of uncertainty in the caucus states ahead of the upcoming election season…The proposed virtual system is telephone-based voting, designed to allow Democrats to phone in absentee votes, rating their presidential preferences in a ranked choice style. In Iowa, the virtual caucuses were to take place over six days, which was meant to accommodate a new requirement by the DNC allowing fuller access to the voting. DNC members raised concerns about the ability of hackers to disrupt the virtual process." (POLITICO)

states and cities

Image via Pixabay.
  • Cook County, Illinois is leveraging technology to clear low-level marijuana convictions ahead of legalization in the state. "Thousands of criminal convictions for marijuana possession will be automatically expunged in Cook County, Illinois, through a partnership with tech nonprofit Code For America as the state prepares to legalize recreational use of the drug. The collaboration between the county and the tech nonprofit will streamline the expungement process…" (Route Fifty)
  • A Florida megadonor is threatening to sue former Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum for failing to spend all his money. "John Morgan, a political rainmaker, on Wednesday threatened to sue Andrew Gillum, if the Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate runs for office again. Morgan’s remarks to the Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee were an escalation of a public tirade over Gillum’s decision to sit on more than $3 million ahead of the November election, which the Democrat narrowly lost to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis. In October 2018, Morgan contributed $250,000 to Gillum’s political committee, Forward Florida. When the powerful Orlando trial lawyer asked Gillum for his money back, Morgan said he was told 'no.'" (Orlando Sentinel via Election Law Blog)
  • A former adviser to Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) allegedly pushed the head of Newark's troubled water system to solicit political contributions from contractors. "A longtime friend and adviser to former Mayor Cory Booker allegedly directed the head of Newark’s troubled watershed to solicit political contributions from agency contractors in the late 2000s, according to documents reviewed by POLITICO. The previously unreported allegations of unethical behavior, included in a 2015 FBI memo, represent the newest twist in a decade of political turmoil surrounding the city’s water system, and come as New Jersey’s largest city grapples with a massive lead contamination crisis that has forced tens of thousands of residents to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking. The allegations were presented in April as evidence in a separate criminal case." (POLITICO)


Image credit: The White House.
  • James Comey criticized by DOJ IG for sharing Trump memos, won't be charged with any crime. "The former F.B.I. director James B. Comey violated policy by disclosing memos about his interactions with President Trump to people outside the bureau, said a blistering Justice Department inspector general report released on Thursday. The report admonished him for setting 'a dangerous example' for officials with access to government secrets. The inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, faulted Mr. Comey for handing the memos over to his lawyers, one of whom provided the contents of one document to a New York Times reporter at Mr. Comey’s request. Though officials retroactively determined that they contained classified information, prosecutors declined to charge Mr. Comey with illegally disclosing the material." (New York Times)
  • House Oversight Committee staff are being barred from accessing migrant detention facilities. "The House Oversight Committee’s chairman demanded the Trump administration provide 'meaningful access' to immigrant detention centers after federal officials barred the panel’s staff from touring Customs and Border Protection facilities…Cummings wrote that committee staff members learned on Monday while en route to 11 detention facilities that they would be prohibited from making scheduled visits." (Bloomberg)
  • What led to former Defense Secretary James Mattis' resignation? "Mattis often seemed burdened in his role. His aides and friends say he found the president to be of limited cognitive ability, and of generally dubious character. Now Mattis was becoming more and more isolated in the administration, especially since the defenestration of his closest Cabinet ally, the former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, several months earlier. Mattis and Tillerson had together smothered some of Trump’s more extreme and imprudent ideas. But now Mattis was operating without cover." (The Atlantic)


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