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  • Menendez, Booker, Sherrill Unveil Bill to Protect Federal Judges
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  • Bill would restrict access to judges' personal information

    NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — In the wake of the fatal shooting of a federal judge’s son in New Jersey, bi-partisan legislation seeks to restrict online access to judges’ personal information.

    Twenty-year-old Daniel Anderl, the son of U.S. District Judge Esther Salas, was shot and killed inside the family's home on July 19 by a gunman posing as a delivery driver. Salas' husband, Mark Anderl, was seriously wounded and is recovering. Salas was in another part of the house and wasn't injured.

    The assailant, Roy Den Hollander, was a disgruntled lawyer who had posted anti-feminist screeds and who had a document with information about a dozen female judges around the country. He was involved in a gender bias case before Salas, in which he challenged the U.S. military’s male-only draft registration requirement.

    Den Hollander killed himself in upstate New York shortly after shooting Anderl.

    Democratic New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who recommended Salas for bench during the Obama administration, announced the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act on Monday. He was joined by fellow Democratic New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Democratic New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill, who appeared in court before Salas during her years as a federal prosecutor.

    Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, chair of the judiciary committee, is co-sponsoring the bill, Menendez said.

    The bill would make it illegal for online aggregators to sell or make public personal information about judges and their families, including home addresses, social security numbers and school and employment information. It also would give federal marshals more resources to assess and track threats against judges.

    "We may not be able to eliminate hatred from someone's heart, but what we can do is make sure that men and women who serve on the federal bench don’t make such easy targets,” Menendez said.

    Salas, in a video posted on YouTube two weeks after the shooting, called it “unacceptable” that personal information is so easily accessible.

    Menendez said he believed the legislation wouldn't infringe on free speech rights.

    "You can still write anything you want about a judge’s decision," he said. “You can still say anything you want about their rulings, but you need not have their personal identifying information for you to preserve your First Amendment right to do so.”

  • Democrats propose legislation to put more human rights controls on foreign arms sales

    Washington (CNN) — Democratic lawmakers are planning to introduce legislation to put more stringent human rights constraints on the United States' foreign arms sales, arguing that countries with a history of unresolved human rights violations should be subject to greater scrutiny and possibly prohibited from buying US-made weaponry, according to a draft version of the legislation reviewed by CNN.

    The legislation, which is being proposed by Sens. Robert Menendez, Patrick Leahy and Tim Kaine, would give Congress the ability to point to specific human rights abuses as a reason to disapprove of arms sales to certain countries.

    "Safeguarding and prioritizing basic human rights in the sale or transfer of lethal arms and in training, advising and support services is not just a moral imperative; it is a fundamental responsibility for any country that wishes to provide such weapons or services to others," Menendez, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said. "The United States has for too long devoted inadequate care to this responsibility, and innocent people have suffered for it."

    The Trump administration attracted a fierce backlash for declaring an emergency to circumvent congressional opposition and sell billions in weapons to partners including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Lawmakers opposed the sale due to the two countries involvement in the bloody conflict in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians, as well as the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi officials. The emergency declaration was investigated by the State Department inspector general.

    Though the benefits of working from home are myriad — there was zero chance you’d become a master of sourdough bread in the third-floor break room, right?

    In a report released last month, the watchdog found the agency complied with legal requirements in declaring an emergency to sell the arms but did not fully assess the risks to civilians associated with that sale.

    While the effort to draft the proposed law has been in the works for over a year, according to congressional sources familiar with the process, this investigation revealed why the senators see this legislation as necessary.

    The legislation is being also introduced as the Trump administration is in discussions, led by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, about the possible sale of F-35s to the UAE.

    Members of Congress have already voiced concerns about the potential sale for a number of reasons, and this new legislation, if it becomes law, could add an additional layer of scrutiny based on findings by the United Nations that UAE and UAE-backed forces practiced arbitrary detention and torture in detention facilities in Yemen.

    The US Conventional Arms Transfer policy, which was updated during the Trump administration in 2018, does reference human rights concerns.

    It says the executive branch shall consider "the risk that the transfer may be used to undermine international peace and security or contribute to abuses of human rights, including acts of gender-based violence and acts of violence against children, violations of international humanitarian law, terrorism, mass atrocities, or transnational organized crime."

    But Trump has publicly said that the driving factor in determining if a country should be able to secure US weaponry, in his eyes, is its capability to pay, rather than human rights concerns.

    Wide definition of human rights violations

    According to the newly proposed legislation, called the SAFEGUARD Act, human rights violations would include if the government of a country has been involved in a military coup and no democratically elected government has taken office, if the security forces of a country violated humanitarian law or committed gross violations of human rights including rape, ethnic cleansing, the recruitment of child soldiers, wrongful detentions or extrajudicial killings and have not been investigated credibly and subject to a judicial process.

    With a practice known as the Leahy vetting requirement, some of these constraints already apply in the cases of foreign military financing -- specifically in that it requires the State Department to vet the unit designated to receive assistance from the US as well as that unit's commander -- and this legislation would expand their application to direct commercial sales.

    "Today, U.S. law provides a lower standard for protecting human rights when foreign partners purchase U.S. weapons, as opposed to when we provide them weapons free of charge. That makes no sense and it is bad policy," Leahy said.

    The legislation would also give the US the legal right "to require the return of any defense articles sold, exported, or transferred to a foreign country or international organization if the government of such country or such organization has used United States-origin defense articles in the commission, or has enabled the commission, of a violation of inter-national humanitarian law or internationally recognized human rights," the proposed legislation reads.

    If former vice president Joe Biden wins presidential election in November the chance of getting executive branch support for this effort would increase, but if Trump remains in office for another term it is virtually assured that the legislation would be vetoed by the White House.

    If this new legislation does become law -- a process that would not happen before the end of this year -- it is expected to increase scrutiny on further arms sales to Saudi Arabia. There are concerns that the Trump administration have given Saudi Arabia favorable treatment, despite the Khashoggi murder, on a number of issues including arms sales and Democrats in Congress want to apply additional layers of scrutiny to the process of arms sales to that country in particular.

    Trump boasted to Bob Woodward in his new book, "Rage," that he 'saved his a--" referring to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman after the Khashoggi murder. When asked what he meant by that Trump told a reporter "You'll have to figure that out yourself."

  • Menendez proposes independent panel to investigate coronavirus crisis modeled after 9/11 commission

    How well did the U.S. handle the coronavirus and what should officials do differently to prepare for the next pandemic?

    Those are among the questions that U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez and other members of Congress say would best be answered by an independent panel modeled after the 9/11 commission co-chaired by former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean.

    Menendez, D-N.J., will introduce legislation Wednesday to create a nonpartisan panel. His measure was co-sponsored in the Senate by Maine Republican Susan Collins and in the House by New Jersey Democrat Tom Malinowski and Florida Republican Mario Diaz Balart.

    It would be the first bipartisan, bicameral proposal to look at how the coronavirus hit the U.S. and recommend new ways to address a pandemic like the one that has killed more than 200,000 Americans, caused an economic recession and continues to ravage parts of the country.

    In New Jersey, 16,076 deaths have been attributed to COVID-19 — 14,285 confirmed and 1,791 probable — since the first case was announced March 4.

    “We can never put our country, our communities and our families through this again,” Menendez said.

    “We need to understand what we did right, what we did wrong and what we can do better to strengthen our public health systems and supply chains, protect communities and vulnerable populations, improve coordination across all levels of government and the private sector, and advance scientific research so our nation is more prepared and able to respond to future public health threats.”

    The 10-member National Coronavirus Commission would have subpoena power and would hold public hearings as it prepared a report to be given to the president and Congress. That document, which would be publicly released, would recommend ways that all levels of government and the private sector can better prevent, prepare and respond to the next pandemic.

    Members would be appointed by the president and congressional leaders within 30 days after the current health emergency ends and would have 18 months to produce a report after looking at such topics as how the coronavirus spread in the U.S., the impact on education and nursing homes, the impact of the stimulus laws on the economy, medical testing and supplies, and how the virus hit underserved communities, rural populations, racial and ethnic minorities and senior citizens.

    The commission would be comprised of five Republicans and five Democrats and an ethics counsel would guard against any potential or actual conflicts of interest.

    The commission formed after 9/11 led to major changes in homeland security and intelligence when Congress passed the legislation in 2004 and 2007, including tightening immigration laws and creating a director of national intelligence.

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