Disagreeing with Chertoff

April 23, 2008

S.M., 3L

Secretary of Homeland Defense Security Michael Chertoff came to speak at the law school on Monday, April 7, 2008. We protested him with vigor, holding signs and chanting after he was finishing speaking, but he didn't seem to mind.

Secretary Chertoff's talk wasn't the only talk I caught today. At noon, the Yale chapter of the American Constitution Society brought in James Yee and Brandon Mayfield, who spoke about their experiences being arrested, placed in sensory deprivation, and falsely accused of aiding and abetting terrorism (the charges were later dropped). I ducked out of that early to catch Judges Blaine Michael of the Fourth Circuit and Kermit Lipez of the First Circuit in a refreshingly honest discussion of the role of ideology in appellate decision-making, and the behind-the-scenes lobbying that takes place among the judges in chambers.

But Secretary Chertoff's talk was definitely one of the biggest talks so far this year, excluding the Justice Kennedy event. So I did not want to let the event with Chertoff pass without reminding him that at least some of us at the Law School disagree with his policies.

A friend and I had painted a banner the night before in preparation. Before the talk, we smuggled it into Room 127, past the tight security that was checking our bags and wanding us down. As Secretary Chertoff began his talk, we stood up in the back row and silently unfurled the six-foot-long banner which read, in giant block letters: "YOUR ACTIONS DESTROY FAMILIES."

This referred to a pre-dawn immigration raid that U.S. Department of Homeland Security agents carried out in New Haven last summer, in which federal agents burst into homes without a warrant and without the consent of the occupants, terrorizing families and arresting parents in front of their US-born, US-citizen children. Even worse, Chertoff's agency carried out this raid to retaliate against the City of New Haven's groundbreaking plan to provide municipal identification cards to all its residents, regardless of their immigration status--a plan that was approved only two days before the raid.

I take this very personally. First, my clinic wrote the legal memo that became the municipal ID plan--so I didn't appreciate the Feds trying to shut it down only two days later. Second, I'm one of two students litigating a number of state and federal Freedom of Information Act lawsuits trying to obtain information about the raid, and some of the details we've found out aren't pretty.

So we decided to protest Secretary Chertoff. And I learned one thing: it's hard to hold your arms upright for an hour and a half! Next time I'd better bring some duct tape, or a dowel.

Secretary Chertoff didn't really seem to mind our banner all that much. For one thing, he didn't miss a beat: he kept delivering his speech about how we've successfully wiped out Al Qaeda in Iraq (no mention of the Mahdi Army, though) and how a free trade agreement with Colombia will vanquish the FARC insurgency once and for all (how's that work exactly?). He even explained why it's important to national security that Americans not be allowed to bring their Starbucks onto airplanes anymore. At the end of his talk, he sort of thanked the two of us banner-holders, saying, "At least they were silent."

So the banner didn't knock Secretary Chertoff off his game. I'll give credit where credit is due: the man is a professional. But I think it was worth doing anyway. Secretary Chertoff heads an agency that violated the Fourth Amendment rights of people in this community, and he did it trying to stop a policy developed with the legal help of students at this Law School. He shouldn't be allowed to glide through here without being reminded of that.