Civic News & Info
U.S. Supreme Court Rules 8-1 that Citizens Have No Protection Against Fourth Amendment Violations by Police Officers Ignorant of the Law PDF Print E-mail
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Written by John W. Whitehead   
Monday, 15 December 2014 16:04

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In a blow to the constitutional rights of citizens, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-1 in Heien v. State of North Carolina that police officers are permitted to violate American citizens’ Fourth Amendment rights if the violation results from a “reasonable” mistake about the law on the part of police. Acting contrary to the venerable principle that “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” the Court ruled that evidence obtained by police during a traffic stop that was not legally justified can be used to prosecute the person if police were reasonably mistaken that the person had violated the law. The Rutherford Institute had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hold law enforcement officials accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the Court’s lone dissenter, warned that the court’s ruling “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.”

The Rutherford Institute’s amicus brief in Heien v. North Carolina is available at

“By refusing to hold police accountable to knowing and abiding by the rule of law, the Supreme Court has given government officials a green light to routinely violate the law,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of the award-winning book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. “This case may have started out with an improper traffic stop, but where it will end—given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption—is not hard to predict. This ruling is what I would call a one-way, nonrefundable ticket to the police state.”

In April 2009, a Surry County (N.C.) law enforcement officer stopped a car traveling on Interstate 77, allegedly because of a brake light which at first failed to illuminate and then flickered on. The officer mistakenly believed that state law prohibited driving a car with one broken brake light. In fact, the state traffic law requires only one working brake light. Nevertheless, operating under a mistaken understanding of the law, during the course of the stop, the officer asked for permission to search the car. Nicholas Heien, the owner of the vehicle, granted his consent to a search. Upon the officer finding cocaine in the vehicle, he arrested and charged Heien with trafficking. Prior to his trial, Heien moved to suppress the evidence seized in light of the fact that the officer’s pretext for the stop was erroneous and therefore unlawful. Although the trial court denied the motion to suppress evidence, the state court of appeals determined that since the police officer had based his initial stop of the car on a mistaken understanding of the law, there was no valid reason for the stop in the first place. On appeal, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled that even though the officer was wrong in concluding that the inoperable brake light was an offense, because the officer’s mistake was a “reasonable” one, the stop of the car did not violate the Fourth Amendment and the evidence resulting from the stop did not need to be suppressed. In weighing in on the case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Rutherford Institute attorneys warn against allowing government agents to “benefit” from their mistakes of law, deliberate or otherwise, lest it become an incentive for abuse.

Affiliate attorney Christopher F. Moriarty assisted The Rutherford Institute in advancing the arguments in the amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Loebsack, McKinley Propose Bill to Help Emergency First Responders PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Vonnie Hampel   
Saturday, 13 December 2014 10:43

Bipartisan Bill Will Help Rural Fire Departments Recruit and Retain Volunteers

Washington, D.C. Yesterday, Congressmen Dave Loebsack (D-IA) and David B. McKinley (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation to help volunteer firefighters and other first responders who keep our communities safe. The bill creates a tax deduction for volunteer first responders and will help Volunteer Fire Departments and other public safety organizations recruit and retain volunteers.

“I’d like to thank Representatives McKinley and Loebsack for introducing this important legislation,” said Chief Philip C. Stittleburg, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “The services donated by volunteer emergency response personnel are valued at more than $140 billion annually and the average responder donates services worth more than $18,000 each year. At the same time, local agencies are increasingly struggling to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and EMTs. This common sense bill would help bolster staffing in volunteer public safety agencies by allowing responders to claim a portion of the value of the services they donate each year as a charitable donation.”

“Our volunteer firefighters stand ready to serve us the moment disaster strikes. They donate their time and energy to keep us safe, and we can do more to support their critical role in our communities,” said Loebsack. “Over 90% of Iowa’s firefighters are volunteers, and this tax credit would provide an important recruitment tool for Fire Departments to maintain the level of staffing that they need to do their jobs. I am pleased to work on a bipartisan basis with Rep. McKinley to advance this important legislation.”   


“Small towns across West Virginia and the country rely on volunteers to respond to fires, accidents, and other emergencies,” said McKinley. “Yet these same men and women are often forced to raise money to simply have adequate equipment and training. We can do more to help them.”

“We’ve had a number of meetings with Volunteer Fire Departments across West Virginia, and the number one issue they have is recruiting volunteers and keeping them,” said McKinley. “This solution will help fix that problem and demonstrates the respect earned by volunteer emergency personnel.”

The bill provides a tax deduction for hours of service each year volunteered for fire-fighting and prevention services, emergency medical services, ambulance services, civil air patrol, and emergency rescue services.


Lt. Governor Sheila Simon statement on passing of Judy Baar Topinka PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Annie Thompson   
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 14:45

CARBONDALE – Dec. 10, 2014. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon today issued the following statement regarding the passing of Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of Judy Baar Topinka’s passing. People throughout Illinois will remember her for her many years of dedication to public service just as much as they will remember her for her larger than life personality. She truly loved the people of this state.

“My thoughts and prayers go out to her family, friends and staff as we mourn the loss of a legend in Illinois government.”


Governor Quinn Statement on the Passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dave Blanchette   
Wednesday, 10 December 2014 14:44
CHICAGO - Governor Pat Quinn today released the following statement regarding the passing of Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka:

"Today is a sad day in the state of Illinois. I am heartbroken to hear of the passing of my friend, Judy Baar Topinka.

‪            "As the first female Treasurer of Illinois and a longtime public servant, Judy was a trailblazer in every sense of the word.

‪            "Never without her signature sense of humor, Judy was a force of nature. She left her mark on the state she has called home her entire life. Her leadership improved Illinois and paved the way for countless women in politics.

“My deepest sympathies go out to Judy's son, Joe, daughter-in-law Christina, granddaughter Alexandra, her family, friends and devoted staff.

‪            "Today the entire state mourns the loss of one of the greats. Judy Baar Topinka will be incredibly missed."


Rock Island Beautification Commission Announces Holiday Lighting Contest PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Dena Grunewald   
Tuesday, 09 December 2014 15:46

The Rock Island Beautification Commission is sponsoring the 29th Annual Holiday Lighting Contest to recognize Rock Island residents and businesses that decorate with exceptional seasonal lighting displays. To nominate a residential or commercial light display, send the name and address of the display to the Rock Island Beautification Commission, Rock Island City Hall – 1528 Third Avenue, or call (309) 732-2909 with a nomination.

Nominations must be received by 5 p.m., Wednesday, December 17, 2014. Judging will take place on Monday evening, December 22. All displays should be illuminated by 5:30 p.m. There will be awards for the top winners in the residential and commercial categories. Winners of the 2012 and 2013 Holiday Lighting Contests are not eligible.

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