A non-profit organization in Alabama is accusing the the Biden Department of Justice of attempting to “intimidate and silence” their group after it helped craft a bill prohibiting doctors from performing transgender medical procedures on children.
The Justice Department last month issued a subpoena to the Eagle Forum of Alabama (EFA), demanding all information related to their legislative activities promoting SB184, also known as the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion And Protection Act (VCAP).
The DOJ’s subpoena requested all documents or information pertaining to the legislation since 2017, including all communications, and “any materials considered by the Eagle Forum of Alabama in preparing” the legislation.
As a 501(c)(4) social welfare advocacy organization, EFA is “legally authorized and expected to fully participate in the legislative processes through education and lobbying efforts,” said Margaret S. Clarke, General Counsel of Eagle Forum of Alabama.
The VCAP law prohibits “the performance of a medical procedure upon or to a minor child that is intended to alter the minor child’s sex or delay puberty, with certain exceptions.”
The law also forbids schools from withholding information from parents related to their child’s perception that his or her gender is inconsistent with his or her sex.
VCAP/SB 184 was considered in three successive legislative sessions that included seven public hearings and arguments from proponent and opponent advocacy groups and individuals, EFA noted in a press release, Wednesday.
The legislation was passed by large majorities in both Alabama chambers.
On April 8, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed SB 184 and HB 322, which requires children to use bathrooms of their birth sex and bans discussions of “sexual orientation or gender identity” in kindergarten through fifth grade that is “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
Eknes-Tucker, et. al. v. Marshall, a lawsuit challenging Alabama’s SB-184/VCAP law, was filed in the US District Court on April 19, 2022. Ten days later, on April 29, 2022, the DOJ filed a motion to join the suit as an intervenor-party.
Although the Eagle Forum of Alabama is not a party in the lawsuit, the DOJ issued a subpoena to the organization that “is broad, intrusive, and meant to harass,” the group said in its press release.
It seeks 5 1⁄2 years of information, including: all private communications with legislators or anyone else regarding VCAP; every note, meeting-minutes, letter, policy goals and strategy effort, speech, presentation materials, research, polling; drafts of the bill or its amendments (which can be found on the legislative website); and documents pertaining to publicly-posted social media and webpages, etc.
The organization announced Wednesday that it has filed a motion in U.S. federal district court seeking to quash the Justice Department’s August 9 subpoena.
In the press release, Kristen A. Ullman, President of Eagle Forum, accused the DOJ of weaponizing a subpoena in an attempt prevent American citizens from getting involved in the legislative process. “Freedom of speech and freedom of association will be squelched,” Ullman said.
“At stake here is the ability of all private citizen advocates and non-profit advocacy organizations to engage in the legislative process regardless of their viewpoint,”
Ullman said. “If the DOJ can weaponize a subpoena, any American can be unduly burdened and prevented from engaging in our democratic republic form of government, she added.
“This unprecedented, massive demand by the DOJ for information unrelated to the issues before the court is a blatant attempt to intimidate and silence a non-party organization and
crush its Constitutionally-protected rights to educate others, petition the government, and speak freely,” said Ullman. “This harassment must be stopped. It’s a shot across the bow of
people and groups engaged in the legislative process throughout the nation. If the Department of Justice doesn’t like your viewpoint it may target you next.”
Becky Gerritson, the Executive Director of Eagle Forum of Alabama, noted in a statement Wednesday that the VCAP legislation was carefully crafted with well-being of vulnerable children in mind.
“After hearing from citizens in Alabama, including parents, doctors, lawyers, and guidance counselors, about their concerns for otherwise healthy children who want to transition to the
opposite sex, we decided to undertake the protection of these vulnerable children and have done so publicly and ardently,” Gerritson said. “Eagle Forum of Alabama operates primarily by volunteer Alabama citizens. The right to engage in these activities, free of compulsion and harassment, must be preserved.”
EFA attorney Margaret Clarke wrote in a memo to EFA board members that the DOJ’s subpoena is “on its face,” an apparent “overreach of power without legitimate need or relevancy to the underlying lawsuit.”
The Rules of Civil Procedure require subpoenas be issued in good-faith and only request discovery relevant to the issues and in proportion to the needs of the case. The subpoena in question asks for the production of all documents by EFA , emails, social media posts, summaries, analysis, fact sheets, talking points, drafts of legislation including those from third parties, policies, goals, strategies, initiatives, polling, public opinion data, minutes, records, presentations, interviews, mass mailouts, emails, videos and all communications with government and non-government organizations or individuals including member legislators, employees, the Attorney General, lobbyists, consultants, etc., from 2017 which detail EFA’s legislative activities related to the VCAP.
“This is potentially a case of political harassment,” Clarke said. “The voluminous requests would be a massive and undue burden on EFA which is comprised almost entirely of volunteer Alabama citizens. This is an unwarranted and oppressive burden by the United States government to place on those who are exercising their constitutional rights to political free speech and conscience, freedom of association, and freedom to petition the government.”
The attorney added: “If this subpoena is enforced it will have an unprecedented chilling effect on historically protected Constitutional rights and legislative advocacy in Alabama and possibly around America.”