Alabama lawmakers are alleging that the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has engaged in political harassment after its subpoena of a conservative nonprofit that assisted in the writing of a bill prohibiting puberty blockers and transgender surgery on people under 19 years of age.
In a Sept. 20 letter (pdf) addressed to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, Congressman Gary Palmer called the subpoena an attack on the nonprofit’s First Amendment right “to advocate for change in public policy.”
“However, through the DOJ’s subpoena you are seeking to limit those rights, by either intimidating Eagle Forum of Alabama from advocacy, or bankrupting or delaying the organization from doing additional good work through a burdensome document request,” Palmer said in the letter, which was signed by Republican Reps. Robert Aderholt, Barry Moore, Mo Brooks, Jerry Carl, and Mike Rogers.
Palmer called the subpoena “arbitrary and capricious.”
Kris Ullman, president of the D.C. office of the Eagle Forum that oversees the state chapters, told The Epoch Times, “It’s unprecedented that a 501(c)(4) group that was created in order to lobby legislators would have all of their records subpoenaed on an issue that went before the state legislature.”
The Eagle Forum Chapter of Alabama had been consulting with legislators since 2017 on writing the Alabama Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act, Ullman said, which was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey in April.
The new legislation was met with lawsuits, one of which was Eknes-Tucker et al. v. Marshall et al. (pdf) filed in U.S. District Court on April 19, which challenged the constitutionality of the bill, claiming that the law violated the 14th Amendment right to equal protection, Ullman said.
Ten days later, on April 29, the DOJ filed a motion to join as an intervenor party to the lawsuit.
In May, Liles Burke, a U.S. Judge for the Northern District of Alabama, issued a preliminary injunction to stop the state from enforcing the law until the challenge is resolved.
In August, the DOJ subpoenaed Eagle Forum of Alabama, seeking over 5 years of records related to the organization’s work on the bill, despite the fact that the nonprofit is not a party in the legal action.
Warning from the White House
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ-advocate organization, and the White House have criticized the legislation, calling it discriminatory and antagonistic toward transgendered youth.
In April, then-White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that lawmakers “who are contemplating these discriminatory bills have been put on notice by the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that laws and policies preventing care that health care professionals recommend for transgender minors may violate the Constitution and federal law.”
On March 31, the DHHS Office of Population Affairs released a document titled “Gender-Affirming Care and Young People,” which endorses gender-reassignment surgery and hormone treatment for minors.
Freedom of Speech Squelched
On Sept. 7, Eagle Forum of Alabama filed a motion to quash the DOJ’s subpoena.
“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, freedom of speech, and freedom of association will be squelched.”
On Sept. 21, several conservative public interest law firms, special interest foundations, and legislators signed off on an amicus brief filed in the U.S. District Court in support of Eagle Forum of Alabama’s motion to quash the DOJ’s subpoena.
The subpoena follows a pattern of what Republicans have viewed as a double standard in how the DOJ treats Republicans as opposed to Democrats, such as with the Mar-a-Lago raid of former President Donald Trump’s home while downplaying the significance of Hunter Biden’s laptop and any investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s handling of an email server.
The DOJ didn’t respond to The Epoch Times’ request for comment.
Right to Assemble and Petition at Stake
In the letter, Palmer requests that the DOJ demonstrate that the DOJ is not acting politically by providing evidence that it has issued subpoenas to liberal organizations, other third-party organizations not involved in underlying cases, the reasoning for the subpoena, and a clear explanation of “the constitutional authority you believe you possess to intimidate and harass individuals and organizations exercising their First Amendment rights.”
The case is not only about freedom of speech—the right of Eagle Forum of Alabama to speak out on an issue of public policy, Ullman said, but it’s also about the right to assemble, which for the Eagle Forum, takes place with their mailing list, among other methods.
“We believe once the DOJ has that mailing list, we think the subpoena could be read in such a way that it could be used to harass our members,” Ullman said.
The right to petition is also at stake in that the organization petitioned legislators to examine a trend they believe is dangerous for children, Ullman said, leading to the formulation of the bill, a process that has until this time been deemed legal and constitutional.
“If this subpoena is enforced and we have to turn over all of our records on this issue, then it won’t be just Eagle Forum, but all citizens and nonprofit groups that will be hurt,” Ullman said.
Matt McGregor covers news and features throughout the United States. Send him your story ideas: matt.mc[email protected]