Published March 10, 2010
NEW YORK – A federal judge who found it unconstitutional that Congress tried to cut funding to the activist group ACORN has rejected a government request to change her mind and has ordered government agencies to make it clear the funding isn't blocked.
In a written ruling Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nina Gershon made permanent her conclusion last year that the cutoff of funding was unconstitutional. She ordered all federal agencies to put the word out about it.
The Brooklyn judge said ACORN was punished by Congress without the enactment of administrative processes to decide if money had been handled inappropriately. She said the harm to ACORN's reputation continues because the government never rescinded its advice to withhold funding after it was distributed to "hundreds, if not thousands, of recipients."
ACORN, or the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, describes itself as an advocate for low-income and minority home buyers and residents.
Critics of the group say it has engaged in voter registration fraud and embezzlement and has violated the tax-exempt status of some of its affiliates by engaging in partisan political activities.
Last year, a series of videos filmed at ACORN offices around the country sparked a national scandal and helped drive the organization to near ruin. In one video, ACORN employees were shown apparently advising a couple posing as a prostitute and her boyfriend to lie about her profession and launder her earnings; Brooklyn prosecutors said they did not commit a crime.
In asking the judge to reconsider her December ruling, the government cited a Dec. 7 report written by Scott Harshbarger, former attorney general for Massachusetts. It said the report "reinforces Congress' purpose in preventing fraud, waste and abuse" by describing ACORN's long-standing management problems.
The report concluded that ACORN leadership at every level was thin, the government noted.
The judge, however, wrote that it was "unmistakable that Congress determined ACORN's guilt before defunding it." She said Congress is entitled to investigate ACORN but cannot "rely on the negative results of a congressional or executive report as a rationale to impose a broad, punitive funding ban on a specific, named organization."
She said the Code of Federal Regulations establishes a formal process for deciding when federal contractors can be suspended or debarred. She added that "the existence of these regulations militates against the need for draconian, emergency action by Congress."
The government planned to review the judge's ruling and consider whether to appeal, spokesman Robert Nardoza said.
The legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which says it's dedicated to protecting the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, welcomed Wednesday's decision.
"The judge's ruling is a complete rebuke to the right wing's smear tactics that unfortunately Congress fell for," legal director Bill Quigley said. "This is why we have a system of checks and balances."