By Brad Friedman on 3/18/2013, 11:33am PT  

Before things turn too ugly this week, let's take a moment to flag four great progressive things --- arguably, four great conservative progressive things --- which all happened on Friday.

The first two items got a fair amount of notice, the second two, not so much. But since they all happened on the same day, and that day was Friday, when such stories tend to disappear all together, they are all worth briefly flagging here to make sure you're aware of them...

  • Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), a co-sponsor of the unconstitutional "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) in 1996, became the first sitting Republican Senator to come out in favor of marriage equality for all. It took him learning that he had a gay son two years ago before he was finally able to do the right thing, but we'll take what we can get. It's another in a string of victories and very encouraging signs for conservative progressivism, specifically the right of equal protection under the law for all.
  • The Maryland legislature voted to ban the inhumane, abhorrent, expensive, ineffective and unequally applied Death Penalty. They become the 6th state in as many years to do so, and the 18th state overall. As Governor Martin O'Malley (D) notes in an op-ed today: "Across our ever-more-closely connected world, the majority of public executions now take place in just seven countries: Iran. Iraq. The People’s Republic of China. North Korea. Saudi Arabia. Yemen. And the United States of America." This is another clear victory for those who believe in the Constitutional value of equal justice for all under the law and who hate Big Government --- the biggest --- allowing itself to kill its own citizens.
  • A federal court ruled that the use of so-called "National Security Letters" --- essentially, a warrantless statement from the FBI handed over to banks, libraries, phone companies, etc., demanding unlimited private information about a specific person for supposed "national security purposes" --- is unconstitutional. Specifically, the gag order on those banks, libraries, phone companies, etc., disallowing them from notifying the target about the intrusion on their privacy, is what the judge found in violation of the First Amendment. The case brought by the Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF). The use of these letters have been one of the most insidious and abused elements of the PATRIOT Act for a very long time, ever since its passage following 9/11. The court ruling is likely to be appealed by the DoJ, but the finding is, for now, a positive step in the right direction --- at least for those of us conservative progressives who give a damn about unwarranted search and seizure, freedom of speech, etc. AP notes that "the FBI made 16,511 national-security-letter requests for information regarding 7,201 people in 2011" alone.
  • A federal appeals court has re-instated a case filed by the ACLU arguing that the CIA must, at the very least, respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests concerning the use of the drone strikes. The FOIA requests in question had sought information on "the legal basis for carrying out targeted drone killings; any restrictions on those who may be targeted; any civilian casualties; any geographic limits on the program; the number of targeted killings that the agency has carried out; and the training, supervision, oversight, or discipline of drone operators." Even if the ACLU is ultimately victorious in this case, the CIA would not necessarily have to provide the information sought in those requests, but they would at least have to respond to them and state which responsive documents they may have and why they are not responding. The ACLU notes that the drone program "has already been responsible for the deaths of more than 4,000 people in an unknown number of countries."

After the two court rulings above on Friday, former Constitutional attorney and civil liberties champion Glenn Greenwald tweeted wryly: "Wow ... it's like we have a 3rd branch or something."

Much of this nation's government, all three branches, are largely stuck and broken in the muck and mire of partisan, corporate-sponsored quagmire or worse. So the fact that we had four important, not-horrible, arguably excellent things happen within that quagmire all on the same day on Friday are worth, at least, noting here for the record.