Subscribe: Latest News
Added By: Feedage Forager Feedage Grade A rated
Language: English
american  court  federal  government  immigration enforcement  law  president  protest  state  trump  women directors  women     
Rate this Feed
Rate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feedRate this feed
Rate this feed 1 starRate this feed 2 starRate this feed 3 starRate this feed 4 starRate this feed 5 star

Comments (0)

Feed Details and Statistics Feed Statistics
Preview: Latest News

American Civil Liberties Union


Admitting Refugees Makes America Great

Thu, 23 Feb 2017 17:30 -0500

I know because I worked in the White House to bring them to the United States. Since President Trump first issued an executive order slashing refugee admissions to the United States this year from 110,000 to 50,000, a certain irony keeps running through my mind. Candidate Trump campaigned on a slogan of “Make America Great Again.” Yet now he is pushing to cut refugee admissions by more than half. I can think of few policy decisions that would make America look smaller or more cold-hearted than closing our doors to refugees who desperately need a second chance at life. Even worse, the decision is animated by a discriminatory intent that is completely inconsistent with our values and Constitution.    I spent the last few years of the Obama administration running the refugee portfolio from the White House, which gave me a front row seat on countless displays of true American greatness. Faced with an unprecedented global humanitarian crisis, I watched America’s commitment to respond grow week by week — in communities around the country, in the private sector, and within government. At the White House, we convened officials from across the federal agencies at the deputy secretary level every two weeks to ensure we were doing as much as we could. We worked to not only meet our refugee admissions targets each year but to increase them, even as we added new layers of rigor to our security screening.  I saw American greatness in the innovative ideas conceived by long-serving bureaucrats who are often unduly maligned in the public discourse. For instance, we launched a pilot program to station State Department and Department of Homeland Security personnel side by side in Jordan, along with NGO staff who conduct initial case intake and medical checks. This program allowed refugees to be interviewed by DHS a week after case intake and screened for medical concerns 48 hours after that. Without eliminating or abbreviating a single step in the process, we cut months from refugee wait times, and with this model, we interviewed more than 10,000 refugees in Amman in three months in early 2016.  Our greatness also came through in creative uses of technology, pioneered by the whiz kids in the U.S. Digital Service. USDS is a team of short-term federal employees, populated largely by recruits from private sector companies like Facebook and Google. Under their guidance, we brought internet connectivity to remote locations in Tanzania, which allowed for real-time transmission of data from the field, avoiding the need to wait weeks until interview teams returned to Washington. We also digitized key forms in the admissions process, bringing an end to the days of DHS officers traveling hundreds of miles to review and approve hard-copy paperwork in refugee case files. By helping to shorten processing times for refugees with acute medical conditions, these measures can save lives. More than 400 employees at the Department of Homeland Security demonstrated American greatness when they volunteered to help the program. These men and women accepted deployments around the globe to do refugee interviews and performed case analysis to help protect against fraud in the program. With these additional officers who put their day jobs on hold, we were able to meet our 2016 objectives of admitting 85,000 refugees, including 10,000 Syrians, and eventually exceed our goal for Syrians. The United States displayed its greatness as a leader among nations by promising to admit 110,000 refugees in 2017 and pressing other countries to do more to help people fleeing violence. At a conference at the United Nations in September 2016, we rallied the international community to more robustly respond to the global refugee crisis. This wasn’t because there was some narrow U.S. self-interest at stake. Rather it was because 20 million refugees around the world needed a lifeline.  Lastly, and perhaps most reflective of American greatness, we saw countless examples of the generosity of our people, as communities went beyond the call to open their arms to the new Ame[...]

In South Dakota, Officials Defied a Federal Judge and Took Indian Kids Away From Their Parents in Rigged Proceedings

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 17:00 -0500

In Rapid City, social workers and a judge were flagrantly violating the Indian Child Welfare Act. During the mid-1970s, Congress confirmed what Indian tribes had been saying for decades: State and local social workers and judges were aggressively using child custody hearings to take Indian children away from their families and tribes and place them in foster or adoptive homes, more often than not with white families. According to a congressional investigation, between 25 and 35 percent of all Indian children in the U.S. had been taken from their homes — a rate that jeopardized tribal culture if not the very survival of the tribes. Investigators determined that many removals were unwarranted and unnecessary.  In 1978, Congress responded by passing the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), which established minimum federal standards to guide when and how state agencies could remove Native American children from their parents’ custody and their cultural environment. Nearly four decades later, state and local social workers and judges in Rapid City, South Dakota, are violating the rules in open defiance of ICWA, the Constitution, and now a federal judge. The reason for their noncompliance is unclear but the consequences are striking. Since 2010, more than 1,000 Native-American children in Pennington County, home to Rapid City, have been removed from their families by state welfare workers and placed in foster care, disproportionately in non-Indian homes.In addition, statistics compiled by the South Dakota Department of Social Services (DSS) show that although American Indians comprise less than 9 percent of South Dakota’s population, 52 percent of the children in the state’s foster care system are American Indians. An Indian child is 11 times more likely to be placed in foster care than a white child in South Dakota. The child custody hearings typically lasted fewer than five minutes — some were done in 60 seconds — and the state won 100 percent of the time. In 2013, the ACLU  agreed to help challenge this. We filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of two South Dakota tribes, the Oglala Sioux and Rosebud Sioux Tribes, and on behalf of all Indian families living in Pennington County South Dakota, challenging the state’s child removal procedures of Indian children. The defendants are the presiding state court judge, the state director of DSS, the Pennington County director of DSS, and the state attorney filing the removal petitions.In March 2015, Chief Federal District Court Judge Jeffrey L. Viken confirmed what our complaint had alleged: State employees were removing children from their homes and then holding hearings in state court within 48 hours, in which parents were not assigned counsel to represent them, were not given a copy of the petition accusing them of wrongdoing, and no state employee was called to testify. Moreover, the parents were not permitted to testify, call witnesses, or cross-examine any state employee. The hearings typically lasted fewer than five minutes — some were done in 60 seconds — and the state won 100 percent of the time.That’s right, 100 percent. Often, Judge Viken found children would remain in foster care for two months or longer before their parents were given an opportunity to challenge the removal at a subsequent hearing. The judge held that the removal hearings violated ICWA as well as the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. He invited both the plaintiffs and the defendants to suggest remedies for the violations. However, the defendants not only failed to submit any proposed remedies but largely ignored Judge Viken’s ruling. In August 2016, Viken convened a compliance hearing, which revealed the scope of the defendants’ inaction. He followed in December 2016 with a 27-page decision finding that the defendants “continue to disregard his prior rulings” and ordered “an immediate halt” to further violations. This time his ruling was accompanied by a formal injunction, which means that failure to comply could r[...]

President Trump Is Beginning to Build the Apparatus of Human Misery He Promised During the Campaign

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 16:00 -0500

Trump’s new immigration directives are an iron-fisted assault on sane immigration enforcement. Two memos signed by Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on Monday are a grim blueprint for President Trump's promised mass deportations. As implementation instructions for his January executive orders on interior and border immigration enforcement, they’re an operating manual for unprecedentedly vicious ICE and CBP crackdowns. Heartless and cruel, the memos promise changes that will shred due process and propose to expand an already enormous federal deportation force by 15,000 new agents.  Fortunately, Congress has budget control that can stop some of Trump’s terrible personnel and policy choices, including his border wall. And as with Trump’s Muslim ban, the ACLU will fight to block these memos’ unconstitutional efforts to detain and deport millions of human beings. We think the last administration got a lot wrong about immigration enforcement — it’s ludicrous to say that President Obama’s record deportation numbers were some kind of mirage — but the Trump administration wants to compound the cruelty. In fact, the Trump-Kelly memos aim to destroy three existing pillars of compassionate, constitutional immigration enforcement: 1) Discard Humane Discretion The memos abandon any genuine attempt to prioritize immigration enforcement. Virtually every  immigrant eligible for deportation — including almost all of the 11 million people in the United States without authorization — is now a target for detention and aggressive removal proceedings.It doesn’t matter whether that immigrant has lived in the United States for a day or a decade. It doesn’t matter whether she has a serious criminal record or not. And it doesn’t matter whether strong equities exist like community contributions; extensive family ties, including U.S. citizen children; U.S. military service; or exceptional educational achievements and potential. Last week’s powerful Day Without Immigrants gave a sense of the devastating economic, humanitarian, and practical effects of banishing our neighbors, classmates, co-parishioners, relatives, and friends. 2) Dismantle Due Process The Trump-Kelly memos try to eviscerate immigrants’ rights to full and fair hearings to determine whether the government’s attempts to remove them are supported by the facts and the law. Trump and Kelly threaten a massive expansion of shortcuts to deportation like expedited removal, which allows an ICE or CBP official, rather than an impartial judge, to have the only say on an immigrant’s future. Every immigrant deserves a real day in court and access to legal counsel to make their case, both of which are imperiled by the memos’ medieval prescription of detention for all, regardless of a particular immigrant’s flight risk or public safety threat.Mandatory imprisonment of immigrants who don't need to be jailed, like asylum-seekers, primary caregivers, pregnant women, and people with medical conditions makes no fiscal or moral sense and is fundamentally contrary to due process. All mass detention accomplishes, besides needlessly tearing families apart and sending many kids to foster care, is a lucrative bonanza for substandard private-prison contractors. 3) Demolish the Protective Wall Between Immigration Enforcement and Police The Trump-Kelly memos encourage state and local police, including those with records of racial profiling and brutality, to become immigration agents. They are a return to failed programs ended by the Obama administration that intertwined local police and immigration enforcement, which is a federal responsibility. The ACLU and allies won important legal victories against state “show me your papers” legislation like Arizona’s SB1070, and the federal government terminated involvement of biased police agencies like Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s in immigration enforcement. Yet the Trump-Kelly memos want to make every cop an immigration agent, ignoring the Department of [...]

Racial Profiling Raises Its Ugly Head (Again): A Night in the Life of a Black Man in Milwaukee

Wed, 22 Feb 2017 09:00 -0500

We need to end racialized policing, so no one is pulled over because of the color of their skin. When I was 18, my friends and I were stopped when driving home from a concert. Our crime? Driving while Black. I was leaving Milwaukee’s annual Summerfest concert with friends and family. The show was amazing. We walked back to my minivan and headed on our way.  After dropping off one friend, I continued toward my cousin’s house. On the way, I passed two Milwaukee police squad cars that were driving in the opposite direction.In that moment, I felt that familiar spike of worry that most young Black men feel when they encounter the police. But I quickly convinced myself it was nothing. That’s when I saw them turn their lights on. Maybe my minivan was too black. Maybe I was too Black. Maybe there were too many Black men in one car for us not to be up to no good. Whatever the “reason,” the squad cars made an abrupt U-turn and, with those lights flashing, pulled my car over.  When this happened we were just about in front of my cousin’s house, in a neighborhood I knew well, in a city I was born in. And I was being treated like a criminal for no reason. Four cops got out of the squad cars and came toward my minivan with flashlights on and guns drawn. In that moment, suddenly the world didn’t make sense. I was driving home from a concert, and now there were police with their guns out coming toward me. It was surreal, and it was scary. One officer opened the driver’s side door, told me to put my hands on the steering wheel, and demanded my driver’s license, which I provided.  The other officers told the passengers to open the other doors of the minivan and get out. They told my cousin to sit on the curb while they ran my plates for information and our IDs for warrants. None of it felt right. None of it was right. We were young people coming home from a concert.  And we were terrified. I asked them why they stopped me. One of the officers told me it was because the vehicle registration was faulty.  A second officer told my friend that it was because he had appeared to be reaching for something under the back seat.  A third officer told another friend that it was because a person in the back seat wasn’t wearing a seat belt. Three different answers to a very simple question. None of them made any sense.  I’m not sure how the officers could have seen my car’s registration number before pulling me over. That number was written in small print on the windshield, and the officers had been driving toward me in the opposite direction — at night. I’m even less sure how the officers could have seen a back-seat passenger’s seatbelt (or lack thereof) or whether the person bent down to get something through the tint on the windows in the minivan. The tint is so dark you can’t even see the backseat from the outside.  It was just the latest version of the same story I’d heard, seen, and experienced in Milwaukee my whole life. The cops want to pull you over, so they pull you over. They don’t need a reason. They can make up a reason. And they will, especially if you’re Black. After they conducted their warrant check, the officers returned our IDs and let us leave. We weren’t charged or cited. Some might say we were lucky. But if being lucky means not being physically hurt or killed by police when you’re stopped for no reason, then that’s a terrible commentary on policing in Milwaukee and our country.The truth is, we weren’t lucky. While we didn’t lose our lives, we were humiliated and wrongfully targeted by Milwaukee police simply because we were Black. That stop did not make my community safer. It made me fear the police. Sadly, this is far from the only negative experience I have had and not nearly the worst people in my life have experienced with the police. As I grow older, I realize my view of law enforcement will always be affected by this experience. But I won’t give in to pessimism, and I won’t stay s[...]

We Must Rein in President Trump’s Spying Powers

Tue, 21 Feb 2017 15:00 -0500

Trump inherited surveillance powers used to spy on millions of Americans without a warrant — but some expire soon. It’s been just over a month since Donald J. Trump assumed the enormous powers of the U.S. presidency, including the power to control the government’s far-reaching surveillance of Americans and others. As we’ve explained elsewhere, President Trump will wield extremely broad and unconstitutional surveillance powers, with the world’s most sophisticated technological tools at his disposal. Based on his past statements and conduct, we have every reason to be concerned that he will misuse this sprawling spying apparatus.  One of these spying authorities — Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act — is set to expire at the end of this year, and Congress has already begun holding hearings that highlight much-needed reforms. The government uses Section 702 to examine the full contents of Americans’ international emails, web-browsing, and phone calls — all without ever getting a warrant. This surveillance violates our core rights to privacy, freedom of expression, and freedom of association guaranteed by the First and Fourth Amendments. Not only does Section 702 give the government access to sensitive online communications, but this surveillance also sweeps incredibly broadly, capturing vast quantities of Americans’ personal data. With the assistance of companies like Facebook, Google, AT&T, and Verizon, the government relies on Section 702 to carry out mass surveillance on U.S. soil, including both the “PRISM” and “Upstream” programs revealed by the whistleblower Edward Snowden. While the ACLU has long objected to this large-scale, warrantless spying, with President Trump now at the helm of the surveillance state, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Congress must fundamentally reform this law. To fight alongside us in demanding reform, here’s what you need to know about Section 702:  Section 702 Permits the Government to “Target” Completely Innocent People Section 702 permits the NSA, FBI, and CIA to spy on communications without a warrant when two primary conditions are met. First, the “target” of the surveillance must be a foreigner located abroad. And second, a significant purpose of the surveillance must be to gather “foreign intelligence information.” Neither of these conditions imposes a meaningful constraint on the government’s ability to spy. Almost anyone abroad could be an eligible target. Indeed, Section 702 does not require the government to make any finding — let alone demonstrate probable cause to a judge — that its surveillance targets are agents of a foreign power, engaged in criminal activity, or even remotely associated with terrorism. (Instead, judges on a secret intelligence court approve only the general procedures that government analysts are supposed to follow.) In addition, the law defines the term “foreign intelligence” broadly — so broadly that the surveillance could readily include communications by journalists, human rights workers, whistleblowers, and virtually anyone else talking about foreign affairs. As a result, low-level NSA analysts have tremendous discretion in selecting whom to target. In other words, under Section 702, the government may target people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing whatsoever. Given how few constraints apply, it’s hardly surprising that at last count the NSA was using this law to surveil almost 100,000 people, organizations, and groups. Americans who call or email with these thousands of targets — whether they are family members, friends, or colleagues — have their communications swept up too. The Government Uses Section 702 to Conduct Bulk Searches of Our Online Communications One other crucial feature of this surveillance was hidden from the public for years and goes far beyond what the statute permits: The government is using Section 702 to engage in bulk searches [...]

Trump Is Violating the Constitution

Mon, 20 Feb 2017 11:30 -0500

The president is supposed to serve the American people, not himself. This piece originally appeared in the February 23 issue of The New York Review of Books.  When Barack Obama became the forty-fourth president of the United States in 2009, he appointed Norman Eisen, a “special counsel for ethics and government,” to ensure that he violated no prohibitions on conflicts of interest. Before he was replaced in 2011, Eisen, later an ambassador to the Czech Republic and a lawyer who specialized in cases involving fraud, addressed a wide range of questions, including such matters as whether President Obama, a basketball fan, could accept tickets to see the Washington Wizards or the Georgetown Hoyas play. When Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, he sought a formal opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel on whether he could accept the award without violating a constitutional prohibition on the president or any other federal officer accepting “emoluments,” essentially any payment or benefit, from a foreign state. (The office concluded that he could, only because the Nobel Prize Committee is a private entity with no foreign government involvement.) Like every president to precede him in the last four decades, President Obama placed all his investments in a blind trust, so that he would be unaware of his interests and therefore free of conflicts of interest with respect to the many decisions he might make that could affect his own personal wealth. President Obama, again following the precedents of his predecessors, also released his tax returns, both during his campaign for office and as president. Obama, in short, was punctilious about ethics, and his administration was almost entirely free of ethics scandals.II.Donald J. Trump, who became the forty-fifth president on January 20, has taken a different approach. He comes to office having repeatedly refused to release his tax returns, even after a leak indicated that he may have paid no taxes for eighteen years. He has cited an ongoing IRS audit as his reason for not disclosing his returns, but the IRS itself has refuted that claim, saying that “nothing prevents individuals from sharing their own tax information.” Two days after inauguration, his administration announced that Trump would not release the returns even if an audit were complete. Trump has somewhat gleefully asserted that the conflict-of-interest rules don’t apply to the president. He mixed together personal business and official diplomacy during several meetings and conversations with foreign officials during the transition. And despite his widespread private holdings in commercial real estate, condominiums, hotels, and golf courses here and around the world, he has refused to follow the lead of his predecessors by selling his assets and placing the proceeds in a blind trust. Instead, he has transferred management, but not ownership, of the Trump Organization. He retains his ownership in full. And he has assigned operational responsibility not to an independent arm’s-length trustee, but to his sons, Eric and Donald Jr.  As a result, President Trump almost certainly began violating the Constitution the moment he took the oath of office. It’s true that conflict-of-interest statutes don’t cover the president—not because we don’t care about compromised presidents, but because such statutes generally require officeholders to recuse themselves from decisions in which they have a personal financial stake, and in the president’s case, recusal is rarely a workable option, since there is no alternative decision-maker. But the Constitution subjects the president to a conflict-of-interest law: the so-called “emoluments” clause. That clause provides that no federal officeholder may, absent express approval by Congress, accept “any present, Emolument,…of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” It is des[...]

The 75th Anniversary of E.O. 9066 Is a Solemn Reminder to Fight Back Against the Trump Administration’s Fearmongering

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 08:15 -0500

Seventy-five years ago, FDR made one of the most disastrous decisions in American history. Seventy-five years ago, in one of the darkest moments in American history, President Franklin Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066. Immediately, the federal government began forcing 110,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry into concentration camps for fear they posed a threat to national security. For many years, we have recognized the infamous date of the order, February 19, 1942, with a “Day of Remembrance” at ceremonies throughout the nation designed to ensure that this indelible stain on our democracy is never forgotten. It is ordinarily a solemn occasion and a day of reflection. But on this day, the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, our current anti-Muslim crisis sounds a chilling echo of that earlier injustice, which must not be ignored. This year we are called to transform our quiet reflection into a fierce resistance.   No previous anniversary has been more important or more ominous. The 75th anniversary serves as a timely reminder of both the fragility of our democracy and the grave danger that we currently confront. The Muslim community does not stand alone. Instead an inspiring nationwide protest movement has boldly stood up to confront Trump's policies.  When President Roosevelt issued this order in 1942, the resistance was meek and the protest was mute. Japanese Americans stood virtually alone as they were literally rounded up from their homes and businesses and imprisoned in concentration camps. Only a handful of organizations and individuals publicly opposed the order.  It was wartime, and few institutions were willing to risk being labeled “Un-American.” Perhaps more importantly, anti-Japanese American sentiment assumed that the danger of disloyalty was inherent in the ancestry of these Americans because they “looked like the enemy.” In turn, this fear was whipped into a xenophobic fervor by government officials’ cynical use of “alternative facts,” which were later proven to be deliberate lies offered to justify these racist policies as a “wartime necessity.”            Seventy-five years later, we confront a president who is promulgating hateful anti-Muslim policies and similar propaganda about the dangers of disloyalty, linking that to the threat of terrorism, which is once again deeply rooted in racism and xenophobia. But there is a sharp difference in the current crisis — today’s resistance is far from meek. Rather it is intense and vigorous.The Muslim community does not stand alone. Instead an inspiring nationwide protest movement has boldly stood up to confront Trump's policies. In fact, this protest, working in tandem with aggressive legal advocacy, has forced the president to back down in the face of judicial decisions challenging the constitutionality of his Muslim ban. After three weeks of protest and legal action, he has been forced to return to the drawing board. This is unlikely to be the end of this misguided policy, but simply a pause. But our success so far has meant tens of thousands of visa holders — people the administration was determined to ban from this country because of their faith and national origin — are now able to travel to the United States. The resistance mounted against this anti-Muslim policy has, at the very least, significantly slowed the inhumane machinery that the president once thought was unstoppable.  Several years ago, I had the great privilege of standing with Fred Korematsu and his family on the Day of Remembrance to light candles and to speak about the fight for justice. It is a memory I treasure today. Fred Korematsu was the courageous American who defied this unjust order and was arrested and jailed.     I have no doubt that if Fred Korematsu were still alive during this current crisis he would once again be standing with us — by our side in court, at the airp[...]

Women Directors Might Just Get the Hollywood Ending They Have Been Hoping For

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 12:30 -0500

The federal government and the major studios may be settling sex discrimination charges against women directors. This week, Deadline reported that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is in negotiations with the major movie studios to settle agency charges of systemic sex discrimination against women directors.  The EEOC began a wide-ranging investigation of Hollywood’s hiring practices in 2015 after the ACLU and ACLU of Southern California notified the agency of evidence we had gathered showing that sex discrimination against women directors was “standard operating procedure” among movie studios and television networks. Since that time, momentum has been building in the industry, and among the public, for greater opportunities for women directors — most recently under the Twitter hashtag “#OscarsSoMale.” The EEOC is not permitted by law to comment on pending investigations, so it isn’t possible for us to independently confirm the Deadline piece. But we have no reason to doubt its veracity. And the story is bolstered by another recent article concerning contract negotiations between the major studios and networks and the Directors Guild of America. According to the report, industry representatives reportedly rejected a contract provision that would have required them to interview female candidates and candidates of color for every director job — an application of the “Rooney Rule” used by the National Football League to increase racial diversity among senior coaching jobs.  The studios and networks reportedly cited “legal reasons” for refusing to accept the proposal — further proof they may already be contemplating such affirmative measures as part of an EEOC settlement. We are elated that the EEOC may have done precisely what we asked of it: used its authority as the government agency charged with enforcing the nation’s anti-discrimination laws to hold the major studios accountable for sex discrimination against women directors. Moreover, settlement of those charges will result in tangible change in the studios’ hiring practices — with continuing federal oversight that will assure compliance — so that women will finally have equal opportunities to sit in the director’s chair. Such opportunities, in turn, will provide women with the “bully pulpit” needed to tell the diverse stories that audiences have shown, again and again, they want to see.  And, if those settlement negotiations fail against any or all of the studios, the EEOC can bring a lawsuit in court in order to force those changes in hiring practices. Dozens of women directors entrusted the ACLU with their stories of being shut out of their chosen careers, and we are honored to have played a part in potentially winning them some measure of hope for the future. The recent success of prominent female directors like Ava DuVernay is heartening, but it’s still the rare exception to the rule.  The vast majority of women directors still can’t get a foot in the door. In fact, one recent study showed that the percentage of women directing movies in 2016 fell by nearly 50 percent from the 2015 number, all the way down to the same percentage as in 2007.  And even if a female director does get hired, research shows she’s much less likely than a male director to get hired again.  The ACLU and ACLU of Southern California will continue to monitor this story and publish additional information as we learn it. [...]

Where Protests Flourish, Anti-Protest Bills Follow

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 14:00 -0500

State legislatures across the country are trying to crack down on protesters and make a mockery of the First Amendment. Over the past year, a historic level of activism and protest has spilled out into our nation’s parks, streets, and sidewalks — places where our First Amendment rights are at their height. The January 21 Women’s March, anchored in D.C. with echoes across the nation, was likely the single largest day of protest in American history. And yet, legislators in many states have followed up on this exuberant activism with proposed bills that are not only far less inspiring, but also unconstitutional. A few examples illustrate this pattern all too well. After President Trump enacted his discriminatory Muslim ban at U.S. ports of entry, protests immediately erupted at airports nationwide, including a weekend-long protest at Denver International Airport. In response, the airport started enforcing a rule that requires protestors to submit an application a week before holding any demonstration. In opposition to the construction of the Dakota Access pipeline, protestors and water protectors camped out for more than a year near North Dakota’s Standing Rock reservation. The protests were effective: They led the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny a permit for the pipeline and delayed construction for weeks. The response? Legislators in North Dakota introduced a cascade of bills that would allow drivers to run over protesters obstructing a highway, as long as the drivers did so accidentally; would punish wearing a mask in any public forum or in a group on private property; would sentence protestors at private facilities with up to 30 days in prison; and would punish protestors who cause $1,000 in economic harm with 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. In Minnesota, following the police shooting death of Philando Castile, protests caused part of a highway to shut down. Then, at the beginning of the state legislative session, Minnesota legislators drafted bills that would punish highway protestors with heavy fines and prison time and would make protesters liable for the policing costs of an entire protest if they individually were convicted of unlawful assembly or public nuisance. Is this spate of anti-protest bills a coincidence? We think not. Each of the protests described above reflects a success of our representative democracy: People came together, voiced their dissent, and created change. State representatives around the country should be celebrating the fact that their constituents are getting out into the streets and making their voices heard. Instead, state representatives are calling these efforts “garbage” and proposing bill after bill that would criminalize protest or even put the lives of protestors in danger. Privacy statement. This embed will serve content from Of course, these legislators don’t say their goal is to criminalize protest. For example, the sponsor of the North Dakota “motorist” bill claims the bill is required to protect the “legal exercise of [the] right to drive.” The sponsor of the Minnesota pay-to-protest bill explained his bill by saying (pretty astoundingly): “Rosa Parks sat in the front of the bus. She didn’t get out and lay down in front of the bus.” [This seems to have missed the point that Rosa Parks was, in fact, breaking an (unjust) law.] But even if these bills are dressed up in language about public safety or the “right to drive,” their effect is singular: chilling protest. Here’s why. First, there isn’t a single city o[...]

Florida Supreme Court Reminds Politicians That Women Are Capable of Making Their Own Decisions

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 12:45 -0500

The state’s high court blocked a law that unnecessarily makes women wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Every day, people face important medical decisions. When tough choices arise, we consult with our health care providers about the pros and cons of different treatment options. We meditate on our goals and fears. Some of us will turn to family or friends for advice. Some of us will pray. No one goes to the state capitol building to ask a politician their opinion.  Yet when it comes to a woman’s decision to end her pregnancy, politicians feel entitled to insert themselves into the equation. We all agree that a woman seeking abortion care, like every other patient, should receive all medically appropriate information. But in dozens of states, legislators demand that a woman who has decided to have an abortion — unlike any other patient seeking any other form of medical care — delay her procedure by a certain amount of time (typically 24 hours or more) after receiving certain state-mandated information.  In 15 of these states, legislators have gone even further, insisting that a woman receive that mandatory information in-person — thus requiring her to make an additional, medically unnecessary trip to her doctor. These laws are especially burdensome for low-income women who are forced to arrange and pay for double the transportation, double the child care, and double the time off work. They also put victims of domestic violence at risk by making it harder for them to keep their abortion decision confidential, and they force women experiencing a pregnancy-related illness to remain sicker, longer. Fortunately, in a victory for Florida women and for common decency, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a lower court’s decision blocking the state’s 24-hour mandatory abortion delay law from taking effect while the litigation proceeds. In upholding the preliminary injunction, the court also found that the law likely violates the Florida Constitution’s strong right of privacy.  How do politicians even justify these insulting, harmful laws? Good question. The state of Florida has argued that it is necessary to "protect[] pregnant women from undergoing serious procedures without minimal private time to reflect” on the decision.  But pregnant women don’t need politicians to protect them from themselves by micro-managing their schedules. As the court explained, “a woman can already take all of the time she needs to decide whether to terminate her pregnancy, both before she arrives at the clinic and after she receives the required counseling information.” Thus, in practice, “[t]he Mandatory Delay Law impacts only those women who have already made the choice to end their pregnancies.” This is not about informed consent. To the contrary, the court observed that the law “turns informed consent on its head, placing the State squarely between a woman who has already made her decision to terminate her pregnancy and her doctor who has decided that the procedure is appropriate for his or her patient.”   No one goes to the state capitol building to ask a politician their opinion.  Moreover, if this is really just about ensuring that patients are fully informed, then why is it, the court asked, that “[n]o other medical procedure, even those with greater health consequences, requires a twenty-four hour waiting period in the informed consent process”?    Politicians apparently think that women seeking abortion care are less capable decision-makers than any other patients. But, as the ACLU argued in court, women don’t need a mandatory “time out” before they can make a decision about their health care.  The Florida Supreme Court’s decision should serve as a wake-up call to politicians to stop passing laws that have no medical justification an[...]