Archive | November, 2010

Response to Congressman Petri’s Tepid Criticism of Invasive TSA Airport Screening Methods

19 Nov

The ACLU has issued a guide for travelers to know their rights during invasive screenings at airports. Our elected leaders could take a strong leadership role in reining in what is clearly an imbalance in the privacy-security compromise we make when traveling during the “war on terror.” But Congressional leaders’ response is tepid at best.

Wisconsin’s U.S. Representative Tom Petri and Rep. John Mica of Florida sent a letter to Transportation Security Administrator John Pistole that the ACLU of Wisconsin says isn’t enough in light of the flood of complaints from travelers. We’re disappointed that Congressman Tom Petri has not responded adequately to the concerns that residents of Wisconsin’s 6th Congressional District and other Americans have over the Transportation Security Administration’s new screening procedures at airports.

Petri and Rep. John Mica (R-FL), who are leading Republican members of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, criticized the TSA’s new pat down methods, suggested ways to improve aviation security and made warm statements about balancing security and civil liberties. Their criticism of the new pat down methods leaves current TSA policy mostly unscathed. They don’t actually address specific concerns regarding Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) after saying they have concerns. Their letter is tepid, despite reading in part, “We have concerns that TSA is not achieving the proper balance between aviation security and the privacy rights of United States citizens.”

The American Civil Liberties Union believes that the Congressmen should have included in their letter:

1). Questions regarding the effectiveness of Advanced Imaging Technology raised by Government Accountability Office (GAO) in its September 2009 testimony before the House Homeland Security Committee. The Washington Post quotes the GAO “while officials said [the scanners] performed as well as physical pat downs in operational tests, it remains unclear whether the AIT would have detected the weapon used in the December 2009 incident,” in written testimony to the House Homeland Security Committee.

2). Evidence that scanned AIT images are stored. Basic privacy protections should include the trust passengers have in the TSA that images of their scanned bodies cannot be stored or shared.

3). Outrage that invasive pat downs fail to provide a less humiliating alternative to travelers who wish to opt out of AIT scanning.

The ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin wish to help travelers who value security and their own privacy. Please share this website which outlines passengers’ rights during airport screenings:

Help Us Work To Protect Freedom – Join the ACLU Today

19 Nov

If you read the Cap City Liberty blog, you probably care a lot about civil liberties and the work of the ACLU of Wisconsin. Here is why we want you to become a member today.

After the November election, it is clear there is a lot of work to do. Fortunately, protecting civil liberties doesn’t depend solely on elections – civil liberties depend in large part on the participation of concerned Americans like you. That’s why your membership in the American Civil Liberties Union is so important. Your support for civil liberties makes you and the ACLU more powerful when you stand together with people who share your love of liberty and justice for all.

In Washington, D.C. there is still work to be done to restore the rights lost during the Bush Administration’s “war on terror.” Unwarranted surveillance of Americans, abuse of the material witness statues to unlawfully detain individuals who are never criminally charged, and targeted killings of American citizens far from any battlefield continue to give America a black eye around the world. On these matters and more, the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office counts on members who are constituents of Wisconsin’s delegation to speak up. This November, Wisconsin lost a voice on the side of civil liberties in these battles in the Senate.

ACLU members in Wisconsin like you can help us lessen that blow.

You are right if you believe we will have more work to do in Madison come January. We know that proponents of anti-civil liberties measures as well as and those who would use government to impose their morality on everyone will act quickly and forcefully.

New leadership will shepherd an agenda:

• To weaken or repeal measures adopted in the last legislature, including a new law providing limited protections and benefits for same sex couples; a new law requiring that health insurance cover FDA approved contraceptives; and a new law requiring all sex education offered in public schools to be comprehensive, medically accurate, and age appropriate.

• To weaken religious liberty further by providing more taxpayer dollars to religious schools, under the failed voucher scheme, by increasing the amount paid to religious schools per pupil and lifting the enrollment cap in Milwaukee.

• To distract us from solving the real problems surrounding our broken immigration system, by requiring Wisconsin law enforcement officers to ask for the immigration papers of anyone they suspect may be in this country illegally. Such a law would guarantee racial profiling of American citizens, who would be ordered to “show us your papers.”

• To move to suppress the voting rights of the poor, students, and the elderly by requiring a government-issued photo ID, and eliminating registration at the polls on Election Day. Despite oft-repeated “voter fraud” claims, the number of prosecutions for voter fraud is negligible. And plus, there are good reasons to restore the right to vote to felons who have served their time.

• The Governor-elect even opposes abortion in cases of incest and rape and supports the death penalty.

What can you and the ACLU do in the face of these unprecedented assaults on civil liberties? We will use strategies and tools that you will recognize: our membership, our loud voices, and our lawyers.

ACLU members and allies can speak out in Madison to demand anti-civil liberties measures are debated – at least in the court of public opinion. Members like you can advocate on state issues that will be fought over at the local level, such as your school board’s position on abstinence-only sex education or anti-gay bullying. And, you can speak out on important national issues, such as keeping the internet free from censorship and accessible to all as a common carrier, so-called net neutrality.

Please be sure to sign up for our email newsletter and alerts on our homepage, so that our messages will ring out loud and clear.

Our staff and volunteer lawyers will carefully consider bringing legal action in administrative proceedings and state or federal courts. Their skill, creativity, and persistence will give us leverage. There may even be opportunities to have an affirmative civil liberties agenda challenging discrimination in housing and education. Racial disparities in our criminal justice system and public school systems across the state are not only unacceptable in a civilized society, they are illegal. And, we won’t let faith-based groups use taxpayer dollars to proselytize or discriminate, or let government censor scientific research at our universities.

With the support of members like you, we have established strong programs for young people over the last ten years. These young people are made aware of civil liberties through our programs like our Youth Social Justice Forum and many have developed into real leaders for civil liberties and civil rights on their campuses and in their communities. They give us confidence and hope that over the long haul civil liberties will continue to protect more Americans. You can be sure they’ll speak up loudly now and in the years to come.

You’re invited to join us now because “freedom can’t protect itself.” Please sign up today.

Thank you.

Sincerely yours,
Chris Ahmuty

P.S. You don’t have to accept violations of civil liberties in silence. The ACLU will help you and your fellow civil libertarians stand up for what’s right.

Youth Social Justice Forum Gets Milwaukee Youth Talking about Equality and Free Speech

16 Nov

On Thursday November 4th, 2010, over 300 high school students came together at the University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee Student Union for the 11th Annual Youth Social Justice Forum.

The crowd of students, teachers and volunteers gather for the day

Students learn how to build puppets from scratch to turn their ideas into 3-D images

With the assistance of almost 80 volunteers from all over the city, including the 2010-2011 class from Public Allies Milwaukee, students actively participated in educational workshops that covered topics from “Creating Audio PSAs” for radio broadcast to “Political Cartooning and Art.” The workshops were presented by volunteers and partners from across the region.

Art Night Books artist Devin Trudell shares political cartoons

In its eleventh year of operation, the Youth Social Justice Forum has evolved from a political awareness event for Milwaukee-area youth to a premiere Social Justice Forum for education and activism for southeastern Wisconsin. The Youth Social Justice Forum increases awareness about issues that directly affect young people, offers hands-on workshops that teach youth real skills to help them raise their voices, provides experiential learning that fosters creative and collaborative thinking, and brings people together to bridge the gap between different racial and economic backgrounds.

Political expression in t-shirt form is ripped from the headlines and incorporated into a workshop

The First Amendment comes alive when students have hands-on lessons about free speech and art

In addition to the workshops, those in attendance also had the opportunity to observe a debate concerning the topic of immigration reform and then cast a ballot to vote on the debated measure using real ballots and counting machines.

City of Milwaukee ballots and tabulators give students the experience of voting

True Skool speakers discussed the history of urban art

This event would not have been a success without the participation and collaboration of many talented volunteers and facilitators. Supporting organizations and businesses include: 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, the City of Milwaukee Election Commission, Milwaukee Public Theatre, Public Allies Milwaukee, RedLine Milwaukee, True Skool, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Urban Underground and the ACLU of Wisconsin staff and friends. The countless hours spent during preparation for this event resulted in a fantastic outcome.

Public Allies Milwaukee volunteers helped the day run smoothly

Photos taken by ACLU of Wisconsin staff member Marion Ecks

View more pictures from the event on the ACLU Student Alliance HQ Facebook photo gallery
Bring the Youth Social Justice Forum or other youth rights workshops to your students or community group! For more information on next year’s event or to get news and information about our educational work with young people, sign up for updates or contact our Youth and Program Department at (414) 272-4032 x 23. Get involved!

Top Ten Reasons To Oppose an Arizona-Style Immigration Law in Wisconsin

16 Nov

We’ve been saying that “what happens in Arizona, stops in Arizona.” That state’s show-us-your-papers racial profiling law inspired boycotts by travelers and athletes and has come at a huge cost to taxpayers in court.

But in Wisconsin, Representative Don Pridemore has drafted a version of Arizona’s law for our state. The ACLU of Wisconsin is concerned that an Arizona-style state immigration enforcement bill will lead to racial profiling, illegal or mistaken detentions, and waste taxpayers’ money – especially if an unconstitutional law sails unchecked through the state legislature.

Here are the top ten reasons why the ACLU of Wisconsin says an Arizona-style immigration law would be bad for Wisconsin. The bill will:

1). …lead to racial profiling – This bill will force police to detain individuals when the officer believes there is reasonable suspicion that an individual is here illegally. But what constitutes reasonable suspicion? Their ethnicity, accent, economic status?

2). …cause illegal or mistaken detention – How will this bill protect non-criminals who won’t be carrying around or have timely access to documents proving their legal presence? When a police officer stops someone with “reasonable suspicion,” what separates a citizen who is a University student who doesn’t have his wallet and proof of citizenship from an exchange student who doesn’t have his wallet? Again, racial profiling will be likely?

3). …be a wasteful expense to taxpayers – Detention costs will rarely be recovered and will never be recovered from individuals found innocent. There will also be those who are detained, but would have been released earlier otherwise. Defending lawsuits from individuals who have been illegally detained will also cost counties and the state.

4). …distract professional law enforcement from actual crime – Our police officers already have enough to do without taking off time from fighting crime to learn how to identify those without proper documents and enforce federal immigration law. Also arrests and booking are long enough processes without going through additional steps to document reasonable suspicion to the satisfaction of supervisors and courts.

5). …strain relations with federal authorities – Is there any reason to believe that ICE would take custody of or at least take notice of these suspects, including those who are legally present but just can’t prove it within two days? Will this impact the head count in local jails? And why should federal authorities allow Wisconsin to interfere with federal enforcement responsibilities, especially when the federal Department of Justice has sued Arizona for doing so?

6). …pre-empt local control in Madison – It is inconsistent to say that the state of Wisconsin can enforce its own immigration laws while at the same time denying the City of Madison its own stance on immigration. We need meaningful, federal immigration reform now.

7). …harm Wisconsin businesses, including agribusiness – While Rep.
Pridemore’s proposal doesn’t currently include Arizona-type penalties on business, it will hurt businesses nevertheless when legal residents and citizens get sick of racial profiling and employment discrimination.

8). …be an affront to Wisconsin citizens – It goes without saying that this proposal is offensive to honest, taxpaying people, particularly the Latino citizens of Wisconsin. Racial profiling is a big enough problem for people of color in Wisconsin.

9). …create a climate of intolerance in our state – At a time when we are trying to improve our state’s economy, Wisconsin needs to lay out the welcome mat for businesses, workers and students.

10). …open the possibility of a costly lawsuit – The racially motivated Arizona bill will likely cost the taxpayers around a million dollars in court costs. Can Wisconsin afford to pass an unconstitutional bill?

Sidenote: also has a top-ten list on why this would be a bad law. The proposal also had media coverage in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, UW Daily Cardinal and Badger Herald, and the ACLU of WI was quoted on the issue in the Capitol Times. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel also published a strong criticism of the proposal.

Public Education Needs a Better Funding Solution to Help Disparities Problem

15 Nov

This month, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction shared their new ideas on restructuring of the state’s school funding formula. For too long our state has relied on a school funding plan that is tied to property taxes which gives disproportionate funding to schools in wealthy areas. Wisconsin schools Superintendent Tony Evers’s “Fair Funding for our Future” proposal would move schools toward considering student need, not property wealth, in allocating state aid.

“We agree with Superintendent Evers that our state funding formulas need to be structured to ensure greater support for children with greater needs,” stated ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Shifting away from the school levy tax credits – which benefit higher-wealth households more than children in need – is a start.

“However, in moving forward with this proposal, we must keep in mind that it’s not only children in poverty who have additional needs,” Ahmuty added. “We need to ensure that the state is also addressing the concerns over Wisconsin’s significant racial disparities in graduation rates throughout the state.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin believes that racial disparities in graduation rates can no longer be ignored. We support a comprehensive approach that uses limited resources in the most effective way to ensure all children across Wisconsin have the opportunity to succeed,” Ahmuty concluded.

Media reports say that at first glance, the proposal could have support from newly elected Republican leadership.

Coal Plants and Civil Rights – The ACLU Asks the WI DNR to Reform a Milwaukee-Area Energy Plant

11 Nov

Milwaukee Environmental Justice: Reportback from the We Energies Valley Coal Plant Hearing
On Thursday, November 4th, over 100 community members and organizations attended a hearing held by the state Department of Natural Resources regarding the We Energies Valley Coal Plant in Milwaukee. The coal plant needs a renewal of their air quality control permit but community members objected to the proposed permit and spoke out in support of clean air, energy alternatives and environmental justice.

Environment and civil rights: the connection
What does a coal plant have to do with civil rights? The answer has to do with several key laws that have been passed in the last fifty years. Milwaukee residents say that upgrades in energy plants that dramatically reduce air pollution have happened in suburban areas but not at the Valley Plant in Milwaukee near the high-density neighborhoods mostly composed of people of color. They attended the hearing to say that everyone has an equal right to breathe clean air, not just those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods.

Environmental justice: the law
In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed and said that any program that received federal funding could not directly discriminate or have a discriminatory effect on protected groups. Since the Department of Natural Resources receives federal funds and since the DNR is in charge of approving pollution permits for energy producers like We Energies Valley Coal Plant, the DNR must take into consideration the equal right everyone has to breathe clean air.

The Clean Air Act was first passed in 1970 and has been updated and changed over the years. In the 1990s the law established an improved permit program in an attempt to better regulate energy producers’ air pollution.

In 1994, President Clinton signed Executive Order #12898, on Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations. That order said that federal agencies need to know how minority and low-income neighborhoods will be affected by governmental actions in terms of environmental concerns. When outdated, relatively uncontrolled coal plants in low-income neighborhoods pollute the air, everyone there suffers. Governmental agencies have the responsibility to keep energy plants accountable.

Coal plants: impact on the people
Cracking down on air pollution isn’t just about global warming. People suffer immediate health effects when air quality is poor. Bad air makes asthma worse and Wisconsin sees a disproportionate number of asthma cases in the southeast part of the state, particularly with African-American children. The American Lung Association consistently gives Milwaukee an “F” for air quality, high ozone days and excessive particulate pollution. The Valley Coal plant is the oldest of WE Energies’ coal plants and is located in a high-density area of the city with the largest concentration of African-American and Latino residents. Yet suburban plants in Port Washington and Oak Creek and other units have gotten upgrades, pollution controls or even natural gas conversions. The We Energy Valley Coal Plant is not just hurting the environment, its permit has a discriminatory impact on the public health of the community.

The ACLU and you: what you can do
The ACLU of Wisconsin joined the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Associates and the Milwaukee Latino Health Coalition to oppose the permit renewal of the Valley Coal Plant and we submitted our full comments to the state Department of Natural Resources. These organizations got involved because we see, from a systemic level, how government decision-making can disproportionately impact the health and well-being of some of the most disfranchised groups of people in our state.

Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today and let us know that you support our work on racial and environmental justice. Or please consider making a donation to our legal efforts through Community Shares of Wisconsin or Community Shares of Greater Milwaukee. Your tax-deductible contribution to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation helps our legal team be a voice for environmental justice in the state.

Find the organizations’ documents including a press release, comments with references and more on our Racial Justice issues page.

Why Photo ID at the Polls is Bad for Voters – Stories from Indiana

5 Nov

Media reports are saying that incoming legislators want a voter photo identification requirement bill to be top priority next year. It’s unfortunate that legislators who coasted to victory on a platform emphasizing economic development would first want to pass a law requiring a government-issued photo ID card at the polls, a barrier that would most likely impact low-income people. Perhaps the votes of those with the greatest need for economic salvation aren’t that valuable to next year’s leaders.

Originally posted on the national ACLU’s Blog of Rights, this story illustrates exactly why photo ID at the polls is a problem. We give you the example of Indiana:

“Voting rights cases extol the right to vote as fundamental and preservative of all rights. Indeed, the right to vote without regard to race, gender, age, or class is protected by numerous constitutional amendments and federal laws. Therefore, Indiana’s voter identification law departed from well-established constitutional principles when it required voters to possess a valid, current government-issued photo identification in order to cast a ballot on this past Election Day. After a long partisan battle, Indiana imposed new burdens on minorities, women, students, the elderly and the poor.

“In Crawford v. Marion County, the Supreme Court upheld Indiana’s voter ID law, ignoring the plight of a 78-year-old Ft. Wayne woman who attempted to get a photo ID. After three separate trips to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles over several weeks and finally obtaining a certified birth certificate, she was turned away because her birth certificate contained only her maiden name. The law also denied ballots to elderly nuns in South Bend, who were turned away solely because they lacked photo ID. Students from the University of Notre Dame were denied ballots because their student IDs lacked an expiration date and their driver’s licenses were out-of-state. They were told they could only vote absentee, while those who possessed Indiana-approved ID were able to go to the polls on Election Day. Instead of treating these voters’ ballots as necessary parts of our democracy that preserve all other rights, their denial was characterized as minor collateral damage in the battle to prevent unsubstantiated voter impersonation.

“While the Supreme Court held the state photo ID requirement did not violate federal law, the Indiana Court of Appeals found it violated the Equal Privileges and Immunities Clause of the state constitution because it unjustifiably exempted select groups — absentee voters and voters living in state-licensed care facilities — from having to comply with the law.”

“Now the Supreme Court of Indiana has an opportunity to affirm that discriminating against citizens at the polls violates the Indiana Constitution. On Monday, the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project filed an amicus brief encouraging the Supreme Court of Indiana to see these injustices and restore equal rights to all of Indiana’s voters.”

In Wisconsin, your driver’s license number helps the state match you to your registration information. But if you aren’t licensed to drive in this state, there are other ways you can prove your identity such as using a state ID number or the last four digits of your social security number. You can even bring a voting neighbor to vouch for you.

The idea of a democracy is that every citizen of age gets a vote. Everyone. Not just everyone who can drive. Not just everyone who hasn’t lost a birth certificate to a house fire or when fleeing domestic violence. Not just everyone who isn’t a student or who isn’t elderly or disabled. We should oppose photo ID at the polls in Wisconsin and maintain the integrity of voter access in our state.

VOTE: Your Rights at the Polls on Election Day in Wisconsin

1 Nov

Each individual’s right to vote is the foundation of our democracy. The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wants all eligible voters to exercise their full right to vote on Election Day. Report problems to 866-OUR-VOTE, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin or tweet a report on your polling place to @ACLUofWisconsin or @ACLUMadison.

Before heading to the polls, be sure to check to locate your polling place and verify that you are registered. For answers to more frequently asked questions, download the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Voter Empowerment Card or our mini flier on voting for those with criminal convictions.

Learn more about what the ACLU is doing to inform voters about their voting rights across the country.

Download the ACLU’s Wisconsin Voter Empowerment Card (PDF)

Download the ACLU’s Facts Flier on Voting with Criminal Convictions (PDF)

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