Archive | December, 2011

Madison School District’s No Vote for Charter School Is a Vote Against Sex-Segregation

20 Dec

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin said that Monday night’s decision by the board of the Madison Metropolitan School District marked a rejection of sex-segregation in publicly funded schools. Sex-segregation isn’t a solution to the racial achievement gap.

From the beginning, the ACLU of Wisconsin has made it clear that sex-segregation is inherently discriminatory. Fixing the racial achievement gap in Madison and across the state is going to take an effort that is larger than one charter school. It is going to take a district-wide commitment to expanding strategies that work and that don’t rely on unproven gimmicks like separating boys and girls.

The most recent debate over whether or not the Urban League’s charter school plan would include using unionized staff was important. However we cannot let the controversy over instrumentality obscure the fact that there were many unanswered questions even after the district’s final analysis. The analysis suggested that the legality of sex-segregation in the charter plan would have to be scrutinized by attorneys and essentially deferred the issue to future decision-makers. Even in the shadow of our district’s problems with race, we cannot let gender equality be taken lightly.

Tonight’s decision reflected the deep concerns of some school officials and the state Department of Public instruction that sex-segregation would create too great a risk for discrimination and legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will continue its efforts to work for racial justice in our state’s public education system. It will also investigate reports of sex-segregated public schools in other areas of Wisconsin that came to the organization’s attention through the course of the public debate over the Madison Prep proposal.

Read the ACLU of Wisconsin’s op-ed from Monday online. We wrote, “much of the recent debate leading up to Monday night’s School Board vote on the proposed Madison Preparatory Academy has focused on concerns about the school’s oversight and use of non-union staff. While those issues are certainly serious, equally troubling is the academy’s plan to separate students on the basis of sex. From both an educational and legal standpoint, segregating our kids by sex would be an egregious error that would further add insult to injury.”

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

Despite Some Improvements, State Capitol Access Policy Continues to Threaten First Amendment Rights

16 Dec

Today the Wisconsin Department of Administration issued modified its new state facilities access policy following intense criticism from the ACLU of Wisconsin, representatives of demonstrators, elected officials (letter from Rep. Taylor, Wisconsin Legislature) and editorial writers (including the Wisconsin State Journal, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Capitol Times) . You can find the clarifications on the department’s website (PDF).

The ACLU of Wisconsin has conducted an initial review of the policy.  We recognize that the Department has made improvements to the policy, including clarifications regarding a permit requirement for distribution of literature (only those distributing commercial literature need a permit) and the policy’s non-discrimination provision (it now includes sexual orientation which was missing in the first draft).  The new version of the policy also appears to reduce the chances that peaceable demonstrations will be charged for extra law enforcement costs (prompted by counter-demonstrators).

However, the ACLU continues to have serious reservations regarding some provisions of the modified policy, including,

  1. The policy still defines a rally “as a gathering of four or more people for the purpose of promoting any cause.”  (Page 5)  There is no sound reason to require such a small group to obtain a permit.
  2. The policy still holds groups liable for damages incurred “as a result of” the event, whether or not there was any culpability, such as negligence on the group’s part for the damages. (Page 15)
  3. It remains unclear how the Department will determine how many “extra” officers, if any, might be needed for particular event, thus resulting in charges to a group.  Will the DOA make an estimate of the number of likely attendees?  Or determine whether “trouble” is likely?  On what basis would DOA make such determinations?

The ACLU of Wisconsin will seek further clarification from the Department.  In the meantime it requests that the Department delay the enforcement of the new policy: it is still too restrictive.  The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to consider legal action against the Department based on both the language of the policy and its potential enforcement.

The ACLU of Wisconsin and other supporters of free speech at the State Capitol will be holding a media conference there on Monday, December 19thbeginning at 11 a.m. in the Assembly Parlor to announce their reaction to the modified policy.

Yesterday we recognized the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Bill of Rights by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and small U.S. Flags to visitors at Milwaukee State Office Building downtown. We reminded people that this act would have required a permit under the DOA regulations. The amended rules will now allow this activity on the steps of state buildings.

Today’s news was highlighted by the Associated Press in the Wisconsin State Journal and in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

“While We Still Can.” ACLU of WI Distributes Literature in Milwaukee in Honor of Bill of Rights Day

15 Dec

Today, the ACLU of Wisconsin is celebrating the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

We celebrated in Milwaukee by distributing copies of the Bill of Rights and U.S. Flags on the public area outside the State of Wisconsin Office Building at 819 N. Sixth Street.

The ACLU of Wisconsin distributes US flags and copies of the Bill of Rights for the 220th ratification anniversary.

Because of a new Department of Administration policy, this may be the last time we’ll be able to celebrate in this public area without a permit. The new DOA state facilities access policy, which covers the Milwaukee State Office building as well as the State Capitol in Madison, unduly restricts First Amendment activities.

The ACLU of Wisconsin believes the new policy is too restrictive, gives authorities too much discretion based on content, requires too high a price for free speech, and is too obviously designed to protect public officials from public criticism.

The new policy requires groups as small as four or anyone seeking to distribute literature to get a permit. In addition, groups would be liable for extra police costs based on the content of their speech.  We urge the Department to re-write the new policy so that it passes constitutional muster.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

ACLU of WI: DOA Must Rewrite Rules Restricting First Amendment Activity at Capitol

14 Dec

Today the ACLU of Wisconsin issued a statement regarding continued objections to the state Department of Administration’s new restrictions on protest rights at the Capitol and said the rules may subject the state to legal action. This week, the board of directors of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin voted unanimously to authorize appropriate legal action to challenge the new Department of Administration’s policies that restrict First Amendment rights at the state Capitol. This month, the Walker administration’s DOA staff conducted an “education period” which officially ends on December 16th, leaving concerned citizens unsure of how the new restrictions will be enforced.

“Since the first DOA information session, unanswered questions about the constitutionality of these new rules as well as Capitol Police enforcement and staffing policies continue to pile up,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty. “Thursday is the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the U.S. Bill of Rights and Wisconsinites will remember that our treasured First Amendment rights must be protected at the Capitol. The Department of Administration needs to re-visit these policies and remove anything that will not withstand a constitutional challenge.”

While the ACLU of Wisconsin recognizes that reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on Capitol building, grounds and other state facilities’ use are permissible, the new policies are not reasonable. The permitting and liability scheme will have the effect of chilling First Amendment activity at the Capitol. The policies also will lead to arbitrary decisions by the DOA and law enforcement regarding who may exercise their rights to demonstrate and petition their state government.

Its flaws include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Permits are required of groups as small as four individuals.
  • State bureaucrats have too much discretion to assign liability or limit permits to demonstrators.
  • Further, state bureaucrats can hold groups organizing demonstrations liable for the actions of others beyond their control and groups will be held liable for the cost of police and custodial staffing decisions made by the state. Any advance police staffing decisions will be based on the content of demonstrators’ speech as they assess the potential for conflict with controversial or unpopular groups. This will be especially burdensome to poor or controversial groups and the state provides no waiver in such circumstances.
  • The policy as written requires any individual seeking to distribute handbills or flyers to get a permit.

The ACLU of Wisconsin urges the Department of Administration to not enforce the new policies until they are rewritten to pass constitutional muster.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Unconstitutional Voter ID Law

13 Dec

You may have already heard the story about the 84-year-old Wisconsin resident, Ruthelle Frank, who will be disfranchised by our state’s new law requiring voters to show a photo ID to vote.

Today the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a federal lawsuit charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens like Ruthelle of their basic right to vote. The lawsuit is the only active federal challenge against a voter ID law, the most common type of legislation that is part of a nationwide attack on the right to vote.

Find more information about voter suppression, including a video of Frank online.

“This lawsuit is the opening act in what will be a long struggle to undo the damage done to the right to vote by strict photo ID laws and other voter suppression measures,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “Across the nation, legislators are robbing countless American citizens of their fundamental right to vote, and in the process, undermining the very legitimacy of our democracy. We intend to redirect their attention to the Constitution.”

The complaint says that allowing only certain types of photo ID imposes a severe burden on the right to vote in violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. It also states that the law violates the 24th and 14th amendments because it effectively imposes an unconstitutional poll tax. The lawsuit was filed the same day that U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was scheduled to speak about the importance of ensuring equal access to the ballot box.

“The state of Wisconsin has created a voter ID system that is making it very hard or impossible for residents to exercise their cherished right to vote,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Wisconsin residents, including veterans, minority voters and seniors who have been voting for decades, will be turned away from the polls under this law’s restrictive photo ID requirements. Our lawsuit aims to block this unconstitutional law so that Wisconsin can continue its proud tradition of high participation in elections.”

The law will also have a severe impact on homeless voters, many of whom do not have photo identification.

“Protecting homeless persons’ right to vote is crucial, since voting is one of the few ways that homeless individuals can impact the political process and make their voices heard,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty. “By limiting participation to Wisconsin residents with photo identification, this law effectively silences homeless persons’ voices. With homelessness rising by 12 percent in Wisconsin since the recession began, we cannot allow the state to set this dangerous and unconscionable precedent.”

The ACLU and the Law Center filed the complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin on behalf of 17 eligible Wisconsin voters who may not be able to vote under the law. They include:

Ruthelle Frank, 84, of Brokaw, who does not have a birth certificate. When she was born at home in 1927, her mother recorded her birth in the family Bible. Under Wisconsin’s law, she is unable to obtain an ID needed to vote. She herself is an elected official, having served on her village board since 1996. “I have exercised my right to vote in every election since 1948,” Frank said. “I should not suddenly be barred from voting just because I don’t believe in paying for identification in order to vote. That’s like a poll tax and sends this country back decades ago when it comes to civil rights.”

Carl Ellis, 52, is a U.S. Army veteran living in a homeless shelter in Milwaukee. His only photo ID is a veteran ID card, which is not accepted under the law. “If I can serve my country, I should be able to vote for who runs it,” Ellis said. “Veterans and others who do not have a certain type of photo ID should not be kept from voting. These laws are undemocratic and un-American.”

Anthony Sharp, 19, is an African-American Milwaukee resident who does not have any of the accepted forms of photo ID under the law. Sharp, who lives with his family, does not have income needed to purchase a $20 certified copy of his birth certificate in order to vote. “You shouldn’t have to pay all this money to be able to vote,” he said. “I’m a citizen and was excited about voting, but I don’t have the money to pay for all these documents. Every American must be able to vote, not just those who can afford to get an ID.”

The 2011 Wisconsin Act 23 was signed into law May 25 and is effective starting with the state’s primary in February 2012. Under the law, Wisconsin voters will need to present a certain type of photo ID, which many eligible voters do not have. Many photo ID alternatives are excluded. For example, the law does not allow technical college and veteran ID cards. More than 380,000 students are in Wisconsin’s technical college system, and over 15 percent of them are minorities. Voter suppression laws disproportionately affect minorities, the elderly, students, people with disabilities, and low-income and homeless voters.

In addition to Wisconsin, six other states recently passed voter ID laws: Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Other voter suppression measures that have been enacted nationwide include limiting the early voting period, eliminating same-day or Election Day registration, and restrictions on those who help register people to vote. The ACLU has also submitted comment letters to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding discriminatory voting laws in South Carolina and Texas and has intervened in court cases in which North Carolina and Alabama are challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU also filed motions to intervene in similar cases filed by Arizona and Georgia.

Attorneys on the case include Jon Sherman, Laughlin McDonald and Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Larry Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin and Heather Johnson and Karen Cunningham of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.

If you or someone you know will be disfranchised by Wisconsin’s photo ID requirements at the polls in 2012, tell us the story.

Download our feedback form online and send it to the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Read a copy of the complaint online.

Help support the civil liberties news and opinion you get on Forward for Liberty. Join the ACLU of Wisconsin today or make a tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation. Your contribution keeps Forward for Liberty, action alerts via email and social media, and other nonpartisan watchdog efforts going.

ACLU of WI: Racial profiling creates second-class citizens

7 Dec

Milwaukee police last year made nearly 200,000 traffic stops. Police Chief of Edward Flynn acknowledges that his officers are “going to stop lots of innocent people.” What’s more a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Watchdog Report found a racial gap in the 46,000 traffic stops Milwaukee police made in the first four months of 2011. The Chief explains the racial gap by pointing to his targeted policing strategy which uses traffic stops to disrupt criminal activity.

The Chief’s explanation falls short. Attributing racial disparities to a conscious departmental policy not only downplays the existence of biased policing, but by encouraging officers to make so many traffic stops, the policy masks illegal racial profiling.

The Journal Sentinel report found that the greatest racial disparity in traffic stops occurs in Police District 1, which includes downtown and parts of the east side, which have mostly white residents. A more probable explanation in this district than the effects of targeted policing is the phenomena known as “race out of place” stops. In other districts, the notion that police are responding to suspect descriptions isn’t credible when the description du jour appears to be “young black male”.

The Journal Sentinel report also found that black drivers were much more likely to have their vehicles searched than white drivers. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t state how often police used the commonly abused practice of consent searches. It did find that the hit rates for contraband were approximately 22% for both black and white drivers.

Community leaders must demand to know what the Chief is doing to eliminate bias, in addition to exhorting his officers to be fair and treat all motorists with respect. If the Chief’s policing strategy has rendered traffic stop data collection and analysis less useful as a management tool, how is the department determining the extent to which bias may be occurring? How is it remedied?

It has been suggested that the number of complaints filed by citizens about police actions is a measure of how officers treat motorists. Citizen complaints do not give us the same quantitative information as traffic stop data. Individual motorists may complain about rude treatment, but they can’t know how many black or Hispanic drivers are stopped and searched compared to white drivers. There is also reluctance on the part of offended drivers to file complaints when the complaint process is daunting to most ordinary citizens. The ACLU of Wisconsin is collecting stories about biased policing online at

In serious discussions about using traffic stop data to address biased policing, no one I know claims that the data alone will prove that a particular officer or shift or agency is biased. Officers who do not act contrary to rules prohibiting racial profiling should have nothing to fear. Black and Hispanic drivers on the other hand do have something to fear from racial profiling – second class police service and citizenship.

This “Another View” op-ed originally appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on December 7, 2011. Read the MJS editorial in support of Chief Flynn’s policies on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel opinion page.

DOA Information Session on Protest Permit/Liability Scheme Leaves Citizens with More Questions

6 Dec

Despite the information session offered today by Capitol Police and the state Department of Administration (DOA), the details of how they will enforce new permit and liability policies related to Capitol protest are still unclear. What is clear is that the new rules as written are too restrictive, give police too much discretion to suppress first amendment activity and are too obviously a reaction to the ongoing, critical protests that have occurred in the Capitol since February.

“I asked the representative of the DOA how decisions would be made to divide liability between a demonstration and a counterdemonstration, but that question was dismissed as a hypothetical situation on which they couldn’t comment,” said Stacy Harbaugh of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Although the discussion often became heated, valid questions asked by participants about how their First Amendment rights would be protected were not answered. We are all left with too many unanswered questions.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin calls upon the state Department of Administration to ensure that an attorney or other staff will be present at future information sessions (scheduled in the Capitol Basement for Thursday at 4:00 p.m. and Saturday at 9:00 a.m.) who are authorized to respond to the legal concerns and questions citizens have about the details of the new rules. While the DOA insists that these rules were written based on their authority under the Administrative codes, questions remain about policies for law enforcement discretion, defining what activity requires a permit, and the legitimacy of requiring permits for expressive activity and holding individuals liable for police costs at demonstrations.

“It is understandable that order must be maintained at the Capitol,” said Harbaugh. “But these rules simply provide too much opportunity to not only suppress the free speech of the demonstrators who have been a constant and critical presence at the Capitol, but also serve to intimidate future protesters through fees and liability. It is in the public interest to allow greater freedom of speech in the Capitol, not to restrict it through this permitting scheme.”

News coverage of the information session was featured in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Wisconsin State Journal, and the Oshkosh Northwestern (via AP). Tune into the Joy Cardin show on Wisconsin Public Radio on Wednesday, December 7 at 7:00 a.m. to hear the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director talk more about the First Amendment issues at stake.