Archive | January, 2012

Protest Rights at the Capitol for State of the State

25 Jan

We first posted the “Top 5 Things to Know at Protests” on Feb. 16, 2011. The basics haven’t changed much, despite last year’s Capitol lockdown and the new rules restricting the rights of demonstrators issued by the state Department of Administration in December.

But as we gear up to send volunteer legal observers to the state Capitol to witness the rallies responding to Governor Walker’s second State of the State address, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation would like to reaffirm the rights of protesters to peaceably assemble at our Capitol. We want to remind activists about the top five things to remember when demonstrating:

1. Signs with sticks are not allowed in the Capitol building for safety reasons. New rules prohibit signs that attach to walls or that lean, so keep the banners hand-held. Newer prohibitions against musical instruments, including drums, may also be enforced.

2. Peaceful demonstrations are allowed, so long as they don’t violate other people’s rights. However ignoring police orders is not allowed. The police may not shut down a demonstration entirely, but may put reasonable limits on the time, place and manner of a protest, including closing the Capitol building after the State of the State speech event is over. If police issue orders to protesters to leave an area or to otherwise conform to announced rules, protesters who ignore orders could be subject to citation or arrest.

3. Be a good observer. Document any problems at demonstrations with notes (time, location, details) and especially with cameras. The National Lawyers’ Guild has a guide for trained legal observers that is an excellent resource on how to document protests (PDF). Be friendly to the ACLU observers who will be there in yellow t-shirts or safety vests.

4. An individual under arrest should say nothing to law enforcement without their attorney present. Please see the ACLU of Wisconsin Guide for Demonstrators (PDF) for more details on what is constitutionally protected activity. Criminal behavior is not protected by the First Amendment. For more information on interacting with law enforcement, please see our bust cards for Milwaukee (PDF) and Madison (PDF).

5. Protests in public spaces like sidewalks and in the Capitol within a reasonable time, place and manner are allowed. In general, protesters have the most rights in outdoor public spaces like public sidewalks and the Capitol grounds. As long as the protest is peaceful and does not block traffic, most protest activities are allowed in such spaces.

As protests continue, we remind everyone to take care of themselves, cooperate and continue to exercise their free speech rights without problems or incidents.

If you or your organization face restrictions on your right to demonstrate within these guidelines, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540 or give your contact information to an ACLU legal observer.

Warrantless GPS Tracking is a Violation of Fourth Amendment Rights: SCOTUS Decision Cheered by Privacy Defenders

23 Jan

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that if police attach a Global Positioning System tracking device to a car, the Fourth Amendment requires that they get a warrant to do so. The decision, United States v. Jones, protects privacy rights against one intrusive way the police use GPS technology and answers a question the Wisconsin Supreme Court sidestepped in State v. Sveum in 2010. Read more about this privacy victory in the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.

“Police should have probable cause that a crime has been or is likely to be committed before using GPS tracking technology,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “The ACLU of Wisconsin agrees that without a judge’s agreement, police use of warrantless GPS tracking would be a violation of our Fourth Amendment rights. The details of our private lives are revealed by our movements. Allowing police the power to obtain information on the location of anyone’s car and movements, for any reason or for no reason at all, without a valid warrant, is unconstitutional.”

In February 2010, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a friend-of-the-court brief (PDF) with the Wisconsin Supreme Court in State of Wisconsin v. Sveum, urging the Court to hold that attaching a GPS device was a “search or seizure” requiring a warrant under the Wisconsin constitution as well as the Fourth Amendment. The brief warned that approving warrantless GPS could allow police to engage in fishing expeditions to obtain a detailed picture of someone’s personal associations by identifying the churches, bars, protests or doctor’s offices a person visited.

In its decision in July 2010, the Wisconsin Supreme Court sidestepped the question of whether there are any constitutional limits on police use of global positioning system devices to track people in their cars. Instead, the state’s high court decided that a court order obtained by the police satisfied the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment. Today’s unanimous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court emphatically answers the question the Wisconsin courts left open: the Fourth Amendment protects privacy against intrusive GPS tracking.

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.

Wisconsin Legislators’ Letter to US Attorney General Brings Attention to Disfranchisement in Wisconsin

13 Jan

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin applauds today’s move by state legislators to request action from the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to “use the full weight of the Justice Department to take legal action, as authorized under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, to ensure that the right of Wisconsin citizens to vote is not abridged or denied on the basis of race or color. Signed by Governor Walker on May 25, 2011, Wisconsin’s requirement to show one of a limited number of government-issued, photo identification to vote will cause confusion at the polls and disfranchise elderly, disabled, veteran, student and minority voters.

“Today’s letter from state legislators echoes the call to action the American Civil Liberties Union has made to the U.S. Attorney General’s office since July 2011. Since then, the ACLU has delivered over 75,000 letters to Holder on this issue,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh. “The ACLU has taken legal action in Wisconsin and across the country to stop a new wave of voter suppression laws. It is time for U. S. Attorney General Holder to connect the dots between Wisconsin’s restrictive voter ID law and discrimination against citizens who face barriers to participating in our democracy.”

Take action today: Ask U.S. Attorney General Eric  Holder to investigate voter suppression laws in Wisconsin and across the country.

On December 13, 2011, the ACLU of Wisconsin, the national American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty filed a lawsuit in federal court charging that Wisconsin’s voter ID law is unconstitutional and will deprive citizens 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.

If you or someone you know will not be able to vote next year due to Wisconsin’s restrictive Voter ID law, share the story with the ACLU of Wisconsin. Download our feedback form online.

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 on the same day that AG Holder spoke at the Lyndon B. Johnson Library in Austin about the legacy of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the continued importance of ensuring all citizens’ access to the ballot box without barriers.

To read stories about the plaintiffs in the Wisconsin voter ID challenge, visit:

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. The ACLU intervened in court cases in which North Carolina, Alabama and most recently Arizona are challenging the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act. The ACLU filed a motion to intervene in a similar case in Georgia.

Attorneys involved in the challenge to Wisconsin’s voter ID law 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.

To read a copy of the complaint, go to:

Social media: Tag this story by mentioning @ACLUofWisconsin, @ACLU, #VoterID or #votingrights.

Madison: Guantanamo Prison’s 10th Anniversary Marked by Local Events

9 Jan

Madison groups are marking the tenth anniversary of the opening of the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba next week.  These local events are part of a national campaign to close Guantánamo.

TAKE ACTION TODAY: Join the ACLU in asking President Obama to keep his promise to close the prison camp by charging and trying the prisoners who are there, or sending them home.

Monday, January 9, 12 noon to 1 pm, at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr Blvd and Doty St – Madison Vigil for Peace action to close Guantánamo, including street theater with orange jumpsuits.

  • Tuesday, January 10, at 7 pm in the Predolin Hall auditorium, Edgewood College – “Guantánamo, Military Tribunals and the Rule of Law,” a discussion hosted by the United Nations Association of Dane County and Witness Against Torture – Madison.  The evening begins with a screening ofThe Response,” a courtroom drama based on transcripts of the Guantanamo military tribunals.
  • Wednesday, January 11, at 7 pm at Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse, 1101 Williamson Street – Evening of action to close Guantánamo, including writing letters to policymakers and current detainees. Poetry written by detainees.

For more information, contact the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice at (608) 250-9240 or

The first men arrived at the U.S. detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, on January 11, 2002.  Of the 779 people who have been detained there over the years, only six have been convicted of any crime by a military tribunal.  Most of the 171 remaining detainees were captured simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Most could leave tomorrow if the blanket ban on repatriations to Yemen were lifted.

This month also marks the third anniversary of President Obama’s Executive Order mandating the closure of the Guantánamo detention center within one year.  Not only has the President failed to carry out the Order, he has extended some of the worst aspects of the Guantánamo system by continuing indefinite detentions without charge or trial, employing illegitimate military commissions to try some suspects, and blocking accountability for torture by refusing to conduct independent and thorough investigations, and by attempting to prevent the courts from reviewing lawsuits brought by formerly detained men.

As the tenth anniversary of Guantánamo approaches, the number of experts calling for its closure is growing. Five former U.S. Secretaries of State – including Henry Kissinger, Madeline Albright and Colin Powell – concur that closing down the prison camp would be a major step towards repairing the U.S. image abroad. Even George W. Bush has said he would “like Guantánamo to end.”

Read today’s op-ed in the Capitol Times from Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison’s Congregation Shaarei Shamayim on why Gitmo must be closed.

Lakhdar Boumediene reflected in Sunday’s New York Times on that anniversary and tells the harrowing tale of the seven and a half years he spent imprisoned in Guantánamo Bay. Read more on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.