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What the State of the State means to civil liberties in 2009

29 Jan

Governor Doyle just gave his State of the State Address (PDF or watch it on Wisconsin Eye) and it was a mixed bag in terms of civil liberties.

While it is true that we are all facing hard times with our current economy and a large state deficit, we can’t ignore how important it is to have a budget that includes a plan for educational equity in school funding, repealing or at least defunding Real ID, and including health insurance coverage for the domestic partners of all state employees, among many other issues.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin applauds the Governor’s commitment to public education and changing the way that schools are funded,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “We hope that the Governor establishes comprehensive school funding reform that provides an adequate education for all Wisconsin students. Reform must ensure that all children have an adequate education, whether they are in Superior, Crandon, or Milwaukee; whether they live in concentrated poverty, are English language learners, or have other obstacles in their paths.”

The Governor is right to demand a change in how Wisconsin deals with drunken driving, but the call for sobriety checkpoints will only subject innocent drivers to suspicionless searches.

“While drunken driving is a serious issue, the ACLU of Wisconsin is disappointed that the Governor chose to stress sobriety checkpoints in his State of the State address. We believe that there are more cost effective ways to deter drunken drivers, ones that do not offend the civil liberties of innocent drivers. We urge the Legislature to concentrate on other measures.”

While the Governor can’t include every issue in his State of the State Address, we hope to see more attention to details including a reasonable state position on the now-discredited federal Real ID program and a commitment to providing health insurance coverage to the same sex domestic partners of all state employees.

Stay tuned to Cap City Liberty and for more on the budget and its relationship to civil liberties and equality.

Top ten to-do list for President Obama

18 Jan

Tuesday marks an officially new federal administration and the ACLU has a few ideas on how we can restore civil rights and liberties. We even have a top ten list.

A local radio station WORT’s news reporter, Craig McComb, visited the ACLU of Wisconsin’s statewide activist conference last year where he first heard about the ACLU’s transition plan for the new administration. Craig then gathered responses from local and state activists to address the critical need for immediate action to restore the rule of law.

Each segment is around five minutes long. Listen in and then send your own letter to President Obama to ask him to close Guantanamo, end the abuses of federal power, and take our country back to basic, Constitutional rights.

Happy hour, DC conference, news roundup

4 Jun

Whew! Life has been busy at the Madison Area Office!

We’re gearing up for summer fun with our volunteer interns. Our core team of seven students will spend June and July researching facts and trends in youth civil liberties. By the end of summer we hope to have a dynamic Know Your Rights workshop to teach young people about how the Bill of Rights applies to them. We also will have additions to our Freedom FAQ factsheet series. Check out our Youth and Civil Liberties website for the complete list of available materials for download. Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog for future reflections from the volunteer interns themselves.

Read on for a recap of some civil liberties news from the past week or so. Also check out these events that are coming up.

Happy Hour: Thursday, June 5th 6:00 p.m.
Genna’s 105 W. Main, upstairs
Join the ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office as we recognize our volunteers and have a fun send off for those going to the national membership conference in Washington D.C. The event is free with a cash bar. Door prizes too!

Speaker: Saturday, June 7th 11:45 a.m.
Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St.
“A Fair and Impartial Judiciary” Awards Luncheon with Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, Madison. Luncheon is part of the League of Women Voters of WI annual meeting but has luncheon-only registration ($25) at

Film: Sunday, June 8th 7:00 p.m.
Escape Java Joint, 916 Williamson St.
The United States Versus. Sami Al-Arian: A Case of Domestic U.S. Anti-Muslim and Anti-Palestinian Persecution
In February 2003, university professor Sami al-Arian – a leading Muslim and pro-Palestinian civil rights activist in the U.S. – was arrested in Tampa, Florida and charged with providing material support to a terror organization. For two-and-a-half years he was held in solitary confinement, denied basic privileges and given limited access to his attorneys. While the Bush administration called this a landmark case in its campaign against international terrorism, Sami Al-Arian claimed he was targeted in an attempt to silence his political views. The film raises questions on whether it is possible for a man like Sami Al-Arian to receive a fair trial in the United States given the current hostile environment against Muslims and the strong U.S. support of Israel. It presents our democracy in a new light in a post-9/11 culture of fear, where “security measures” trump free speech and punishment is meted out in the name of protection.

Event includes a guest commentary by Mel Underbakke who has been touring the U.S. on behalf of the Al-Arian defense campaign. She will screen the 2007 film “USA vs Al-Arian” and give an update on the case. ”USA vs AL-ARIAN” is an intimate family portrayal of an American-Muslim family’s struggle to fight terrorism charges leveled by the US government. It follows Sami Al-Arian’s wife Nahla and their five children throughout his six month-long trial. This is a nightmare come to life as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions.

Admission is free – donations will be accepted to cover room costs and for the Al-Arian defense campaign. Co-sponsored by the Peregrine Forum, the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, and the ACLU of Wisconsin-Madison Area Office.

For more information call the Peregrine Forum at 442-8399 or email, and/or go to the website

News round up:
We knew this already, but it looks like the saying “every time Bush speaks, another ACLU membership card is printed” is about right. Life after the Patriot Act is bad for America, and Americans are waking up to the need to come to the defense of civil liberties. Check out this Detroit News article on the ACLU’s national spike in membership.

This Daily Kos blogger thinks his membership to the ACLU is important enough to donate his stimulus check to the organization. Check out his video blog and find out how you can be a supporter too.

Madison, WI gets some attention from the LA Times, but not for our bike paths. Read on for the story on how the economic profilling and crackdowns on the homeless has changed “liberal” Madison.

A Dane County Circuit Court Judge upholds the anti-gay marriage amendment and says the two-part question was OK. Anyone who went door-to-door to organize against the amendment can testify that the two-question question was confusing to voters. Even people who said that they opposed “marriage” said things like “the second one is OK,” referring to the second line as if it was an option at the polls.

On a semi-related note, a decision to restrict the partisan political affiliation of judges running for election stands. Now if we can just get their highly partisan campaign funders to agree with the decision’s spirit.

Check out what the ACLU of Texas said about the introduction of potential legislation in their state to require Photo ID at the polls. “The state of Texas is wasting its time on this,” said Sonia Santana, who focuses on election issues for the Texas ACLU. “As it is, we’ve already got a pathetically low turnout. Why put up another barrier when it’s just a nonexistent problem? It’s fear, hype, and racism.” We would experience similar problems in Wisconsin if a Photo ID law were passed. Read the Truthout article for the description of the challenges Photo IDs pose in the wake of the unfortunate Supreme Court decision in the Indiana Photo ID case.

A Q&A section in the Wisconsin State Journal had a blurb on Real ID and another on banned books. Nice to see solid civil liberties issues in the paper.

Private police? Here’s a bizzare story about a private security company in De Forest that takes playing cop a little too seriously and issued parking tickets to legally parked cars. This is an excellent example of why security companies are licensed and regulated and how private companies masquerading as government staff is a scam.

There’s an update on “The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007.” Some of the plans for profiling Muslims and Arabs (and activist groups for that matter) were abandoned due to strong public pressure, but the legislation lives on in the form of HR 1955. If you need a mnemonic device to help you remember the bill number, just think of one of the hot years for the “House Un-American Activities Committee.”

Speaking of the internet, laptop users have a resource through the Electronic Frontier Foundation on how to protect themselves from warrantless searches of electronic devices at the border. Not a criminal and have nothing to hide? All the more reason to protect your privacy from abuse of power. Those family photos and digital bank statements are yours alone.

And federal lawmakers are still debating on net neutrality and antitrust law.

Homeless round-up, failed anti-immigration laws, turkey tasering and more

11 Apr

Anti-poverty activists and clergy held a press conference today to articulate their concerns with what Community Action Coalition Executive Director Greta Hansen described as “economic profiling” of homeless people downtown. In the wake of two unsolved murders, it was reported that police rounded up around two dozen homeless men, those with probation violations or who committed (alleged) minor crimes, for DNA testing. None of the men have been identified as a murder suspect.

Community response to homelessness has been evolving since a spike in downtown crime and complaints from residents near the Brittingham Park neighborhood last summer. Since then, Madison leaders, residents, service providers and law enforcement have been discussing ways to remedy complaints. Some of the suggestions include putting surveillance cameras at Brittingham Park. However this Channel 3000 interview documents some folks, including law enforcement, who think that surveillance cameras recently installed on State Street aren’t working. Madison residents must ask, is it worth another $10,000 to pursue a surveillance strategy that might not be effective?

Alternatives have been suggested however. Area conservative blogger David Blaska recently proposed that the homeless be required to be identified by photo and social security number before being allowed to stay in a shelter or be tagged (like livestock) or identified by DNA. He also suggested that a defense fund be set aside for the “inevitable nuisance lawsuit filed by the ACLU.” Anyone who disagrees with Blaska’s comments and who feel that Constitutional rights are for everybody are welcome to make tax-deductible donation to the ACLU of Wisconsin litigation program.

Blaska went on to criticize the ACLU of Wisconsin for suggesting that students assert their rights to have their parents or an advocate present when being accused of a crime at school. But a recent video from the New York ACLU shows youth’s first-hand reports on a real-life, yet worst case scenario school-to-prison pipeline in which the NYC schools are being overpoliced. Perhaps Blaska would prefer to live in a police state than get panhandled on the street?

An article on failed immigration crackdown laws across the country details both the frustration state legislators have with the failure of the federal government to come up with a workable solution as well as the radical measures legislators have proposed, some of which would possibly be unconstitutional if implemented. Here is Wisconsin, a proposal to prohibit local governments to declare themselves sanctuary cities didn’t see light in the Senate. The 2008 elections may end the stalemate for better or worse.

News of the weird?
Turkey Tasering
Mating season comes with aggressive male turkeys. After complaints of turkey attacks, including problems with impeding postal carriers on their mail routes, it has been suggested that police taser the foul fowl. I wonder what Ben Franklin would say about cruel and unusual punishment of what could have been our national bird?

Customs ID Catastrophe
A case of mistaken identity leads to the detention of a Milwaukee woman at the Mitchell International Airport. Even though she insisted that she wasn’t the woman who was wanted for bounced checks, their shared name was flagged in a US Customs database. Proving again that databases and human error remain concerns in our increasingly electronic society.

Cross-dressing Kids
In more Milwaukee news, a Milwaukee-based radio network called Voice of Christian Youth America criticized an elementary school “wacky” dress-up day, accusing the district of promoting alternative lifestyles. The news prompted angry calls from across Wisconsin to the school and the Reedsburg School District suggesting, no doubt, that the spirit week is a part of the gay agenda.

Community Events:
Saturday, April 19 – Knowing Our Rights workshop on rights in the immigrant community, sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild, Latino Law Students Association and the Grassroots Leadership College with a theater presentation by Dignidad sin Fronteras (Dignity without Borders). Topics include rights at home, at work, on the street, in protest, in detention and more. At Grace Episcopal Church, 116 W. Washington Ave. (near the capitol) from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served. For more information contact Megan at (608) 446-3313. Another workshop will also be held on Saturday, April 19 in the Bayview Community Center 601 Bayview at 11:00 a.m. organized by the UTI. For more information, call 1-866-4760-UTI (884).

Defund Real ID in WI, Whitewater blogger investigated, university newspapers say no to pro-life ad, and more

21 Mar

News roundup for today…

Free Speech
Police investigate anonymous blogger critic, raises Constitutional rights concerns, ACLU of Wisconsin quoted.

Student Rights, First Amendment and the Internet debate: should students be held accountable for what they say on the internet or should they be protected from Unconstitutional punishment for being critical of school administrators? This ABC news feature story illustrates one student’s story. The ACLU of CT supports her federal case.

Reproductive Rights
UW-La Crosse, UW-Stout and Marquette University newspapers say no to anti-abortion ads. Pro-life Wisconsin cites censorship, newspapers didn’t publish the in-“appropriate” misinformation.

Real ID
ACLU of Wisconsin encourages legislators on the Joint Finance Committee to defund Real ID in Wisconsin.

Voting Rights
In-person voting fraud debunked – Brennan Center testimony details the myths of in-person voting fraud, including the Milwaukee Police Department report in which much of the original reports of fraud were found to be clerical errors (see page 6). Testimony makes a strong argument against Photo ID requirements at the polls.

School boundaries, 17-year old voters, prisons for sale and more

3 Mar

News tidbits for today…

Parents gear up for school boundary decision at tonight’s school board meeting
The article in the State Journal on what’s at stake; Channel 3000 report including video on school boundary issue. The ACLU does work nationally to work for the desegregation of public schools and has more information on its website on why integration based on race and income is still a relevant fight.

Local student comments on 17-year old primary voters
In his letter to the editor, a local student comments on why he thinks he should be able to participate in a primary if he will turn 18 by election day. He refers to Senate Bill 6 which hasn’t seen political success.

Prisons for sale
An interesting editorial from the Eau Claire/Chippewa Valley Leader-Telegram on the expense of prisons.

If leave policy doesn’t define marriage, can same-sex couples share the right?
Sheboygan couple files grievance over paid leave loophole for same-sex couple’s marriage.

Editorial calls for action on racial disparity
Appleton/Fox Cities editorial on racial disparity and the war on drugs, refers to Governor’s commission.

Rep. Ryan introduces fingerprint database for employers as alternative to national ID
Don’t like Real ID? How about providing your fingerprint to get a job? Rep. Ryan’s New Employee Verification Act proposal doesn’t require a national ID, but still relies on databases and fingerprinting to get employers to hire only documented workers. Also highlights his support of the CLEAR Act.

News of the weird? Rock County woman jailed for overdue books
Article shows how the library patron’s neglect and the library’s issuance of several overdue notices leads to citations and court dates. However, as pointed out in last week’s Isthmus, getting a friend or family member out of jail can be expensive. Dane County uses a service called GovPay (PDF) to process credit cards used for bail money. Fees for using credit cards for bail can be an average of 8-10% of the bail price. Another example of how the criminal justice system is stacked against the poor.

National Director of the ACLU speaks to students, Eau Claire community members

11 Feb

As a part of The Forum series through the UW-Eau Claire student Activities and Programs office, national ACLU Director Anthony Romero spoke to students and community members about leadership in difficult times on Thursday, February 7.

The topics Romero covered were many, but below are some links to some of the things he discussed. Be sure to explore the pages for ways to take action!

Real ID: or take action by telling the government directly that you think Real ID is a real nightmare.

Voting Rights: ACLU voting rights page, includes information on restoring the vote to the formerly incarcerated. Find out more about the Restore the Vote coalition in Wisconsin by visiting the new ACLU of Wisconsin voting rights page or stay up to date on the Restore the Vote blog.

Close Guantanamo: Learn more about the past six years of detention without trial. Take action with this activist’s toolkit.

Romero’s book – In Defense of Our America: Get the book online at the ACLU store.

Eau Claire’s Leader-Telegram covered the event and posted a review article on-line. The article says that Romero’s only applause line was his observation that the Bush administration’s days are numbered. I don’t think the lack of applause lines were because the audience was asleep or in disagreement with Romero. In fact, the audience as a whole seemed intensely riveted to what he was saying and I didn’t get any negative feedback at the ACLU table after the event.

It is also worth noting that in the comments section of the on-line article, the “ICEman’s” disagreement with how the ACLU challenges the federal government’s discrimination and detention of undocumented immigrants is not uncommon. What the ICEman doesn’t understand is that the Constitution says that “people” have basic human rights. People in America have the right to peaceably assemble, practice their religion and freedom of speech. People have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. People have the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Constitution’s words protect people, not just citizens. Immigration is a civil issue, not a criminal one no matter what Lou Dobbs or Bill O’Reily scream on their nightly news. If the ICEman understood more about how racial profiling impacts citizens or if he had a better understanding of the conditions in detention facilities like Hutto, maybe he would be more inclined to tape up his torn ACLU card.

Special thanks to Mildred and Brian Larson who hosted the pre-lecture reception for Romero. It was a great opportunity for folks to meet him and to hear more details about the current work of the ACLU to restore the rule of law.

ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Office Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh and Eau Claire Chapter President Jeremy Gragert welcome both new and veteran card-carrying members at the ACLU table outside of the event.

** All photos taken by S. Harbaugh (except for the last one – thanks to the Eau Claire student who snapped this photo!)