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ACLU Urges WI Court to Allow Registered Domestic Partners to Speak in Support of DP Law

1 Oct

Couples Seek To Help Defend Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Law

On Friday, October 1, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before a Dane County Circuit Court on behalf of five couples asking that they be allowed to participate in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Wisconsin’s law granting limited domestic partnership protections to same-sex couples, so that they may defend the law. The law is being challenged by an anti-gay organization that contends that the law grants same-sex couples the same status as marriage, which is barred by the Wisconsin Constitution.

“Same-sex couples who have registered as domestic partners have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve to be heard,” said John Knight, staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Only those directly affected by the law know what it’s like to worry about not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to be left with nothing when a partner dies without a will.”

Wisconsin’s law allows for same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, granting them hospital visitation rights, the right to make certain decisions about medical care and rights to family and medical leave. Same-sex couples are still denied crucial protections provided only to married couples, such as the right to decide what happens to their partner’s body at death, and are denied access to all federal benefits, such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

Board members of Wisconsin Family Action had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the amendment to the state constitution that bans same-sex couples from marriage. The case, Appling v. Doyle, was dismissed by the state Supreme Court and re-filed in the circuit court, where both sides will be able to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“While the domestic partnership law in no way provides the same benefits and legal protections as marriage, it is a lifeline for committed couples who seek the security and dignity of being able to provide for their families,” said Larry Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “These couples have the right to defend these limited, but extremely important, protections against this unwarranted and mean-spirited attack.”

Also today, Lambda Legal also filed court papers today to intervene in the case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin and five member couples, saying that domestic partnerships and marriages are not “substantially similar.”

Attorneys on the case include Knight of the ACLU, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin and David J.B. Froiland, Linda E.B. Hansen, Daniel A. Manna and David B. Goroff of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Additional information about the case, including bios of the couples and legal documents, is available online.

On Tuesday, Let’s Hope ‘Forward’ — Influences the National Organization for Marriage

26 Jul

Posted in the op-ed section of the Capitol Times.

The National Organization for Marriage tour bus will stop by our Capitol building on Tuesday at noon to bring its message to the residents of Dane County that only different-sex couples are families. Local residents who support marriage for all loving, committed couples will hold a counterdemonstration where they will likely outnumber the NOM folks. The Madison office of the ACLU of Wisconsin will send volunteer legal observers to witness the protest and counterdemonstration as people on both sides of the marriage debate flex their free speech rights. We love it.

The ACLU of Wisconsin welcomes the National Organization for Marriage bus tour to rally on our Capitol steps. And not just because everyone has the right to free speech. We welcome the NOM because we are for marriage too. Like free speech, everyone should have the right to marry. And the ACLU of Wisconsin continues to work to advance the fair treatment of same-sex couples.

Until the time when voters can successfully repeal the discriminatory constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying, there are more real families that need equal protection under law today. Just over a year ago, the state Legislature created a domestic partner registry and benefits for same-sex partners of state employees. But these steps fall far short of the necessary legal protections provided to the families of married couples. National and local foes of the domestic registry want to challenge it.

Among the opponents, the National Organization for Marriage wants to convince voters of the need to restrict the freedom and liberty of loving, committed couples to have their marriages recognized by law. This group should have a hard time proving that heterosexual marriages are threatened by recognizing other relationships. Fortunately most Madisonians know exactly how much stronger our community is because of the diverse families who live here. And that is the kind of freedom we all can be proud of.

In the long run, people who work to restrict freedom and liberty will fail. The history of our country and our Constitution is a story of evolution, progress and an expansion of rights for individual freedom. Hopefully, when the National Organization for Marriage bus tour stops at the Capitol near a statue emblazoned with our state motto “Forward,” they will be welcomed as freedom of speech dictates, and then they will take the statue’s advice.

Please visit the op-ed webpage and log in to leave your comments on why NOM is wrong about same-sex marriage.

Wisconsin Supreme Court’s Decision on Marriage Amendment Referendum: ACLU of Wisconsin Responds

30 Jun

Today, Christopher Ahmuty, the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin issued the following statement in response to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision affirming the lower court’s ruling that the marriage amendment adopted by Wisconsin’s voters in 2006 did not violate the separate amendment rule of the Wisconsin Constitution. This constitutional rule requires that voters must be able to vote separately on separate constitutional amendments.

Ahmuty said, “the Court wisely limited its analysis of the marriage amendment’s two clauses, without trying to decide ‘what legal statuses identical or substantially similar to marriage are prohibited by this [the second] clause…’ The ACLU maintains that the marriage amendment’s second clause only prohibits ‘marriage by another name’ which confers all the benefits, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriages. The Court’s decision means the fight for recognition of same sex domestic relationships will continue to advance, a fight in which the ACLU will continue to participate vigorously.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin joined Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund and Fair Wisconsin in filing an amicus brief in McConkey v. Van Hollen.”

For more of our recent work on LGBT rights, visit the issues section of our website.

Victory! Challenge to Domestic Partner Registry Thrown Out by State Supreme Court

5 Nov

Committed Couples Can Continue To Enjoy Limited Protections Offered By Registry

On Wednesday, November 4 2009, the American Civil Liberties Union celebrated a decision by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to dismiss a challenge to the state’s recently-enacted domestic partnership registry. The Court also rejected a request from board members of Wisconsin Family Action that the registry be declared unconstitutional and put indefinitely on hold. The ACLU represents five same-sex couples who asked to be allowed to participate in the case.

“The registry certainly doesn’t offer anywhere close to the protections that marriage would, but we’re grateful that the couples we represented can at least hang onto the limited legal protections it gives them, such as the ability to visit each other in the hospital,” said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project.

Board members of Wisconsin Family Action had asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the amendment to the state constitution that bans same-sex couples from marriage. The dismissal of the case by the Wisconsin Supreme Court means that these petitioners may not begin their case in the Wisconsin Supreme Court but may re-file their case in a circuit court (a lower court), where both sides will be able to have a trial and present evidence to support their cases.

“The Wisconsin Supreme Court did the right thing rejecting this premature and ill-defined challenge. If the petitioners want to deprive thousands of families of some very basic protections, they should not be allowed to short-circuit the legal process of proving their case to a trial judge,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “We’re certain that if we end up having to deal with these arguments in a trial, we’ll be able to show how the limited protections offered by the domestic partnership registry in no way violate the marriage ban.”

The five couples represented by the ACLU had also asked the court to let them join the lawsuit so that they could help defend the new domestic partnership registry. That motion was denied as moot, since the lawsuit was dismissed. Fair Wisconsin, an LGBT advocacy organization whose members include same-sex couples who have registered as domestic partners under the new law, also sought to intervene in the lawsuit to help defend the law.

In addition to Dupuis and Knight, the legal team representing the couples includes Linda Hansen, David Froiland, Jason Plowman, Daniel Manna and David Goroff of Foley & Lardner, LLP.

Additional information about the ACLU’s motion, including bios and photographs of the couples, the legal documents filed and a fact sheet containing some of the comments made by the anti-gay activists seeking to strike the law, is available online.

Press coverage of the decision thus far has been limited, but there was coverage in the UW Badger Herald and a story on this morning’s Wisconsin Public Radio headlines.

Domestic Partners Seek To Intervene In Lawsuit Challenging Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Law

22 Sep

The ACLU Urges Wisconsin Supreme Court To Send Case To Trial Court So That Those Most Affected By The Lawsuit Can Be Heard

On September 22, 2009, The American Civil Liberties Union filed a motion before the Wisconsin Supreme Court on behalf of five same-sex couples asking that they be allowed to participate in a lawsuit that will decide whether the state’s newly enacted domestic partner law violates Wisconsin’s anti-gay marriage amendment.

Anti-gay activists have asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to strike down the domestic partner law as inconsistent with the marriage amendment. The couples also ask the Court to reject the petition and send the case to a trial court so that evidence can be presented to show that the domestic partner law does not violate the anti-gay marriage amendment that passed in 2006.

“While the domestic partner law falls far short of marriage, we were grateful when it passed that we would no longer have to worry about being able to visit each other in the hospital,” said Jayne Dunnum who, along with her partner of 17 years, Robin Timm, registered to become domestic partners when the law went into effect this summer. “But with this lawsuit those fears are back, and we’d like the opportunity to explain to the courts how this affects us.”

According to the motion filed by the ACLU, the five same-sex couples meet all the legal requirements for becoming a party to the litigation and would suffer harm if the court overturns the domestic partner law.

“We’re hopeful that the Wisconsin Supreme Court will recognize that lesbian and gay couples have the most at stake in this lawsuit and deserve their day in court,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Only same-sex couples can describe what it’s like to fear not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or being left with nothing when a partner dies without a will. And only same-sex couples can explain what it means to be shut out of marriage and have to accept a poorly understood, second-class status as domestic partners with 43 legal protections versus more than 200 that come with marriage.”

The anti-gay activists who are seeking to take away the legal protections for registered domestic partners have claimed that they need a speedy resolution and are entitled to go directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court because the modest legal protections granted to same-sex couples through the law somehow affect the marriages of straight couples. Rather incredulously, they also claim that it would be in the best interest of lesbian and gay couples to have a speedy resolution even though they are asking the court to strip domestic partners of all legal protections.

According to the ACLU, there are important factual issues in the case, such as the many ways in which domestic partnership differs from marriage, that call for the kind of testimony that same-sex couples can provide to the Court. To consider this important evidence, the Supreme Court should refuse to accept this case directly but instead allow a circuit court to develop the factual record.

During the political campaign for the anti-gay marriage amendment that is the basis for this lawsuit, these same anti-gay activists told the voters that domestic partner benefits would not be affected by the amendment and legislators said that the state would be allowed to pass a law giving same-sex couples some legal protections.

“The anti-gay activists misled the voters into passing the amendment by saying that it would not affect the rights of domestic partners. Then they tried to prevent the legislature from providing modest legal protections for same-sex couples. And soon after the bill went into effect, they brought a lawsuit to take those protections away, based on the amendment that they said would not affect such rights” said John Knight, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU LGBT Project. “It’s incredible the lengths they will go to deny committed couples basic protections for their families.”

The same-sex couples asking to be allowed into the lawsuit include:

Jayne Dunnum and Robin Timm from Plattsville, WI, have been together for 17 years. After Timm was injured on their farm and had to be rushed to the emergency room, they worry about being able to visit each other in the hospital and are hoping the domestic partner law will put an end to these worries.

Carol Schumacher and Virginia Wolf from Eau Claire, WI, have been together for 34 years. As they enter their senior years, the domestic partner law would ease their worries about being shut out of conversations about each other’s medical care and other end-of-life decisions and guarantee that they are not barred from sharing a room if they end up in a nursing home.

Wendy and Mary Woodruff from Milwaukee, WI, have been together for 12 years. As a minister for the Metropolitan Community Church, Rev. Wendy Woodruff has had to console a congregant who lost everything, including her home and furniture, when her partner was killed and the partner’s relatives claimed their entire estate. They fear the same thing would happen to them without the inheritance protections of the domestic partner law.

Judith Trampf and Katy Heyning from Madison, WI, celebrated their 20th Anniversary this summer. A few years back, Heyning had a seizure that left her unable to drive for six months. Unable to take family leave, Trampf had to use her vacation time to drive Katy to doctor’s appointments and to and from work. Under the domestic partner law, the couple would finally gain access to family leave protection.

Diane Schermann and Missy Collins from Eau Claire, WI, have known each other for 10 years and have been a couple for five. The couple is raising seven children, including Diane’s two children from a previous marriage, a new baby that Missy gave birth to through in vitro fertilization and four foster children, two of which are relatives of Collins. Like many couples their age, the couple has put off making wills because of the expense. The domestic partner law would guarantee that at least half of their joint property automatically passes to each other.

Lambda Legal also filed papers today to intervene in the Appling v. Doyle case on behalf of Fair Wisconsin, the statewide equality organization, and its members. Lambda Legal, like the ACLU, says domestic partnerships and marriages are not “substantially similar.”

Linda Hansen, David Froiland, Jason Plowman, Daniel Manna and David Goroff of Foley & Lardner, LLP are assisting ACLU attorneys Dupuis and Knight in representing the couples. Additional information about the ACLU’s motion, including bios and photographs of the couples and the legal documents filed today are available online.

ACLU of WI Stands Up to WI Family Action’s Legal Attack on Domestic Partnerships

23 Jul

On the morning of Thursday, July 23, the anti-gay organization called Wisconsin Family Action filed a complaint about the domestic partner provisions in the state budget. The complaint was sent to the state Supreme Court asking for an original action, a move to skip right to the top of challenging the law through the court system and demand an injunction to stop the registry and benefits from being recognized. (Legal geek? Read the full complaint here.)

We’ve written before about how the domestic partnership registry and benefits for state workers is nowhere close to marriage. While the registry and benefits will help to make daily life feel more fair for real Wisconsin families, the limits to protections can hardly be considered “substantially similar” to marriage the way that state-recognized civil unions might.

The ACLU of Wisconsin today issued a statement on why the Supreme Court should deny the Wisconsin Family Action and Alliance Defense Fund petition. These groups not only believe that the domestic partnership provisions violate the 2006 constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, they also say that it “redefines marriage” in a “sneaky assault.”

The petitioners’ reasons for seeking to skip the lower courts and go straight to the Wisconsin Supreme Court meet none of the tests required by the Court to take jurisdiction of this matter as an original action.

They think the facts are simple (i.e. domestic partnership registries and benefits are just like marriage and actually threaten heterosexual married couples). But they are actually asking the Supreme Court to have to decide whether the few protections that the legislature has provided to same-sex couples are ‘substantially similar’ to marriage. It will also have to decide whether the newly created status of domestic partner is ‘substantially similar’ to marriage. Both arguments require factual development which is what lower trial courts are for.

Wisconsin Family Action doesn’t just want to erase fairness for same-sex couples: they want to erase history. Three years ago, leading proponents of the anti-gay marriage amendment repeatedly admitted that domestic partnership benefits and protections are not the same as marriage. In February 2006, Wisconsin Family Action Executive Director Julaine Appling said in the Capital Times that “domestic partner benefits were not threatened” by the amendment. Earlier, in November of 2005, legislators received a memo from state Senator Scott Fitzgerald and Rep. Mark Gundrum saying that “no particular privileges or benefits would be prohibited” under the marriage ban. The memo put into writing that legal constructs by governments would be allowed: exactly what was signed into law by Governor Doyle this year.

Clearly this challenge will have an impact statewide, but it is not about maintaining existing marriages except in the minds of the petitioners. The domestic partnership registry and the benefits and protections associated with it, whether taken singly or as a whole, are nothing close to marriage. In fact, married Wisconsinites should ask themselves, would you trade your marriage and its hundreds of legal protections for the newly created domestic partnership? Of course not, because they aren’t the same.

The ACLU of Wisconsin anticipates that the State of Wisconsin will argue vigorously against acceptance of this petition and in defense of the domestic partnership registry. The ACLU of Wisconsin in April went on record offering to assist in any necessary defense of the domestic partnership registry.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is a membership organization devoted to the defense of the civil liberties and rights of all Wisconsin residents. Read the full statement from the ACLU of Wisconsin and from Fair Wisconsin.

Domestic partner benefits not even close to marriage

17 Apr

Same-sex couples in Wisconsin must be thinking a lot about second-class citizenship these days. With courts and legislatures in Iowa and Vermont being added to the list of state governments that acknowledge gay and lesbian equality, we have to ask “where is Wisconsin?”

Wisconsin voters who said “no” to the same-sex marriage ban in 2006 were shocked when it passed. Mostly because the amendment went too far: it clearly stated that same-sex marriage would be illegal, but it also bashed civil unions. Anything “substantially similar” to marriage would be illegal for any family outside of the “one-man-one-woman” structure. Those who voted “no” knew that the amendment would institutionalize discrimination and take away equal protection for gay and lesbian people in Wisconsin.

But during the debates around this amendment referendum, many fervent opponents of gay and lesbian equality were clear that the same-sex marriage ban would not take away the ability of government or businesses to recognize certain benefits or protections.

In November of 2005, legislators received a memo from state Senator Scott Fitzgerald and Rep. Mark Gundrum saying that “no particular privileges or benefits would be prohibited” under the marriage ban. They put into writing that legal constructs by governments would be allowed.

Although opponents of the marriage ban expressed fears about its potential impact on domestic partner benefits, the supporters of it, including the chief sponsors of the bill, consistently took the position that domestic partner benefits were safe.

Today the 2009 Executive Budget proposal for the state of Wisconsin (AB 75) would provide for the creation of a domestic partnership registry. Same-sex couples who registered with the state could start a process of being afforded a limited set of benefits or protections.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin wrote to the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance to explain why the proposal does not violate the Wisconsin Constitution’s ban on creating a legal status “substantially similar to that of marriage….”

“These budget provisions are not even close to being substantially similar to marriage,” wrote ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty.

Because the case in defense of the proposal is so strong and because of the ACLU’s long standing support of protections for domestic partners, Ahmuty assured legislators that, “the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Wisconsin are prepared to help defend domestic partners in court.”

Ahmuty, concluded his letter by urging legislators, “to adopt the domestic partner registry proposal with at least the current number, if not more, protections attached.”

Ultimately, it’s nice that the legislature is taking a step toward fairness. But let’s not forget that for years legislative leaders who supported the marriage ban have gone above and beyond to describe how domestic partnership benefits are inferior to the legal protections provided by marriage.

A domestic partnership registry can help real families in Wisconsin. But it isn’t marriage. Our legislators know it. The courts will show it. And it’s our friends and families that will have to live with second-class citizenship.

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 news – Terrorist Watch List, FISA Fight Continues, and more

29 Feb

February 29, 2008

Congress Must Stand Up to Bush Fear-Mongering over FISA

Two weeks ago, leaders in the House finally stood up to President Bush’s fear-mongering and his dangerous demands, including presidential spying powers that defy the Constitution and retroactive immunity for telecom companies that turned over private information without a warrant.

There’s no predicting what happens next — and no guaranteeing that House leaders will continue to hold the line. That’s why the ACLU is pulling out all the stops — we ran an ad in USA Today on Tuesday to frame the debate, we’re gathering tens of thousands of signatures urging House leaders to stand their ground, and soon, we will be launching “Calling for Freedom,” an all-out calling campaign aimed at flooding Congress with our message.

Click here to see the ad.

>> Take action: Tell Congress: “Keep Standing Up to Bush Fear Mongering”.

>> Ask your friends to sign the petition.

Supreme Court Refuses to Review Warrantless Wiretapping Case

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court denied the ACLU’s petition asking it to hear ACLU v. NSA, our case against the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU filed this case two years ago to put an end to government spying on innocent Americans through National Security Agency surveillance.

From the start, the government’s argument has been that the case should be dismissed under the state secrets privilege, but that did not convince the district court in Michigan, which ruled that the NSA’s program is unconstitutional and should be stopped. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, asserted that our plaintiffs could not prove their communications had been tapped and dismissed the case.

“Although we are deeply disappointed with the Supreme Court’s refusal to review this case, it is worth noting that today’s action says nothing about the case’s merits and does not suggest in any way an endorsement of the lower court’s decision,” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the ACLU. “The court’s unwillingness to act makes it even more important that Congress insist on legislative safeguards that will protect civil liberties without jeopardizing national security.”

>> Read more about unchecked government surveillance.

Government Again Downplays Widespread Racism Before U.N. Committee

Click here to learn about racial discrimination in your state.

Representatives from over 125 U.S.-based social justice organizations last week observed a session at the United Nations where an international panel of experts closely scrutinized the U.S. human rights record regarding racial discrimination.

High-ranking U.S. government officials had to answer very tough questions about racial discrimination in the United States. Yet, they continued to downplay the effects of widespread discrimination in this country during questioning before the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Throughout the hearings, the CERD committee questioned the government delegation on several issues raised by the ACLU in its 2007 report, Race & Ethnicity in America: Turning a Blind Eye to Injustice. The ACLU’s report examines human rights violations, including events that took place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, escalating police brutality and racial profiling, the dramatic increase in anti-immigrant acts and practices, the exploitation of migrant workers, and the “school to prison pipeline,” whereby the criminal justice system overzealously funnels students of color out of classrooms and on a path toward prison.

“It takes more than empty words and unenforced laws to claim high moral ground and leadership on human rights,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “To be true to its ideals and to fulfill its treaty obligations, the U.S. must take vigorous and proactive measures against racial and ethnic inequality.”

>> Read the ACLU’s report, Race & Ethnicity in America, and blog posts from ACLU staff who were in Geneva.

Terrorist Watch List Nears One Million

It wasn’t long after 9/11 that we began hearing from Americans who were having problems getting on airplanes because, they were told, their names were on terrorist watch lists. In typical Bush Administration style, these systems had been roughly thrown together with little thought for questions of guilt or innocence or fairness to those unfairly targeted.

In the years since, our nation’s out-of-control watch lists have received a lot of terrible publicity, such as when famous people like Sen. Ted Kennedy or Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens) got trapped on them, or when 60 Minutes discovered that the list included the president of Bolivia, dead people, and dozens of common American names like Robert Johnson and John Williams. Despite all this publicity, and the problems faced by thousands or millions of frustrated innocent American citizens, the problem has not gotten better. In fact, it has gotten even worse.

Based on numbers contained in a report issued by the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, the watch list is growing by 20,000 records a month — and now exceeds 917,000 people. And it’s growing by the minute — a growth that you can view in real time on our new page, which displays a rolling, real-time counter showing how many names are on the list, according to that DOJ report.

>> Learn more about the ACLU Watch List Counter.

Order To Shut Down Violates First Amendment

The ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a motion this week to intervene in a lawsuit that led a federal district judge to order the domain name shut down. The motion is on behalf of organizations and individuals that have accessed and used documents on the website in their work and want to continue to be able to do so.

The website was established to allow participants to anonymously disclose documents of public interest, including materials discussing such issues of national importance as U.S. Army operations at Guantánamo Bay, human rights abuses in China, and political corruption in Kenya.

Earlier this month, Judge Jeffrey White of the Northern District of California ordered domain registrar Dynadot, LLC to shut down the domain name based on allegations that a former employee of Swiss Bank Julius Baer posted documents on the website that highlighted the bank’s dealings in the Cayman Islands.

The permanent injunction has the effect of blocking access to all of the content contained on the website accessed through the domain name, even though the overwhelming majority of those documents and materials are unrelated to the Bank Julius Baer complaint and concern matters of significant public interest.

“The public has a right to receive information and ideas, especially ones concerning the public interest,” said Aden Fine, senior staff attorney with the ACLU. “This injunction ignores that vital First Amendment principle.”

The ACLU and EFF are seeking to intervene on behalf of themselves; the Project on Government Oversight, which works to investigate systemic waste, fraud, and abuse in all federal agencies; and Jordan McCorkle, a student at the University of Texas who uses the website on a regular basis.

>> Read the ACLU’s motion.

ACLU Sues to Protect Marriages Threatened by Recent Court Decision

The ACLU of Pennsylvania began a statewide challenge to a recent court decision that invalidates marriages presided over by a minister who doesn’t regularly serve in a physical church or house of worship.

The lawsuits were filed on behalf of three couples married in Pennsylvania by clergy who do not regularly preach in a church or to an established congregation. The couples seek judicial declarations that their marriages are valid under Pennsylvania law. The ruling potentially affects thousands of marriages, such as ACLU plaintiffs Peter Goldberger and Anna Durbin who were married in 1976.

“What we want is to fix a problem that never should have existed in the first place,” said Mary Catherine Roper, staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The state has no business invalidating marriages just because it doesn’t like the kind of minister who officiated them.”

The issue arose in September 2007 when York County Judge Maria Musti Cook ruled that the marriage of Dorie Heyer and Jacob Hollerbush was invalid because it had been performed by a minister of the Universal Life Church who obtained his ordination over the Internet. In Heyer v. Hollerbush, the court held that the marriage never existed because the minister who solemnized it did not serve a congregation or preach in a physical house of worship.

>> Read more about this case.