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Insurance Reform Decision from Supreme Court Welcome News to Women, Minorities

28 Jun

The U.S. Supreme Court decision today upheld the linchpin of the Affordable Care Act by ruling 5-4 that the government can tax individuals who choose not to buy health insurance.

The principal opinion was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.

  • Five members of the Court agreed that the requirement that individuals either purchase health insurance or make an additional payment on their federal income taxes – the so-called individual mandate – was a constitutionally permissible tax imposed on those who did not purchase health insurance.
  • The individual mandate was thus upheld even though five members of the Court, including Chief Justice Roberts, rejected the government’s principal argument that the individual mandate was a proper exercise of Congress’ power under the Commerce Clause.
  • Five members of the Court also agreed that Congress could withhold new Medicaid funds from states that did not expand their Medicaid coverage as required by the new health care law, but could not withhold funds for pre-existing Medicaid programs.

“The ACLU welcomes today’s decision, which recognizes that Congress has the constitutional authority to fix a health care system that does not work for millions of Americans,” said Steven R. Shapiro, ACLU legal director. “The decision is especially welcome for disadvantaged minorities, who are more likely to be uninsured, and for women, who are more likely to suffer gaps and discrimination in their health care coverage. We trust that the states will recognize those needs and accept the additional funds that the federal government is offering under the new law to expand Medicaid coverage for needy individuals.”

The American Civil Liberties Union joined with the NAACP on a friend of the court brief which is available online.

In Wisconsin, Governor Walker restated his opposition to insurance exchanges and President Obama’s insurance reform plan. He also signed a bill into law that would ban abortion coverage in any potential health insurance exchanges in Wisconsin. We testified against the bill and continue to oppose discriminatory limits on women’s health care services or insurance coverage.

The text of this blog post can also be found on the national ACLU’s website.

Public Safety Concerns Not a Barrier to GAB Disclosure of Recall Petitions: Troubling Databases Next

2 Feb

Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin reiterated its position on the privacy rights of survivors of domestic violence in the release of petitions to recall Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Kleefisch. In a letter to the Government Accountability Board and to state Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, the ACLU of Wisconsin asked for privacy rights of confidential electors be extended to any searchable database that may be available to the public.

The ACLU of Wisconsin wrote that state law protects the privacy rights of confidential electors in other public documents such as the election poll lists. Those same protections should be extended to other electoral public documents such as the recall petitions. Confidential electors should not have to surrender their free speech and assembly rights to participate in their democracy.  

While scanned PDF copies of recall petitions are easy to access but difficult to search, a database of petition signers makes identifying individual names and addresses very easy to find. In this case, survivors of domestic violence and targets of stalking have a clear public safety interest in having their information redacted from a searchable database. Similarly, it should be easy to redact the information of confidential electors from a database as opposed to hard copies of over a million petition signatures.

The ACLU of Wisconsin continues to urge the GAB to appropriately balance the competing public interests of electoral integrity and transparency and political speech and association by redacting the information of confidential electors from any electronic data file before it is disclosed as a public record. Further, the ACLU of Wisconsin urges the GAB to refuse any cross-checking of data with other government agencies.

We understand that the GAB has received a variety of questions and complaints from Wisconsinites on a variety of data privacy concerns. After the news media broke the news on Tuesday night that the PDF documents were available online, the GAB’s public voicemail boxes were full and people were unable to leave a message with their concerns. We hope that the GAB will provide a process to hear the privacy concerns of Wisconsinites before constructing a searchable database and at the minimum, shield the information of the confidential electors who already receive privacy protections under state law.

If there are confidential electors who are concerned about the disclosure of their information in the release of recall petition documents or electronic data files, they can share their stories with the ACLU of Wisconsin by filing a complaint with our office.

Media: Coverage of this topic before the PDF copies of the petitions were posted online included an article in the Wisconsin State Journal, an interview on the Wisconsin Radio Network and TMJ 620 AM in Milwaukee, and on NBC 15 in Madison and TMJ-4 and Fox News 6 in Milwaukee. An article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the Attorney General’s opinion about the public nature of the petitions. However journalists tweeted from the press conference that the AG clarified that redacting some information on the petitions based on public safety concerns was up to the GAB’s discretion. This opinion was echoed by the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. Reactions to the posting of PDF copies included a story on NBC 15 and NBC 26 in Green Bay.

We will share more media coverage of this issue soon.

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.

Why Does Your State Senator Want Teen Pregnancy Numbers to Go Up?

14 Oct

That would be a good question for Senators Lazich, Galloway, Grothman and Leibham as well as Representatives Thiesfeldt, Bernier, Bies, Brooks, Craig, Jacque, Kleefisch, Knodl, Kooyenga, Tom Larson, Litjens, Meyer, Nass, Nygren, Alvin Ott, Pridemore, Ripp, Spanbauer, Strachota, Stroebel, Wynn, Ziegelbauer and LeMahieu who have all signed on to a bill that would repeal the Healthy Youth Act.

On Wednesday, October 19, 2011 at noon in room 201 Southeast at the State Capitol, the Senate Education Committee will have a hearing to repeal the Healthy Youth Act, a bill passed during the Doyle Administration that raised the state standards for human growth and development curriculum in public schools. The proposal to repeal the law is so poorly timed, it’s astounding. In light of the recent news that teen birthrates in Milwaukee have plunged for the second straight year, we know that for this and other reasons comprehensive sex ed works to keep young people informed of the facts of how their bodies work and how they can protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections or unplanned pregnancy.

Why do these legislators want to roll back the clock and keep teens in the dark about the facts of life? You’ll hear a lot of myths about sex ed from so-called family values, anti-gay and anti-abortion activists on Wednesday. Read more about the myths versus the facts on our blog.

Call your state legislators and tell them to keep comprehensive sex ed for Wisconsin students. In Madison: 266-9960; Toll-free: 1-800-362-9472

Sex-Segregation in Schools is a Misguided Trend, Says Science Journal Report

23 Sep

An article debunking the research behind the trend of sex-segregated schools was published in the journal Science this week. The article explains that there is no legitimate research backing the effectiveness of sex-segregated schools and that the trend “is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence. However “there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

Read a PDF of the article.

Questioning brain research, the lack of comparable studies and differences among school programs, the article says that what characteristics make a good public school lie not in sex-segregation but “the quality of the student body, demanding curricula, and many other features also known to promote achievement at coeducational schools.”

The Science journal report comes out just as the Madison Metro School District is closing in on a decision over an Urban League proposal to establish a sex-segregated charter school. The school proposal has faced criticism over its cost, lack of unionized staff and legal concerns over sex discrimination in the sex-segregated classes.

Ideally the district will find an alternative plan to make measurable steps to close the racial achievement gap by investing in public programs that are proven to work and don’t rely on sex-segregation of students, breaking teachers’ union contracts or diverting crucial funding away from local public schools. Today’s coverage of this issue can be found in the State Journal and the Cap Times.

Incarcerated Women at Taycheedah Now Have More Options for Psychiatric Care

12 Sep

The recent opining of the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric hospital for women prisoners, will go a long way towards providing desperately needed mental health care, the ACLU said today. Previously, the services that will be offered at the WWRC were available only to male prisoners. The ACLU filed a law suit in 2006 that challenged this unequal and unfair treatment. The WWRC, which can house 45 prisoners, will begin accepting patients this month.

“Until now, the Wisconsin prison system could not provide critical treatment to women suffering from severe and debilitating mental illnesses,” said Gabriel Eber, staff counsel with the ACLU National Prison Project in Washington, DC, who represented women at the Taycheedah Correctional Institution in a lawsuit against the state. The class action lawsuit challenged unconstitutional conditions at Taycheedah, the state’s maximum security women’s prison in Fond du Lac. In November 2009, federal district Judge Rudolph Randa found there was sufficient evidence that the lack of inpatient resources for female prisoners violated the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution to hold a trial.

The ACLU and the state settled the lawsuit in December 2010. The agreement requires the state to make substantial improvements to medical care and mental health care and to increase access to programs for women prisoners with disabilities. The agreement also enabled the ACLU to seek court sanctions if the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center was not completed in a timely manner.

“For too long, female prisoners needing psychiatric care in a hospital setting were treated by overworked staff in poorly equipped facilities at Taycheedah,” said Larry Dupuis, Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, who represented prisoners in the litigation. “We commend the Department of Corrections and are pleased that women prisoners will now have access to desperately needed inpatient mental health care services.” The WWRC is located in Waupun.

Student Free Speech Includes “Boobies” Bracelets: Lawsuit Filed Against Sauk Prairie Middle School Bracelet Ban

8 Sep
I heart boobies bracelets

Keep A Breast Foundation's I heart Boobies Bracelets

Student free speech should include the right to wear breast cancer awareness bracelets, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys today. The suit was filed on behalf of a middle school student at Sauk Prairie Middle School who along with many classmates wore an “I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelet to school and prompted a school ban.

“While a public school can put some reasonable limits on expression that poses a credible threat of a disruption of its educational activities or school mission, the mere discomfort some may have with the bracelets’ slang language is not a justification for banning the bracelets and punishing students who wear them,” said Attorney Tamara Packard.

“I Boobies! (Keep A Breast)” bracelets are a part of a national campaign by the Keep A Breast Foundation. The rubber bracelets are similar to other bracelets that promote awareness of health or social issues and are geared to educate young women about the need for breast cancer research, education and early detection of the disease.

The Sauk Prairie Middle School had deemed the term “boobies” to be inappropriate slang for the school setting. However, the term, especially in the context of the serious issue of breast cancer awareness, is not lewd, vulgar or indecent and should be allowed as a form of free student expression.

“It is the very social stigma of discussing women’s breasts that keeps breast cancer prevention, education and research from moving forward,” said Attorney Lori Eshleman, who is also a breast cancer survivor. “When nearly 40,000 Americans will die of breast cancer this year, we should engage in a national discussion about prevention rather than suppress young women’s speech that includes the term boobies.”

This spring a federal court issued an injunction stopping a similar bracelet ban and agreed that the “boobies” bracelets were not indecent or disruptive student expression. Pennsylvania’s Easton Area School District has appealed that decision.

The lawsuit against the Sauk Prairie Middle School comes after repeated requests for the school to drop the bracelet ban were ignored and rejected. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and cooperating attorneys hope the school will rescind the ban and allow this form of student expression without further legal action.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. Cullen Weston Pines & Bach LLP is a well-respected full-service Madison law firm with a passion for the constitutional principles upon which our nation was founded, including free speech, equal protection, and participatory democracy.  Attorney Lori Eshleman specializes in health care and disability discrimination law at Traver, Haass & Eshleman.

For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Forward for Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Take Action: Ask Senator Kohl to Sponsor Paycheck Fairness Now!

27 Sep

In this economic downturn, there is nothing more urgently needed than helping families bring home fair wages. Unfortunately, a pernicious wage gap remains between women and men doing the same job, making this hard time even more difficult. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau women, on average, make only 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For women of color, the wage gap is even wider.

The Paycheck Fairness Act (S. 182), a much needed update to the Equal Pay Act of 1963, sits in the U.S. Senate and is poised for passage. The Equal Pay Act was intended to ensure equal pay for equal work, but over time, because of weak remedies and loopholes in the law, significant disparities in pay persist. The Paycheck Fairness Act would give employees the legal tools they need to finally close the wage gap.

With just a few days remaining to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act in this Congress, we need Senator Kohl to act now. Senator Feingold is already a sponsor and we want Wisconsin’s Senators to both support this important bill.

In Washington D.C., toll-free – 1-877-667-6650

Appleton – (920) 738-1640

Eau Claire – (715) 832-8424

La Crosse – (608) 796-0045

Madison – (608) 264-5338

Milwaukee – (414) 297-4451

The bill already passed the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support and now has 40 co-sponsors in the Senate—more than it has ever had in any previous Congress. President Obama, Vice President Biden and other senior members of the administration have announced their support for this important legislation, citing the passage of the Paycheck Fairness Act as an important step towards the economic security of women and our nation’s families. And when recently polled, 84% of American voters expressed support for a new law to create more avenues for women to receive fair wages.

We need our Senators to act now, which means they need to hear from you.

For the ACLU of Wisconsin members across the state who received this action alert last week and called Senator Kohl to ask him to co-sponsor this bill, thank you! Didn’t receive the action alert? Sign up today to get the civil liberties news and action alerts that impact the residents and legislators in Wisconsin.

On Mother’s Day, Do Mom a Favor – Take Action to Ratify CEDAW for Women’s Equality Worldwide

9 May

Happy Mother’s Day from the ACLU of Wisconsin! Today, you can do your mom and women around the world a favor….

CEDAW – The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women is the international treaty dedicated to gender equality. The U.S. played a major role in drafting the treaty and President Carter signed it in 1980, but we are one of only seven countries that has not ratified CEDAW.

Let’s make 2010 the year we of ratification. For the first time, there is a strategic, well-resourced coalition leading the effort, and we have strong support within the current administration and the US Senate. But getting 67 Senators to vote yes to ratification wont be easy and well need your help over the next 5-7 months.

Young people from Milwaukee created this video to help spread the word.

Please do your part to help:
Go to the ACLU’s action page on CEDAW to contact your Senators and urge them to ratify this treaty in 2010. You can also upload a video response to the ACLU of Wisconsin’s video to support CEDAW – forward it to your friends and keep the word going.

Visit the ACLU’s national page on CEDAW for more information. Or check out or for updates on this movement.

Stand Up For Women’s Rights in Health Care Reform

14 Jan

Negotiations on the final health care bill pick up speed this week. As you may know, anti-choice forces in Congress have used this legislation as a vehicle for advancing their agenda.

We must make sure that the final bill will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Tell Sen. Russ Feingold, Sen. Herb Kohl and your state legislator in the House to protect women’s access to abortion in health care reform.

Health care reform should improve people’s lives. That’s why we have to make the most of our last opportunity to insist that health care reform should improve women’s health and lives — not interfere in their ability to get the health care they need.

Representative Bart Stupak and other architects of the severe restrictions on women’s health in both the House and Senate bills are campaigning hard, threatening to derail health care legislation altogether if anyone tampers with the severe restrictions they forced into both bills. Even our allies in Congress are feeling pressure. That’s why it’s so urgent that you take action today.

Both bills stigmatize abortion coverage and ignore the reality that abortion services are basic health care for women.

Tell your members of Congress that Stupak-style restrictions must not be part of any final legislation that goes to President Obama’s desk.

Anti-choice forces are working round-the-clock to keep severe abortion restrictions in the health care bill. We have to work just as hard to get those restrictions out.

Negotiations on a final bill are happening now. Please act immediately to insist on health reforms that will protect reproductive freedom, not put it in peril.

Thank you for standing with us.
Vania Leveille
ACLU Legislative Counsel

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban – Rally for Women’s Health

2 Dec

Join us today at noon:

Stop the Abortion Coverage Ban
Rally for Women’s Health

Wednesday, December 2 at Noon
Capitol Square – State Street Steps
Featuring Lt. Governor Barbara Lawton

Email Sen. Russell ‘Russ’ D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl right now to protect all women’s health options in health care reform.

Report from D.C. at the prochoice rally from a public policy staffer from the Maine ACLU:

“I’m here in Washington, D.C., after a long bus ride from Maine that took me nearly nine hours — and more than 500 miles. But nothing could have stopped me from getting here because the fight to protect reproductive rights is too important, and it’s personal.

“My own commitment to reproductive freedom is rooted in my grandmother’s story about her difficult decision to have an abortion when it wasn’t even legal. I’m sure that the hundreds of other women and men who have joined me in Washington today to take part in this lobby day have their own reasons for caring so deeply.

“But we’re all here to send a powerful message to our senators: we want health care reform that will protect reproductive freedom — not put it in peril as the House did with their Stupak-Pitts Amendment, banning abortion coverage.

“We’re going to be heading to Senators’ offices to deliver this message in just a few moments, but it would be great if they could hear from all of you, too!

Email Sen. Russell ‘Russ’ D. Feingold and Sen. Herb Kohl now. Let them know you want health care that will improve women’s lives — not interfere with them.

“Just off the bus, my fellow bus-mates and I are ready to fight for women’s reproductive freedom. Tell your senators that you want health care that will improve women’s lives not interfere with them.

“Many people have come to D.C. today because they’re alarmed by a recent rise of extremism that is influencing decisions on Capitol Hill.

When the Stupak-Pitts Amendment was added to the House bill, it drastically altered and interfered with a woman’s ability to get the health care she needs. But what’s possibly even more alarming is that a reinvigorated extremist movement is determined to advance their own personal ideology and use the power of our government to force their own narrow view of morality on the rest of us.

“So now we all need to join together and let our senators know that this kind of thinking has no place in our government — and it doesn’t belong in our health care reform.

“We need to come together — whether it’s riding a bus to D.C. or clicking a button to email your senators and make sure they know we won’t let the same thing happen in the Senate.

“Whatever your reason for getting involved in this critical fight today, I hope you’ll join with me and let your senator know how strongly you feel about this. Together, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of women.

“Thanks for standing with us.”
Alysia Melnick
Public Policy Counsel
Maine Civil Liberties Union

When government patents limit women’s health – the ACLU lawsuit over breast cancer testing and research

18 May

Imagine you are a woman who may have breast cancer. The cancer runs in your family and you need a diagnosis to know if you have one of the two genes associated with breast cancer. The test can tell you if you are at risk for cancer, but there is only one diagnostic test for the gene and therefore no way to get a second opinion on the life-changing test results.

Or imagine you are a woman who is a breast cancer survivor and who has had a double mastectomy. The gene that is linked to the breast cancer could mutate and be the cause of ovarian cancer. Whether or not you have a chance of having the ovarian cancer gene will affect your decision to have your ovaries removed along with your future option to have children.

There is only one company in Salt Lake City that offers the test for $3000.

These choices are facing women across the country. Testing for genetic links to breast and ovarian cancer is possible. But there is only one company that holds the patents to the genetic test. The government, through the patent system, has granted one company a monopoly over the gene (and its mutations), future testing and research.

The ACLU’s website on the breast cancer gene patent says that: “The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) has granted thousands of patents on human genes – in fact, about 20 percent of our genes are patented. A gene patent holder has the right to prevent anyone from studying, testing or even looking at a gene. As a result, scientific research and genetic testing has been delayed, limited or even shut down due to concerns about gene patents.”

On May 12, the ACLU filed a lawsuit (along with partner, the Public Patent Foundation) against the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Myriad Genetics and the University of Utah Research Foundation, holders of the gene patents. The lawsuit charges that the patent is a virtual monopoly over something in nature, a human gene and its variations, that cannot be patented.

Want to learn more? Details on the lawsuit can be found on the ACLU website. You can also read more about the implications of the gene patent in this CNN article.

Want to do more? Become a member of the ACLU – your membership supports our important litigation work like the patent lawsuit. You can also sign a message of support on this issue.