Racial Justice Advocates Ask Sen. Kohl to Support the End Racial Profiling Act

17 Jul

On Monday, July 9, a dozen Wisconsinites went to U.S. Senator Herb Kohl’s office to discuss the problem of racial profiling. They shared stories about their experiences living in Southeastern Wisconsin and described their concerns with race-based traffic stops and other actions by law enforcement they felt were discriminatory. 

ACLU of Wisconsin members were among those who visited Kohl’s office to ask for his support of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA). The End Racial Profiling Act of 2011 (S. 1670 and H.R. 3618) would prohibit and attempt to ban racial profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin at the federal, state and local (including tribal) levels. The House version of ERPA includes gender as a protected category.

Contact Senator Kohl’s office and ask him to be a co-sponsor of the End Racial Profiling Act.

Followers of the Forward for Liberty blog may have already read our statements about how Milwaukee residents deserve professional policing after controversial allegations of illegal strip searches came to light. It is our position that racial profiling creates second-class citizens in Milwaukee and anywhere in Wisconsin where race is a factor in police stopping people on the street or in their cars. We worked to encourage the state legislature to pass a law requiring police to keep data on the race and ethnicity of people pulled over in traffic stops, but that law was quickly repealed by Governor Walker last year.

Some of the advocates who visited Kohl’s office are a part of the Face the Truth campaign which is an effort by the Rights Working Group to get meaningful action taken to stop discriminatory policing across the nation. The campaign is being endorsed by the American Civil Liberties Union along with a coalition of over 100 national, state and local civil liberties, human rights, civil rights, immigrants’ rights and racial justice organizations.

Here is more about racial profiling from the Rights Working Group’s website:

What is racial profiling?

Racial profiling is the use of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin by law enforcement agents as a factor in deciding whom to investigate, arrest or detain, except where these characteristics are part of a specific suspect description. It is a degrading practice, is pervasive across the United States and continues largely unchecked, violating constitutional and international human rights:

– African American, Native American and Latino/Hispanic individuals are stopped and searched much more often by law enforcement, for example, when “driving while black or brown” than whites;

– Since September 11, 2001, members of Arab, Muslim, and South Asian communities have increasingly and disproportionately been placed under surveillance, searched, interrogated and detained in the name of “national security” and have often times been labeled “terrorism suspects” when in reality many have only been charged with misdemeanors or minor immigration violations, if they have been charged at all;

– In recent years, law enforcement has singled out members of a third population under the guise of immigration enforcement—disproportionately harassing, interrogating, physically abusing and detaining individuals perceived to be Latino or Hispanic, including U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents.

By focusing on arbitrary factors unrelated to criminal activity rather than on specific indicators of criminal behavior or specific information about a criminal suspect, law enforcement agents decrease the hit rate on catching criminals. They also lose the trust of community members who believe agents to be biased or unjust. As a result, community members become less likely to assist with criminal investigations or seek protection from police when they themselves are victimized, which makes everyone less safe.

What has been done recently to stop racial profiling?

The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidance prohibiting the use of race and ethnicity by federal law enforcement agencies in 2003 but this guidance is not enforceable, it does not address profiling based on religion or national origin, it does not cover surveillance activities, and it leaves gaping loopholes that allow racial profiling for “national security” purposes and at U.S. borders. The Department of Justice should revise these guidelines and apply them to anywhere federal agents act in partnership with state or local law enforcement agents and to any agency that receives federal funds.

The Secure Communities program and the Criminal Alien Program were established by former President George Bush in 2008 and expanded under President Obama. These programs involve state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws and have formally (and informally) resulted in pre-textual arrests of people whom the police perceive to be “foreign,” including citizens and lawful permanent residents; police stop these individuals for other alleged, often minor offenses, as a pretext for checking immigration status. Programs like these should be eliminated if they result in racial profiling.

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.

Recognizing Youth Leadership in Civil Liberties and Human Rights: Rufus King Graduate Receives Award

27 Jun

Congrats to recent Rufus King High School graduate Zach Komes. During his high school career, Zach was a leader at his school and in the Milwaukee community in civil rights and human rights education and activism. To recognize his work, he received this year’s Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award.

Zach Komes receives the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award

“Participating in the Amnesty International Chapter and the ACLU Student Alliance at Rufus King High School as Student Coordinator for two years has been one of the best times of my life,” said Komes. “From promoting important issues through workshops and movie screenings to direct action campaigns like letter writing, vigils, and marches, our ACLU student alliance has done great work.

“It was a great honor to receive the Jackie Yang Human Rights and Civil Liberties Award at our chapter’s annual banquet.  Jackie Yang, who founded our chapter in 2009 and who also worked in the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Madison Area Office last semester, is an example of true leadership and dedication to civil liberties. Receiving this award in her name is very humbling. I am very excited to what our chapter does in the future under the leadership of new co-coordinators James Elias and Mary Poppings! The Amnesty International/ACLU Chapter at Rufus King will continue to work for justice and progress in our community, nation, and world!”

The Amnesty International Chapter at Rufus King High School is committed to engaging students in international human rights issues. Human rights standards such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights guide students’ research and action focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination. The group partners with the ACLU Student Alliance to work on domestic civil rights and constitutional protection issues.

The ACLU of Wisconsin is looking forward to seeing Zach continue to be a leader in the work to defend individual rights. Want to find out if there is an ACLU Student Alliance at your school? Want to start one? Contact us at youth@aclu-wi.org to find out more.

Wisconsin Impact: SCOTUS Decision on Arizona and Immigration

25 Jun

Today the Supreme Court of the United States struck down three parts of Arizona’s anti-immigration law as unconstitutional. But the court did not strike down the discriminatory “show me your papers” provision which condones racial profiling and allows law enforcement to ask for immigration documents from lawfully stopped people. The decision is mixed, but ultimately sends a strong rebuke to the state of Arizona for overstepping its legal authority in the realm of federal immigration enforcement.

Despite the mixed decision by the Supreme Court today, everyone in America still has basic rights when interacting with law enforcement. This video explains what rights we all have under the constitution:


The focus of the court’s decision was whether or not Arizona’s law was preempted by the U.S. Constitution, which gives the federal government – not the states – authority to regulate immigration. In three areas, the court said it was unconstitutional for states to criminalize working while undocumented, criminalize not being registered or carrying immigration documents, and for law enforcement to make warrantless arrests of people solely on the basis of a suspicion of their undocumented status. Other states that have written or passed similar laws must pay attention to the SCOTUS decision and repeal or stop attempts to pass anti-immigration laws.

In Wisconsin, Representative Don Pridemore (R-Hartford) drafted a bill that included a “show me your papers” provision, language allowing law enforcement to make warrantless arrests, and also criminalized the refusal or failure to show proof of legal status which could lead to detention. Today’s Supreme Court decision should show Wisconsin lawmakers that attempts to authorize state police to enforce federal immigration law run afoul of the constitution.

“The Wisconsin Legislature wisely did not hold hearings on a bill similar to Arizona’s,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “While the Supreme Court decision rules out much of the Wisconsin proposal, states that allow ‘show me your papers’ provisions will open the floodgates to further litigation and will hurt law-abiding citizens in Wisconsin. The ACLU of Wisconsin will collect stories and evidence of racial profiling and any effort by law enforcement to detain residents unlawfully. The discussion on Arizona’s law will not end today.”

The national ACLU has amassed an $8.6 million war chest to mount an aggressive response against Arizona’s SB 1070 and other states’ racial profiling laws. It will help underwrite continued litigation against these measures, lobbying efforts and public education programs. Any laws that encourage racial profiling, undermine local law enforcement’s priorities and sow a climate of fear that pits neighbor against neighbor will be stopped. Sign the petition online. 

The infographic below outlines what parts of the Arizona law are unconstitutional as well as what other states have passed similar legislation. You can share this by linking to: http://www.aclu.org/files/images/immigrants/sb1070_infographic5.jpg

Environmental Justice: Federal Certification of SEWRPC Review Tuesday

24 Jun

Every four years, the federal government has to certify that metropolitan planning organizations are following federal laws, including civil rights and environmental justice standards. In Southeastern Wisconsin, SEWRPC is responsible for making recommendations and setting priorities for funding transportation, land use and natural resource management for seven counties.

But SEWRPC is structured in a way that gives the more densely populated, urban areas less of a voice in decisions. As a result, minority and low-income residents’ concerns haven’t been adequately addressed.

On Tuesday, June 26, officials from the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration will be in Milwaukee to review the performance of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC). The public can give testimony and environmental justice, transit and housing advocates are encouraged to talk about the needs of the city of Milwaukee.

Support environmental justice by telling SEWRPC to work harder to make sure underserved communities get a fair share of the region’s transportation spending. The city needs more transit, more job access and more affordable housing.

SEWRPC needs to hear that:

–      More federal “highway” funds are needed to expand transit: federal rules on spending allow for the option to use funds for highway OR transit projects. SEWRPC should use flex funds to expand transit options to meet environmental justice needs in Southeastern Wisconsin.

–      Priorities should emphasize civil rights and environmental justice: a transportation improvement plan should look at how decisions impact minority neighborhoods and urban workers’ ability to access their jobs from affordable housing. SEWRPC doesn’t.

–      Milwaukee City needs a proportionate representation on the commission: No substantive progress has been made since SEWRPC was last asked to develop a greater presence in the city. Further, state law structures SEWRPC to have three representatives from each county which doesn’t reflect the density of cities or give an adequate voice to minority residents. For SEWRPC to truly represent the region, the makeup of the commission should reflect populations proportionately.

 The event runs from 5:00 – 7:30 p.m. at the Tommy Thompson Youth Center at the Wisconsin State Fairgrounds.



Drone Use: Obama Administration Needs Rules, Transparency

22 Jun

The following op-ed was written by ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director Chris Ahmuty and appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Another View, “Government Needs Rules, Transparency in Drone Use.”

The United States military and Central Intelligence Agency are using armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs or drones) to carry out targeted killings of suspected terrorists, including American citizens.  While President Obama’s top security adviser, John Brennan, finally acknowledged this practice in April, these extrajudicial killings are still shrouded in secrecy.   It is only possible to say with confidence that in recent months drones have been used to kill individuals who have been “nominated” for and placed on a secret “kill list” often with the personal involvement of President Obama.  The United States has used drones for this purpose in Iraq and Afghanistan, where our country has been at war, and in Pakistan and Yemen, where we are not officially at war.  American citizens have been among those targeted and among those who are among the collateral damage of such operations.

The American Civil Liberties Union has called for greater transparency from the Obama administration.  A good start would be for the Obama administration to release the Justice Department memos related to this secret process, including any that purport to explain the legal authority for the extrajudicial killing of American terrorism suspects.

Drones already come in many sizes and appear to be a technological fix for some difficult operational and political issues in the war on terrorism.   Drones can be controlled from great distances, thereby protecting the lives of their operators, if not Afghan or Yemeni noncombatants; a fact Al Qaeda recruiters point out.   Drones may be more precise than conventional fighter attacks, thereby offering the opportunity to reduce the loss of innocent lives, but apparently sometimes President Obama makes exceptions to this goal.  Chillingly, drones kill and maim but don’t take prisoners, thereby reducing the pressure to examine our government’s policy of indefinite detention of some prisoners in the everlasting war on terrorism.

There are undoubtedly legitimate and legal uses for this technology.  But like other technologies, such as “enhanced interrogation methods”, use of global positioning systems to track an individual’s whereabouts 24/7, data mining of financial and other personal records and online activity, or even new full body scanning devices at the airport, drone technology does not absolve leaders in the federal executive branch, from their responsibility of using it in lawful ways that are consistent with our values.

When one examines this issue it is clear that drones have allowed targeted killings to become an important tactic in the war on terrorism without the public’s knowledge of basic information or the checks and balances our constitution requires.  Drones may have severely impacted Al Qaeda in the short term, but they may have also made more difficult a long term counterterrorism strategy utilizing America’s great strength – our belief that the rule of law and civil liberties will protect our families’ freedoms from government abuse.

Polls show that Americans as a whole, if not most ACLU members, support the use of drones for targeted killings by a wide margin.   The Federal Aviation Administration has been asked to allow drones for law enforcement and perhaps military purposes in our country.  Hopefully the buzz you hear above your head at a cookout within the next few years will be a mosquito and not a drone.

Voting With a Criminal Conviction in Wisconsin: “Off Paper” = Ex-Felons May Vote

1 Jun

Every election cycle we hear misinformation about who is allowed to vote. Some people think any criminal conviction, even misdemeanors, make people lose their voting rights. But under Wisconsin law, only those who have been convicted of felonies who are still in prison or who haven’t completed their entire sentence cannot vote. Once felons are “off paper” (or has completed all probation, parole and extended supervision), they can register and vote again.

The ACLU of Wisconsin worked to change the state law under the Doyle administration. Back around 2009, a statewide effort brought together faith groups, prisoner reentry organizations, racial justice groups and voters who were passionate about democracy and human rights to work to change the law and allow those with felony convictions to get their voting rights back upon release from prison. Some supporters said the change would decrease costs and confusion associated with the restriction. Others said participation in democracy, particularly for those who are living and working in our communities, is an important aspect of having former prisoners reintegrate into society. And with Wisconsin’s disproportionate minority incarceration rate, disfranchising felons perpetuates Jim Crow style suppression of minority communities. The law should still be changed, but for now voters need to know that felons have to wait until they are off paper to vote.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is distributing non-partisan “Know Your Voting Rights: Wisconsin” guides to clarify some of Wisconsin’s new voting rules. These one-page fact sheets are available in Spanish and English on the aclu-wi.org website (factsheets are also available for student voters and voters with criminal convictions). As part of the national ACLU’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, the ACLU is working in Wisconsin and across the country to educate citizens about their voting rights and help them overcome the unfair barriers recently passed in many states to suppress the right to vote.

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.

Update: First Amendment Rights Affirmed in Glendale, Bayshore Mall

29 May

Collecting petition signatures and picketing on public sidewalks are classic examples of freedoms protected by the First Amendment. But Bayshore mall security ordered people who were collecting signatures from voters to recall the Governor and Lt. Governor on the sidewalks in front of the mall to leave. In another example, someone protesting the business practices of one of the mall’s merchants was arrested for picketing on the sidewalk. During the recall petition season, there were discussions around the state about where people had the freedom to collect signatures, including in the Milwaukee suburbs.

After mall management claimed it could control First Amendment activities because it “owned” the sidewalks along Port Washington Road and Silver Spring Drive, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation and volunteer attorneys took action to advocate for the rights of petitioners and picketers.

“A sidewalk is a sidewalk,” said Jeffrey Perzan, who was ordered to move by Glendale police while he collected recall petition signatures on the sidewalk along Port Washington Road. “The First Amendment protects my right to persuade my neighbors and the public to take action in the public places where they already congregate.”  Another protester, Lincoln Rice, picketed against Trader Joe’s business practices on the sidewalk outside its store and was arrested and issued a trespassing citation.

In December, the ACLU of Wisconsin opposed the actions by mall management and city police because every court to consider similar questions has held that private businesses cannot insulate themselves from criticism by artificially designating public sidewalks as private property. Despite a letter from the ACLU, mall security and Glendale police ordered Mr. Perzan to move from an allegedly “private” sidewalk along Port Washington Road as recently as January 6, 2012.

With the help of attorney Jim Gramling, citations were dismissed and negotiations with Bayshore Town Center and the City of Glendale  resulted in an acknowledgement of citizens’ First Amendment rights to picket and petition on public sidewalks.

“This is a victory for the most basic form of free speech,” said Gramling.  “Sidewalks and parks are places where people traditionally have exchanged ideas and tried to persuade their neighbors to adopt their views. And unlike other forums for expression, like television or the radio, they can be used without charge, so anyone, rich or poor, can seek an audience there.”

The perimeter sidewalks where First Amendment activity is permitted include:  (1) the entire sidewalk on the north side of and parallel to Silver Spring Drive from Port Washington Road on the west to Lydell Avenue on the east;  (2) the entire sidewalk on the east side of and parallel to Port Washington Road from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north; and (3) the sidewalks on the west side of and parallel to Lydell Avenue from Silver Spring Drive on the south to Carrigan Drive on the north.

Although some portions of these sidewalks are owned by private entities and other portions are owned by the City, assembly and other expressive activity, as long as it is peaceful, and does not in any way disrupt access, or impede public health, welfare or safety, is lawful on all of these sidewalks, regardless of their ownership. The mall has not agreed to allow protest on the interior streets and sidewalks of Bayshore Town Center where the public gathers. Anyone attempting to protest in these interior spaces may be subject to arrest and/or citation or prosecution.

In addition to Attorney Gramling, Attorneys Holden Brooks and Michael Halfenger of Foley & Lardner in Milwaukee volunteered their time in this case.

This story was also covered on dane101.com and in the Proof and Heresay blog of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel with a lively comments section.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions About Voting Rights: June 5 Recall Elections

21 May

Photo ID is not required at polling places on the June 5, but the potential for confusion over new voting rules in Wisconsin could be a problem on the coming recall Election Day. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is distributing nonpartisan factsheets in response to voters’ questions.

Download the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s Voting Rights Factsheets on our website (PDF):

You Have the Right to Vote: Wisconsin

Conozca Sus Derechos de Voto: Wisconsin

Students: You Have the Right to Vote!

During the most recent election, attorneys staffing the Wisconsin Election Protection hotline answered questions about photo ID requirements, signing poll books, registration requirements, and changing polling places due to redistricting. On June 5, voters can call 1-866-OUR-VOTE to report problems, ask questions or get help to protect their right to vote.

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is distributing nonpartisan “Know Your Voting Rights: Wisconsin” guides to clarify some of Wisconsin’s new voting rules. As part of the national ACLU’s “Let Me Vote” campaign, the ACLU will be leading a Voter Empowerment Campaign in Wisconsin and across the country to educate citizens about their rights and help them overcome the unfair barriers states have created to suppress the right to vote.

The one-page document describes answers to the most commonly asked questions about how to vote in the June 5 recall election including early and absentee rules. More information about the special requirements for student voters can be found on the Government Accountability Board’s website. A full list of municipal clerks is also available online – go directly to clerks for your absentee ballots, individual questions about the status of your registration or if you have problems with voting early.

As noted above, photo ID is NOT required for the Recall Election. Two state courts have blocked the law requiring photo ID to vote based on lawsuits filed by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin and the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera; the state is appealing those decisions. The federal lawsuit that the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, the national ACLU and the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty filed in December, claiming that the photo ID law unconstitutionally burdens voting rights and discriminates against African-American and Latino voters, is also pending.  

Read more about the ACLU’s federal lawsuit against Voter ID online: http://www.aclu.org/voting-rights/frank-v-walker-fighting-voter-suppression-wisconsin

Your Right to Record Police: News on US DOJ Opinion in Baltimore Case

21 May

Anyone reading the news about the lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Maryland over the right to videotape police activity? People have the right under the First Amendment to photograph or videotape the activity of police in public places, including when they are placing people under arrest. After Christopher Sharp witnessed his friend being arrested, he used is cell phone to videotape what he thought was aggressive police behavior. Baltimore police then confiscated his camera and deleted all of his videos, including ones of his family.

Most recently in Wisconsin, activists at the State Capitol have received citations for recording arrests of other activists peacefully holding signs in the legislative galleries. State troopers and Capitol police should not point to rules barring photography as a justification for arresting people for documenting arrests.

The latest news is that the federal Department of Justice is standing up for your right to record. Here is more from Gabe Rottman of the national ACLU’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office (adapted from the ACLU’s Blog of Rights):

We haven’t pulled punches in our criticism of the Holder Justice Department, so it’s especially important that we give credit where credit is due. In support of an important case brought by the ACLU of Maryland defending the right to record, the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division forcefully and unequivocally endorsed our view in an unusual (but welcome!) 11-page letter to the Baltimore Police Department.

The letter provides extensive guidance in the context of a settlement conference in a suit against the BPD alleging that Baltimore police officers confiscated and deleted video from the plaintiff’s mobile phone after he used it to record officers arresting his friend. The DOJ had filed a “Statement of Interest” earlier in the case, urging the court to find a First Amendment right to record the police, and a violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments when the police seize, search, and destroy recordings without a warrant and due process. As the DOJ explained there:

The right to record police officers while performing duties in a public place, as well as the right to be protected from the warrantless seizure and destruction of those recordings, are not only required by the Constitution. They are consistent with our fundamental notions of liberty, promote the accountability of our governmental officers, and instill public confidence in the police officers who serve us daily.

The DOJ’s move is particularly welcome given what promises to be a spring and summer of protest around the country including last weekend’s NATO summit in Chicago and significant protests expected among other events, including the GOP and Democratic presidential nominating conventions in Tampa and Charlotte, respectively.

At all of these events, protesters, the press, and bystanders alike will be carrying sophisticated smartphones that permit high-quality video and audio recordings of police activities. Not only will this monitoring heighten trust in the authorities, it will discourage police abuse and provide a record of any such abuse (which protects both law enforcement and protesters alike). Additionally, and importantly for folks following H.R. 347, the right to record helps document any attempt by the Secret Service and other law enforcement agencies to discriminate against protesters because of the content of their protest (think opponents of the Afghanistan war or Tea Party members), or to sequester inconvenient protesters in “free speech zones” far away from the cameras.

This issue was also echoed in a recent New York Times editorial supporting our right to record.

In Wisconsin, if you have had your camera confiscated by police or if you have been the subject of harassment or intimidation by police over recording their public activity, contact the ACLU of Wisconsin’s legal department to file a complaint. Citations against protesters documenting arrests at the Capitol have been dropped, but rules drafted by the Department of Administration and by the state Senate and Assembly relating to public spaces in the Capitol remain a concern. The outcomes of the June 5 recall election may make a significant impact on how the Department of Administration will recognize free speech rights at the Capitol in the future. And a legislative solution is needed to have gallery rules evolve to include non-disruptive uses of cell phones including cameras, video and texting.
TAKE ACTION: Sign on to the ACLU’s letter to US Attorney General Eric Holder urging the US DOJ to protect our right to record, not just in Baltimore, but across the country. Sign on to the letter here: http://bit.ly/KyNDVQ. Please share this action widely.

Students CAN vote in Wisconsin this summer – How to be prepared

1 May

Students: Download a PDF of a student voting rights FAQ online.

Recall Election is Tuesday, June 5, 2012:  Photo ID is NOT required to vote in the recall election.

You can vote in Wisconsin in the June 5 recall election even if you’re going out of state or away for the summer, as long as you consider Wisconsin to be your “voting residence” and intend to return here.  Of course, students can only vote in ONE place!  (Registration info below.)

Your “voting residence” can be either your college address or your family’s home address.

  • If your family’s home address is your voting residence: You can register (even on Election Day) and vote in the recall election at the voting location for your family home as long as your family lives in Wisconsin and has lived in that home for more than 28 days.
  • If college is your voting residence and you are not moving (or you move before May 8): You can register (even on Election Day) and vote in the recall election at the voting location for the address you’ll be at on June 5.
  • If college is your voting residence and you are moving between May 9 and June 5: You can register and vote in the recall election at the polling location for your May 8 address. So the polling place that corresponds to the address/dorm you lived in until at least May 8 is where you vote on June 5.

If college is your voting residence and you are leaving for summer vacation:

  • Consider voting “early absentee” before you leave for summer vacation.  From May 21-June 1, you can register and vote “early absentee” in person at the clerk’s office for your college address (even if you are moving between May 9 and June 5).  Most clerks’ offices are only open during the week, but some will be open Memorial Day weekend – call your clerk for details (http://gab.wi.gov/clerks/directory).


  • Register before you leave for summer vacation at the clerk’s office for your college address and ask to have an absentee ballot mailed to you at your summer address.  (It must be postmarked by June 5 and the clerk must receive it by 4pm on June 8.)

To register to vote: 

  • You can register to vote anytime between now and the recall election on June 5.  You can even register at the polls on Election Day.
  • If you register at your clerk’s office or with a Special Registration Deputy before May 16, you don’t need proof of your address.
  • If you register after May 16 or on Election Day, bring a document with your name and voting address. This must be: a university photo ID along with a university fee receipt or list of dorm residents; a driver’s license; a state ID; a recent utility bill (electric, cell, phone, cable, etc.); a lease; a bank statement; a pay check; an employer ID card; or a government document or check.
  • If you have a Wisconsin driver’s license or state ID, bring it to put the license/ID number on the voter registration card. (If you don’t have a license/ID, use the last 4 digits of your social security number.)

Questions or problems? Call 866-OUR-VOTE on Election Day. Like Wisconsin Election Protection on Facebook or follow @EPWisco on Twitter to share your stories, questions and concerns!

Updated: 5/4/12

Arizona’s Anti-Immigrant Law: What’s at Stake When the Supreme Court Hears SB 1070

26 Apr

This week the infamous Arizona law that legalized racial profiling and criminalized individuals who do not carry proof of their citizenship status at all times reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The ACLU, along with a coalition of civil rights organizations, have challenged Arizona’s SB 1070 because it invites unequal treatment of individuals by law enforcement, conflicts with federal law and violates basic individual freedoms.

This info graphic helps to explain what is wrong with the Arizona law, where copycat laws were passed in other states and what’s at stake in the SCOTUS decision. Read on for the latest update from the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. Report from the Supreme Court: SB 1070:

On April 25,  the Supreme Court heard arguments in one of the big cases of the term, Arizona v. United States. Several justices, including Justice Stephen Breyer, expressed serious concerns about the law’s impact on civil liberties, as they recognized that it might lead to prolonged detention while an officer investigates a person’s  immigration status.

In response to those serious civil liberties concerns, Arizona was forced to retreat. Arizona was not defending S.B. 1070 as it was written by the state legislature, but rather an entirely different and fictional law that merely notifies the federal government that it has detained someone whose legal status it deems to be suspect.

But make no mistake: even that narrow reading of the law would result in a serious violation of the rights of citizens and lawfully present immigrants. As we heard in court today, there’s no easy way for a citizen who happens not to have their ID on them to avoid being detained for an hour or more on the side of the road while an officer demands that they prove their right to be here.

Tellingly, Arizona did not step up to defend what the state legislature actually did in S.B. 1070. The law, on its face, implements an Arizona state immigration enforcement policy of zero tolerance and maximum harshness. But the federal immigration law that Congress passed recognizes that immigration status is actually far more complicated under federal law. Under federal law, the executive branch can permit someone who is applying for asylum, or seeking other kinds of legal status, to stay in the U.S. while their status is decided. But under Arizona law, they are subject to detention and criminal prosecution, and they take that risk every time they leave their homes and venture out onto Arizona’s streets.

Chief Justice John Roberts asked today whether Arizona v. United States is a case about racial profiling. And although the federal government lawsuit is about the limits on state power, racial profiling is a central issue in the case, as chief law enforcement officials around the country have stated. It’s simply impossible to enforce laws like S.B. 1070 without relying on false and illegal stereotypes. And because that’s true, U.S. citizens and lawful immigrants are caught in the dragnet. Ultimately, it’s not only up to the Supreme Court to decide if S.B. 1070 will stand. The American people must decide whether we will tolerate a nation with such invidious laws.

This blog post was written by Cecillia Wang from the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and was originally posted on the ACLU’s Blog of Rights.