We’re Grateful for the Constitution

Saying thanks for recent wins from ACLU lawyers

Thanksgiving is here: that time of year when we pause to take stock of all we’re grateful for. At the ACLU, we’re saying thanks for all the crucial wins from our legal teams — and for the Constitution.

In just the last few months, we’ve racked up many essential victories in the ongoing battle to protect civil liberties and civil rights. The scope of these victories is breathtaking: they span criminal justice, privacy, religious freedom, reproductive rights, due process for immigrants, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, and the right to protest the Keystone pipeline, among others. We’ve won crucial victories over those who would, absent our resistance, sacrifice liberty and rights to some other ends. For all of these wins, we are deeply grateful.   

Immigrants’ Rights

Preserving due process for immigrants. We obtained a court order blocking President Trump’s vast expansion of “expedited removal,” a summary deportation process that denies immigrants core procedural protections and eliminates virtually all appeals. We also won a temporary injunction requiring the government to afford access to lawyers for immigrants facing forcible return to Mexico who fear persecution there. 

Reproductive
Freedom

Beating back state abortion bans. Our team won a preliminary injunction against Georgia’s law banning abortion, and another injunction against Alabama’s near-total ban on abortions. After seven states moved to introduce abortion bans earlier this year, we blocked five of the seven bans in court as unconstitutional, while our ally in this fight, the Center for Reproductive Rights, blocked the other two. In addition, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit upheld our injunction against an Ohio law prohibiting abortions based on the patient’s reason.

Protecting your
health care.
A
federal judge in New York blocked President
Trump’s so-called “conscience rule,” which would have allowed  doctors, nurses, and other health care
providers nationwide to place their own views over the needs of their patience
and refuse to provide health care to which they object on moral or religious
grounds. The court held that the rule was arbitrary and rested on demonstrably
false assertions by the administration.

Racial Justice

Tackling
racial profiling in Mississippi. 
In Brown v. Madison County, we reached
a groundbreaking
settlement

with the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to end racially-biased police
practices. In 2017, we sued the department
over its systemic targeting of black people for illegal — and often violent — searches
and seizures. According to the settlement, the sheriff’s department must train
deputies on proper practices and collect data on checkpoints and pedestrian
stops that will be verified by a Community Oversight Board and plaintiffs’ attorneys.
This is one of the first consent decrees in Mississippi to address racialized
policing.

Transgender
Justice

Challenging the refusal to amend birth certificates to
accurately report gender
. Ohio
is one of three states that refuse to update the gender marker on birth
certificates for people who have transitioned to live their true gender. A
federal district court ruling affirmed
our equal protection and free speech claims.

Voting
Rights

Fighting
the 21st century poll tax.
In Florida, a state court
blocked the requirement that returning citizens in Florida repay all fines,
restitution, and fees associated with their sentences before regaining their
voting rights. The court ruled that Florida must establish a process where people
who cannot afford to pay their legal financial obligations can still regain
their voting rights. This victory helps keep our Amendment 4 ballot referendum
victory in place. 

Safeguarding
voter access.
In Tennessee, a court
blocked restrictions on voter registration drives, including draconian fines
and criminal sanctions. In Missouri, we successfully challenged the
state’s failure to provide voter registration services to people who update
their driver’s license address online — an omission that denied approximately 20,000 people
annually a voter registration opportunity. And in Pennsylvania, our
lawsuit prompted the legislature to amend its absentee voter rules to ensure
the counting of any ballots received by 8 p.m. on election night

Purging
voter purges. 
In Indiana, the U.S.
Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit upheld a block on Indiana’s voter
purge statute, which required removing voters from voting rolls without any
notice based on the Interstate Crosscheck system, which originated in Kansas.
 

The
First Amendment …

Protecting the right to protest the Keystone XL pipeline. In Dakota
Rural Action v. Noem
, a federal district court blocked enforcement
of the unconstitutional provisions of several South Dakota laws, including the
recently-enacted Riot
Boosting Act
.
The provisions threaten activists who encourage or organize protests,
particularly protests of the Keystone XL pipeline, with fines, civil
liabilities, and/or criminal penalties of up to 25 years in prison.

Stopping religious
and anti-religious censorship.
In Pennsylvania,
we challenged the County of Lackawanna Transit System’s prohibition on all “religious”
advertisements on mass transit, which was applied to reject an ad that used the
word atheist. The Third Circuit held that the policy violated the First
Amendment because it censored both religious and anti-religious viewpoints, under
a scattershot censorship regime that offered unfettered discretion to government
officials to approve or disapprove speech.

Ensuring
the right to criticize government officials without going to jail.
In
New
Hampshire
, a federal judge ruled that a man twice arrested for criminal
libel for criticizing the police could challenge the constitutionality of New
Hampshire’s criminal libel law. 

Protecting the
right to tell jurors the truth about their rights.
In Colorado, we
successfully supported the rights of criminal justice advocates to hand out
pamphlets outside a courthouse advising jurors of their right to nullification
by refusing to convict criminal defendants. The Colorado Supreme Court agreed
with us that under the First Amendment, the advocates could not be prosecuted
under a jury tampering statute.

Ensuring free
expression of religion.
We represented Airman 1st Class Sunjit Singh Rathour and obtained a
religious accommodation
from the Air Force to wear his turban, beard, and unshorn hair in
compliance with his Sikh religious beliefs. Rathour became the first Airman to
complete both basic training and advanced technical training while wearing his
Sikh articles of faith.

And the Fourth

Reminding police
to get that warrant.
The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously
held

that police must obtain a warrant in order to download data stored in a car’s
computer systems during an investigation after a car crash, and suppressed
digital evidence obtained through a warrantless search. This is the first state
supreme court to recognize the danger of warrantless access to the
unprecedented types and quantities of digital data collected by modern cars.

Protecting your
laptop at the border.
A federal district court ruled that
all electronic device searches at the border must be done pursuant to
reasonable suspicion of contraband on the device. This is the first time any
court has ever held that all border device searches must be based on reasonable
suspicion. The government had argued that it was free to search anyone’s laptop
for any reason, without having any basis for suspicion.    

Criminal
Justice Reform

Justice for the
indigent.
In
a case challenging the constitutionality of a forfeiture as “excessive” under
the Eighth Amendment, the Indiana Supreme Court adopted the
view we advocated
in our amicus brief: that in assessing whether a fine is
excessive, the courts must take into account the economic circumstances of the
individual. As the court wrote, “To hold the opposite would generate a
new fiction: that taking away the same piece of property from a billionaire and
from someone who owns nothing else punishes each person equally.”

Enforcing the
right to counsel.
We settled a class-action
lawsuit against two
municipalities for denying lawyers to criminal defendants who can’t afford
private attorneys. Under the settlement, both municipalities will contract
with a public defender to provide meaningful representation and provide notice of
the right to counsel to every person charged with an offense that carries the
possibility of jail.

Fighting unfair
pre-trial conditions.
In Arizona, we successfully challenged pre-trial
conditions

that included setting unaffordable bond without due process and making
defendants pay to monitor themselves via GPS. The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled
that people cannot be forced to pay for the cost of their own pretrial
conditions.

Reining in bounty hunters. In Mitchell v. First Call Bail and Surety, Inc., the ACLU, the ACLU of Montana, and Terrell Marshall Law sued bounty hunters, a bail bonding company, and insurers for a violent break in and attack on a Montana family. This is the first time that a court has extended the possibility of liability for bounty hunting abuses all the way up to the bail insurance companies in a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations scheme.

Protecting Prisoners’ Rights

In Oklahoma, we got the Oklahoma Department of Corrections to move death row prisoners from the windowless underground bunker where they were confined to a unit that provides greater access to natural light, fresh air, and outdoor exercise. In Pennsylvania, we achieved a class action settlement that will end the automatic and permanent solitary confinement of prisoners on death row in that state. And in Arizona, a federal court rejected prison officials’ effort to terminate a consent decree requiring the provision of out-of-cell time to maximum security prisoners. 

This
is truly remarkable work by a truly remarkable group of advocates across this
country, state affiliates, national attorneys and paralegals, and more. We are
grateful for all the work these victories reflect, and for the courageous
judges who have ruled in favor of the disadvantaged, dispossessed, and
marginalized, and in favor of the Constitution. Together, we’re ensuring
that the Bill of Rights remains a reality for all.


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