Archive | March, 2012

Wisconsin Civil Libertarians Honored at ACLU’s 2012 Bill of Rights Celebration

23 Mar Solidarity Sing Along

On Saturday, March 17ththe American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation celebrated a year of civil liberties defense and leadership at the annual Bill of Rights Celebration event. We recognized some of the volunteers and activists who were leaders among civil libertarians in our state. And we welcomed speaker Laughlin McDonald, director of the ACLU’s National Voting Rights Project who put Wisconsin’s new voter ID law in a historical context of voter suppression.

ACLU's National Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald

ACLU's National Voting Rights Project Director Laughlin McDonald

McDonald has been the director of the Atlanta-based Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union since 1972 and has been an attorney and law professor. ACLU supporters in the audience may have known the history of poll taxes, literacy tests and other voter suppression efforts that have come and gone in America. But upon hearing McDonald’s review of why the Voting Rights Act was so important to fight discriminatory practices like requiring black voters to have a white voter vouch for them at the polls, we were all reminded that making it harder to vote for anyone is an offense to our democracy. McDonald’s experience has made him a deeply well-respected leader in the work to protect voting rights and his wisdom was shared at a critical time in Wisconsin as our new voter ID law has recently been stopped by a state judge and the ACLU of Wisconsin’s federal lawsuit continues.

Each year we recognize some of the civil libertarians in Wisconsin who made a difference.

ACLU of Wisconsin Youth Legal Observers

ACLU of Wisconsin Youth Legal Observers

The Jack and Lucy Rosenberg Youth Civil Libertarian of the Year was given to some of our Young Legal Observers for their immediate and energetic response to the need to document the rights of protesters in Madison and Milwaukee, particularly during the large-scale protests at our Capitol in 2011. These young people have been trained to be witnesses at demonstrations and to document any violations of First Amendment rights that may occur in our public spaces. Accepting the award, Josh Del Colle spoke about how the ACLU of Wisconsin has been instrumental in teaching young people about their rights.

Solidarity Sing Along

Members of the Solidarity Sing Along

The William Gorham Rice Civil Libertarian of the Year was given to the Solidarity Sing Along, for expression of the First Amendment rights of free speech and freedom of assembly. The Solidarity Sing Along is an event that has occurred at the state Capitol every weekday since March 11, 2011 soon after the building was ordered to be reopened after massive demonstrations. For the past year, participants of the Solidarity Sing Along have demonstrated a clear commitment to protecting peaceful expression in the Capitol rotunda. Singing a rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” the audience stood and sang with the Solidarity Sing Along participants who traveled from Madison to be a part of the celebration. Song leader Chris Reeder gave an inspired acceptance speech in which he said our civil liberties are only protected when we use them and after this year, he would never take those basic rights for granted again.

Rose Daitsman

Rose Daitsman

Finally the Eunice Z. Edgar Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Rose Daitsman for her life-long dedication to economic and gender equality and social reform. Upon accepting the award, Rose have a nod to her involvement with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom by quoting Jane Addams and talking eloquently about how the work to protect individual rights must be done by each generation. Rose Daitsman has been a member of the ACLU of Wisconsin since 1989 and is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Milwaukee ACLU Chapter. She worked to promote gender equity and the elimination of racial discrimination in engineering education, and has worked to promote the implementation of Civil Rights Law and the Human Rights Treaties of the United Nations.

A special thank you to our major sponsors:

The Islamic Society of Milwaukee

Hawks Quindel S.C.

Marcus Hotels & Resorts

Friends of Jane Addams: Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Bill Lynch & Barbara Manger

Athan & Nancy Theoharis

Azeeza Islam and Musical Infinity

Thanks to silent auction donors

Thanks to silent auction donors

Also big thanks to all of our silent auction donors including Alterra Coffee, American Civil Liberties Union, American Players Theatre, Art Night Books, Athan Theoharis, Brennan’s, Chippewa Valley authors, City Tin, photographer Phil Ejercito, Harley-Davidson, artist Helen Klebesadel, Lela Boutique, Lynden Sculpture Garden, Laughlin McDonald, the Milwaukee Admirals, Milwaukee Art Museum’s Outsider Art, the Milwaukee Brewers, Pfister Hotel, Karl Ratzsch’s German Restaurant, Skylight Music Theatre, Solidarity Sing Along, Smac Design

Aside

ACLU of WI Applauds Voter ID Circuit Court Injunction

6 Mar

Here is our statement in response to today’s news about the Circuit Court injunction against Wisconsin’s Voter ID law:

The ACLU of Wisconsin is pleased that Judge Flanagan has recognized that the burdens the photo-ID law imposes on thousands of voters likely violates the Wisconsin Constitution, as the NAACP and Voces de la Frontera have shown. 

The ACLU will continue with its separate case on behalf of numerous Wisconsin voters who will be harmed by the photo ID law.  The ACLU lawsuit claims that the photo-ID law violates the United States Constitution and the federal Voting Rights Act.

Our organization is scheduled to have a conference meeting with a judge regarding the status of our lawsuit tomorrow. For breaking news about the ACLU’s federal voter ID lawsuit, please follow us on Twitter @ACLUofWisconsin.

ACLU of WI Urges Legislators to Reject Flawed Disability Voucher Plan

5 Mar

Today the ACLU of Wisconsin urged legislators to reject a plan that could unintentionally worsen the quality of education for students with disabilities in Wisconsin. While AB 110 would provide vouchers for students with disabilities to attend religious or private schools in Wisconsin, the bill wouldn’t ensure that voucher-subsidized schools would provide adequate services. Without holding these schools to improved and consistent standards, this tax subsidy to religious and private schools would take away scarce resources from public schools.

“The ACLU of Wisconsin continues our objection to subsidizing religious and other private schools with taxpayer dollars while they refuse to be held to the same non-discrimination and accountability standards as the public school system,” said Executive Director Chris Ahmuty. “Our flawed school funding formula already makes our neighborhood schools do more with less. This bill would make the problem worse by taking already limited funds away from the public school system and handing over funds to religious and private schools without assuring parents that those schools will adequately serve their children.”

The ACLU of Wisconsin has had a long-held position against the school voucher or Milwaukee Parental Choice program because it is a failed scheme that is a misuse of tax dollars and doesn’t advance Wisconsin toward ensuring equal and adequate education for all students. In fact, the ACLU of Wisconsin partnered with Disability Rights Wisconsin last year to file a federal disability discrimination claim against the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program because of systemic discrimination against students with disabilities who weren’t adequately supported or who were outright rejected by voucher-dependent schools.

Other flaws in this bill include weak or non-existent requirements for these schools to regularly review a student’s Individualized Education Plan or even provide certified teachers or services. Religious and Private schools make their own assessments about what defines special education and parents have fewer rights and remedies if their child does not receive adequate services. The per-pupil amount of the voucher is capped, but the tuition of the school that receives the voucher is not. This will lend to more systemic discrimination when parents who have the most resources use tax vouchers, while low-income families with children who have more expensive accommodation needs must choose between giving up services or staying at their neighborhood school.

All students have an equal right to schools that adequately serve their educational needs. However, this bill is structured in a way that will weaken the adequacy of public schools while at the same time giving a greater share of monetary support to religious and private schools that do not have the same standards of accountability. Expanding the voucher scheme either through this flawed disability scholarship plan or to allow for vouchers in school districts beyond Milwaukee or Racine would not provide meaningful or effective education reform in Wisconsin.

Read the ACLU of Wisconsin’s letter to the state Assembly online: 20120305 AB 110 opposition letter to Assembly

ACLU’s Federal Lawsuit Against Voter ID: Today’s Filing Asks for Injunction, Voting Rights Act Claim

2 Mar

Today the ACLU took another important step in the federal lawsuit against Wisconsin’s voter ID law. Attorneys working on the case amended the lawsuit to include charges that the law illegally blocks minorities and veterans from accessing the ballot box.  The amended complaint also seeks an injunction so that plaintiffs who face significant barriers to obtaining one of the limited forms of ID required by law can vote in the upcoming April 3 election.

The suit, which was filed in U.S. District Court with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, and Dechert LLP, also seeks an injunction so that many of the named plaintiffs can vote on April 3, when Wisconsin will hold its presidential primary and local elections.

The filing today supplements a federal challenge against one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation and on behalf of a broad spectrum of plaintiffs, including white, black, and Latino voters, homeless and low-income citizens, veterans, and students. 

“We can now demonstrate what we have always suspected—that strict photo ID laws have a more severe negative impact on black and Latino voters,” said Jon Sherman, an attorney with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. “The Voting Rights Act was created to combat exactly this type of barrier, and we intend to see it enforced in Wisconsin.”

You can also hear the ACLU of Wisconsin’s Communications Director Stacy Harbaugh on WORT-FM 89.9’s In Our Backyard describe why this step to amend the lawsuit was important:

The original suit, filed in December, said that Wisconsin’s practice of only allowing certain types of photo identification imposes severe and unjustifiable burdens and imposes a poll tax on voters.

The amended complaint charges the voter ID law:

  • Violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which bans the use of voting practices that have a disparate negative impact on racial and language minorities. Research commissioned by the ACLU indicates the law has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino voters, who are more likely to lack photo ID accepted for voting in Wisconsin.
  • Arbitrarily prevents veterans who only have a Veterans Administration ID card from voting. Wisconsin deems such identification unacceptable.
  • Violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment because Wisconsin’s photo ID law results in the arbitrary treatment of voters trying to get a state ID card.

Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, emphasized the importance of obtaining relief for named plaintiffs. “It is unconscionable that Wisconsin would prevent veterans who possess a valid federal ID from voting,” he said. “This is no way to thank them for their service to our country.” 

One of those veterans is Sam Bulmer, 63, who served in the Air Force for 13 years and is currently homeless. Bulmer lacks a driver’s license and cannot obtain a state ID card due to the stringent requirements for a birth certificate in his home state of Kansas.   

“Mr. Bulmer’s experience is startling, but it’s not unique,” said Heather Johnson, civil rights attorney at the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty.  “Veterans experience homelessness at an alarming rate, and many will be excluded from the democratic process if this law goes forward.  We need to send a clear message to Wisconsin and every other state considering similar legislation: we won’t let you silence the voices of homeless veterans.”

Also among those suing are two Black Milwaukee residents: Eddie Lee Holloway, Jr., who used to regularly serve as a poll worker, but whose incorrect birth certificate will prevent him from getting a state ID and voting; and Shirley Brown, who was born in Louisiana at home by midwife and as a result, has no record of her birth.

“All citizens should be free to vote,” said Neil Steiner, an attorney with Dechert LLP. “Disenfranchising eligible voters is not a valid rationale for a law.”

The defendants include Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; Wisconsin Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb, who oversees the Department of Motor Vehicles and members of the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which oversees election laws.

Attorneys on the case include Sherman, Laughlin McDonald, and Nancy Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, Dupuis and Karyn Rotker of the ACLU of Wisconsin, Johnson and Karen Cunningham of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty and Neil Steiner, Craig Falls, and Diane Princ of Dechert LLP.

To read the complaint in Frank v. Walker, go to: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/frank-v-walker-amended-complaint

This announcement has also been shared on the national American Civil Liberties Union website: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/aclu-adds-charges-suit-challenging-wisconsin-voter-id-law

For more information about voter suppression, go to: www.aclu.org/voter-suppression-america.

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