Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Will the economic crisis impact liberty in 2009?

Will the economic crisis put the restoration of civil liberties on hold, just when their future looked brighter at the end of the Bush-Cheney administration?

There is a tremendous about of work to do to restore and advance civil liberties at the national and local levels. Convincing President-elect Obama and congressional leaders to move ahead on a civil liberties agenda, while they are justifiably focusing on the economy, will be challenging. State House politicians, too, may be reluctant to tackle Wisconsin’s civil liberties issues, such as providing our children a constitutionally-mandated adequate education, because of a looming deficit.

It would be a mistake to put off restoring our freedoms for many reasons. First, free speech, religious liberty, equal protection under the law, and other cherished rights are what make us a stronger nation. For instance, a free market place for ideas expands our options. Second, civil liberties are costly to neglect, but they are a pittance compared to the bail outs Congress and the Treasury are making to Wall Street. Barack Obama with the stroke of a pen could end the farcical military commission trials at Guantanamo. Governor Doyle could easily afford to lift the prohibition against providing health insurance coverage to the domestic partners of state and university employees.

During times of economic crisis, just like during wars, we are called upon to unite behind our leaders. Dissent is viewed as unpatriotic. However, we know from our history and experience that we can’t trust many of our leaders without accountability and transparency.

Let’s agree on doing things right, including protecting our individual rights, as we move forward together. There is still time to support the ACLU with a year-end gift: visit the Join/Renew/Give page and have your donation matched dollar-for-dollar until the end of the year.

- Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director

Monday, December 29, 2008

Merry Chrismahanakqanzica and Happy New Year

While we are in the midst of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan holidays, many will celebrate in their own ways as dictated by religious or family tradition in many cases. All Americans can celebrate as well, if they believe that the ability of individuals and families to celebrate or not celebrate as they chose is important. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects religious liberty for all. To protect all of us, it must protect each of us.

The majority religion or denomination in a community rarely needs the protection of government to exercise their right to celebrate at home, their place of worship, or in any public forum during the holiday. The First Amendment wouldn’t mean much if it only protected majorities. The First Amendment is worth celebrating any time of year, because it protects minorities, including those who appear outlandish or even blasphemous.

Some times religious leaders want the government to endorse particular beliefs by means of displays like crèches or sectarian music. One wonders if these religious leaders need government to sanctify their celebrations or they just want to demonstrate to one and all that they are accepted on government property. I suspect the latter, but neither motivation meets the spirit of the First Amendment.

The holidays are an emotional time for many. The framers of the First Amendment in effect tried to keep the government from making the season divisive instead of harmonious.

- Chris Ahmuty, ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director

Thursday, December 18, 2008

New fed rules attack birth control, disrupt balance of provider/patient rights

Well, our worst fears came true. The Bush administration today released the long-awaited health care denial rule. You know, the one that more than 200,000 women’s health supporters sent letters to the administration about asking it to stop the attack on reproductive health care?

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised after nearly eight years of an administration that has relentlessly and purposefully interfered with access to basic reproductive health care services, including access to abortion, birth control, and quality sexuality education. But one would have thought that the public outcry against the proposed rule would have made them at least soften the blow. It didn’t.

We feared that the rule would threaten access to birth control. It does. We feared that the rule would put the objections of individuals and institutions over the health care needs of patients. It does.

For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The Bush rule flies in the face of this balance and takes patients’ health needs out of the equation. The rule expressly permits health care workers to refuse to provide complete and accurate information and counseling to women who seek services. At the same time, it fails to require refusing providers to either notify their employers or their patients of their objections to providing care. The result: women will have no idea if someone they rely on to put their health needs first is giving them all the information they need to make thoughtful decisions about their own care.

The silver lining in all of this is that the clock is ticking and come January we will have a new president and a new Congress. It’s time to cash in on campaign promises and ask the new folks in town to restore the balance and ensure that women can get the reproductive health care they need.

- Louise Melling & Vania Leveille, from the national ACLU Blog of Rights

Also, check out this NPR report on the midnight HHS regs - it describes the motion of disapproval and Congressional Review Act needed to roll back the discriminatory new rules.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Human rights: when will dignity begin at home?

Where are Human Rights today? That was the question the public wanted to be answered last Wednesday, December 10, at the Humanities Building on the UW-Madison Campus.

Wednesday commemorated the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, came together to provide Madisonians with a panel discussion that featured local experts and activists.

I attended the event as a first-time ACLU volunteer and was very eager to learn about advancements in the struggle for human rights. My main duty was to be sure that everyone who trudged through the snow to attend received a pamphlet that detailed all thirty articles of the UDHR.

The crowd gathered to hear a welcome speech from the Chair of the Governor’s Commission on the United Nations, Wolfgang A. Schmidt. He was followed by Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton, who delivered a Declaration from the Governor. She broached the subject of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), an international bill of rights focused on women. Unfortunately the United States is one of the few countries that has yet to ratify this bill.

We were then treated to a talk by Marquette University professor Barrett McCormick that outlined “Human Rights and Their Development.” He was followed by Reserve Judge Moira Krueger who spoke on the “Hague Courts and Today’s Implementation of Human Rights.”

ACLU of Wisconsin’s Executive Director Chris Ahmuty took to the podium to discuss the ACLU’s involvement in and commitment to human rights and told of several issues they are currently focusing on. Amnesty International’s Angie Hougas rounded out the panel for the Q&A session.

The event came to a close, and I, along with fellow volunteer Dee, collected video-taped statements from the attendees in support of passing CEDAW. The ACLU plans to get many statements edited together to send to our elected officials so they can comprehend how important this issue is to both men and women.

For more information on the UDHR, please visit

For more information on the ACLU of Wisconsin’s CEDAW video project, contact the Youth and Programs Director, Emilo De Torre.

- submitted by Sara Johnson, volunteer for the Madison Area Office for the ACLU of Wisconsin
- photos taken by Tim Michaels

Friday, December 12, 2008


The footage might be shaky, but the experience is equally raw. See ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero as he films himself in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Anthony was at Gitmo for the military commission hearings of five detainees charged with 9/11-related crimes. The video has footage of “Camp Justice,” the multi-million dollar tent city built to house military commission observers, and the local grocery store.

“Please note that by playing this clip You Tube will place a long-term cookie on your computer. Please see You Tube’s privacy statement on their website to learn more. To view the ACLU’s privacy statement, click here.”

The ACLU is representing some of the defendants as part of its John Adams Project. Anthony reflects on what he observed at the hearings, and talks about where the commissions are headed. Stay tuned for more updates from the front line.

Monday, November 10, 2008

ACLU of Wisconsin sues over police censorship of gay-themed play

Free Speech
The ACLU of Wisconsin today filed a lawsuit in federal court in Milwaukee charging that the Milwaukee Police Department violated the First Amendment by shutting down “Naked Boys Singing,” a musical play with gay themes that has been produced around the country.

The case seeks damages to compensate the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, which staged the production in Milwaukee, for losses it suffered when the police shut down the play in 2005. City officials told the Center it needed a theater license and police officers threatened that people would be ticketed or arrested if the production went on. The ACLU charges that the theater licensing ordinance is unconstitutional, because it allows authorities to suppress free speech by withholding a license indefinitely, and that the police were illegally acting to suppress the play because they disapproved of its content.

Paul Masterson, the Executive Director of the Milwaukee Gay Arts Center, said the group was suing to vindicate the rights of gay and lesbian artists to present theatrical works that express and celebrate gay identity.

“Naked Boys Singing is mostly a light-hearted look at a part of the gay experience in America,” Masterson said. “It may not be for everyone, but good theater sometimes challenges convention. And all kinds of audiences have enjoyed the humor and the poignancy of the songs and the situations in the play.”

ACLU cooperating counsel Steve Porter and Jeff Scott Olson of Madison, Wisconsin filed the lawsuit on behalf of MGAC. Porter said the case shows why licensing of plays and other art is dangerous.

“When a theater director or other performer has to get a license before expressing herself," said Porter, "it’s too easy for the authorities to just delay giving the permit to performances they don’t like. In this case, the cast and crew were gearing up for a show when the police first brought up the need for a license, even though MGAC – and other nonprofit theaters – had done other shows without licenses for years. The only difference is those shows didn’t have such provocative titles, so you have to suspect that disapproval of the content is what made the police act in this case.”

Friday, November 7, 2008

More on issue ads, Election Day went well for Election Protection, post-election priorities

Free Speech
As a follow up to the position the ACLU of Wisconsin took on the governmental intervention on recent issue ads. We also got some coverage in Greater Milwaukee Today. We even shocked, shocked (!) the Executive Director of the Republican Party of Wisconsin that we took a stand against censorship.

Voting Rights
US Representative Tammy Baldwin was quoted in an Election Day Cap Times opinion piece about her thoughts about restoring the rule of law which are pretty much in lockstep with the ACLU’s post-election priorities. Now if we can get the rest of Congress to see the light.

Voting problems were minimal in Madison on Election Day. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation worked with local and statewide non-partisan civic engagement groups to organize an Election Protection effort. Our poll watchers were typically outnumbered at least five-to-one by Obama campaign voter protection lawyers and volunteers. Poll workers tended to be annoyed at the overwhelming presence of observers, but everyone involved seemed to be grateful that business at the polls went pretty smoothly.

Here’s a summary of the Election Protection effort in other states.

Rule of Law
So we have a new President-elect. Now what? Here is a Milwaukee Shepherd Express “open letter to President-elect Obama” with quotes from some ACLU friends. had this interview with Philippe Sands, author of "Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values." In it, Sands describes what President-elect Obama should do to roll back the damage of the Bush administration and says, “taken as a whole, the last eight years have been catastrophic for perceptions of the U.S. around the world and its capacity to fulfill its historic engagement with the rule of law.”

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Moving Freedom Forward - next steps

The Election is over. Now What?

Barack Obama’s victory gives all of us who care about liberty a real opportunity to restore the Constitution and move freedom forward. Now it’s up to us. And, the ACLU is ready to get to work.

For months, ACLU attorneys, policy experts and legislative advocates -- the very same people who have fought tooth and nail to defend freedom over the last eight years -- have been developing "Actions for Restoring America." It’s our blueprint for freedom, spelling out the specific actions that our new President must take to launch a restoration of American values and to convey a clear rejection of the shameful policies of the Bush era.

This document is already in the hands of members of the Obama transition team. And we want to get it in your hands, too, because we’ll be calling on you to help us get it done.

Download your personal copy of the ACLU’s Actions for Restoring America blueprint.

I hope you will take the time to read our blueprint for moving freedom forward. It details the steps we’ll be calling on Barack Obama to take as he begins his historic presidency including vitally important actions he can take on his first day in office with the stroke of a pen.

But the ACLU’s Actions for Restoring America isn’t just a plan of action for Barack Obama. It’s a call to action for you and every other member of the ACLU community. And we’ve broken it up into three areas:

First Day: Actions the President can take with the stroke of a pen on the first day in office.

First 100 Days: Actions the President and his administration can take in the first 100 days in office.

First Year: Actions the President and Congress can take in the first year.

You have helped stand up for the Constitution and the rule of law through periods of enormous challenge. Now, as we enter a more hopeful period in the life of our nation, we need you to demonstrate that same commitment to moving freedom forward and restoring America’s reputation.

As our blueprint makes clear: decisive action by our new leaders is not just a question of opportunity. It’s a matter of necessity. And the feistiness, passion and commitment of ACLU supporters like you will be more critical to the future of freedom than ever.

I know I speak for all of my ACLU colleagues in telling you that we’re excited to be entering this new era, eager to seize every opportunity for progress, and honored to be working by your side at such a pivotal period for freedom, justice and equality.

Anthony D. Romero
ACLU Executive Director
© ACLU, 125 Broad Street, 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004

Monday, November 3, 2008

Government-ordered political ad removal should be impermissable, long lines for early voting, nothing freaky about rights at "Freakfest"

Free Speech
The ACLU of Wisconsin today objected to the weekend decision of a County Circuit Court Judge who ordered the Coalition for America’s Families to take radio advertisements critical of Assembly candidate Mark Radcliffe off the air. Those advertisements asserted that Mr. Radcliffe supported the “Healthy Wisconsin” universal health insurance proposal. Radcliffe denies that he “supported” the proposal.

“The judge’s action amounts to an impermissible prior restraint on political speech,” said Christopher Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Especially during an election period, it is essential that debate on policy issues is wide-open and robust, so voters can make an informed vote. Political speech, even controversial political speech, stands ‘on the highest rung of the First Amendment hierarchy,’ according to the Supreme Court. Judges should not be in the business of deciding which political speech is acceptable for public consumption and which is not. If Mr. Radcliffe believes he has been falsely accused, he has as much right as the Coalition to take to the airwaves to set the record straight. And he can sue for damages and let a jury decide if he has proven that the Coalition’s advertisement was false and made with reckless disregard for the truth. But he is not entitled to have a Judge decide that the Coalition can’t even join the debate.”

The ACLU praised the Court of Appeals’ reversal of the County Circuit Court Judge’s temporary restraining order.

Voting Rights
The former Wisconsin State Attorney General, Peg Lautenschlager, comments on the difference between Election-season actions by the AG’s office during her tenure and the present one. The article includes descriptions of the diversity of observers including the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation’s volunteers who will be out monitoring the polls on Election Day.

Van Hollen says he won’t appeal the Dane County District Court’s decision on the HAVA check issue until after Election Day. The court case is costing the taxpayers over $43,000 in attorney compensation, court fees and countless more in diverted time for the DOJ staff.

The Capitol Times reprints the Government Accountability Board’s 10 Things To Know On Election Day list which covers voter preparedness and behavior at the polls.

Many people in Madison voted on the Sunday before Election Day – the first time the Clerk’s office was open to accommodate the early voters. Some still waited for two hours to cast their ballot. This afternoon, the line at the Madison Municipal building was still long (from the Clerk's office to the front door and then down to the back elevators), but people were happy to say that it was moving along faster than they thought it would.

Student Activism
Arrest numbers were down and attendance was up at Madison’s State Street Freakfest over the Halloween weekend. UW ACLU Student Alliance members handed out around 750 “bust cards” to educate revelers on their rights when interacting with police.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Voter challenge fiction - video

The latest installment of the ACLU of Wisconsin youth-created voting rights PSA on You Tube!

Check out this parody of "Pulp Fiction" on voter challenges. It has lots of facts at the end about student rights in voting and how to resist your eligibility being challenged at the polls. Pass the link along to friends!

"ACLU of Wisconsin Student Voter Rights and Voter Challenge Fiction"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Governor criticizes move to send cops to polls

Voting Rights
In an update on the decision by the WI Attorney General to dispatch law enforcement and DOJ agents to the polls on Election Day, the Governor is criticizing the move citing lack of authority. According to a Journal Sentinel article, there will be fifty Department of Justice agents and lawyers assigned to election-day duty in twelve regions: Milwaukee, Madison, Waukesha, Racine/Kenosha, Beloit/Janesville, Wausau/Stevens Point, Hudson, La Crosse, Appleton/Fox Valley, Eau Claire, Green Bay and Superior.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DOJ agents to monitor polls for fraud, abortion about more than privacy

Voting Rights
State Attorney General Van Hollen plans to send Wisconsin Department of Justice agents out to fight election fraud. But will they also be cracking down on voter intimidation and misinformation?

Here is an interesting opinion piece from the Milwaukee Magazine about how the AG’s lawsuit against the Government Accountability Board is impacted by partisanship and, if successful, could ultimately gut the power of the board and the non-partisan judges that compose it.

Reproductive Rights
Here is a piece that echoes this week’s post about the fight over the South Dakota abortion ban referendum. This excellent blog that says that with the Supreme Court and future battles over abortion rights in our future, abortion is a fundamental right for women – because of more than privacy but because of equal protection both from discrimination as women but also having the government patronize us by “knowing what’s the right choice” for us to make.

Monday, October 27, 2008

ACLU of Wisconsin activists join the fight against South Dakota abortion ban

On a sunny October weekend, three ACLU volunteers drove from Madison, WI to join up with activists from across the country to work to encourage voters to say “no” to an abortion ban referendum in the state of South Dakota.

These committed volunteers knocked on 4,326 doors, called 5, 891 homes, made 2,652 contacts and identified 659 new supporters through their efforts. But the fight to stop the abortion ban isn’t over. If passed, the referendum would surely face legal challenges (including from the ACLU) and could be the next court case to end up in front of the Supreme Court of the United States. Now more then ever grassroots activism, legal challenges and future nominations to the Supreme Court are of central importance to this election.

One of the Madison volunteers, a student named Jeanette, had never been a part of a campaign action weekend. But she felt that it would be an opportunity to show her commitment to her strong belief in a woman’s right to her own medical choices.

"The volunteers there were amazing," said Jeanette, "and everyone was very dedicated, which was awesome to see. Even though phone calls began to get more and more difficult to bear, I knew that at the would pay off. The last day when we had the opportunity to have a visibility action in a very busy area of town, I knew there would be heads turning and fingers flying. I was ready for it all! I received many power fists and thumbs up from both women and men. I know that I will stay tuned in to find out about the end results for South Dakota and its families on November 4th."

Another Madison volunteer named Nancy had had a lot of experience working in the pro-choice movement and looked forward to making a measurable impact on women’s rights that weekend. She said that she was compelled to take action because she missed the opportunity to fight the narrowly defeated anti-abortion measure that was introduced in the same state two years ago.

"The first time I saw the abortion ban pop up in South Dakota, I thought it was a joke,” said Nancy. “I couldn’t imagine that the majority of a state would be so extreme as to enact a law banning abortion. But it is no joke. When I realized how close they are this year to passing the ban, I had to roadtrip down to Sioux Falls to help out. I’m so glad I did."

Nancy said that the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families (SDCHF) is an awesome, hard-working and passionate group of activists who are doing all they can to protect women’s right to medical privacy.

"But the ones who moved me the most during my weekend volunteering in Sioux Falls were the South Dakotans who answered their doors and quietly responded, 'yes, I believe it should be a woman’s choice. Yes, I’m voting against the ban. But no, I can’t take a yard sign… not in this neighborhood… I’m scared of what my neighbors would do.' Even if they were too scared to volunteer, too scared to show their opposition to this sweeping ban, I met a quiet but slim majority of people who affirmed to me how important the human connections are when we do this volunteer work. Not only did I get to help make a difference in educating voters about the dangers of this ban in their state, but I also could see gratitude and the relief of being reminded that they weren’t alone in the eyes of those who knew the ban went too far."

The ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project organized just a part of the effort, but more work can still be done to fight the ban with potentially far-reaching effects.

What more can we do to help? SDCHF has the technology to host remote phone banking. You can gather a group of friends to help get out the vote (GOTV) in November. In a state as spread out and rural as South Dakota, phone banking is one of the most important ways to get voters to polls. All each person needs is a computer with internet access and a cell phone. It’s that easy to make a difference in the protection of abortion access for all women across this country. For more information on how to help or to host a phone bank party, contact Stacy in the Madison office and she can get you the details or visit the SDCHF website to view the TV ads.

"There is truly strength in numbers," said Nancy, "and we had some awesome numbers and strength in Sioux Falls during ACLU’s volunteer weekend to fight the ban."

Check out today’s NPR story for more on what is at stake in South Dakota.

Read more from the ACLU project's director on the ACLU blog.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

WI AG voter roll purge lawsuit thrown out!

Get the scoop on the news later today...

WisPolitics: Judge dismisses Van Hollen's suit against GAB

By Greg Bump

Dane County Judge Maryann Sumi this morning dismissed a suit the attorney general filed to force broader voter registration checks.

Sumi said the Government Accountability Board's decision to require HAVA checks on new voter registrants beginning Aug. 6, instead of Jan. 1, 2006, as J.B. Van Hollen requested, was not a violation of either state or federal law. She said nothing in state or federal statutes requires a "data-match" as a condition to vote.

Sumi said a voter has the legal right to cast a ballot, and "it doesn't matter if the DOT misspelled his name or her middle initial is missing on a list."

See more in today's PM Update.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Debut!!! ACLU of Wisconsin Voting Rights PSAs

Hot off the You Tube press!

Check out these voting rights videos designed and produced by ACLU youth activists in Milwaukee. The film shorts feature students from the ACLU Student Alliance at UW Milwaukee and were shot by Sal Gomez, a producer/director whose work has been featured on Milwaukee Public Television.

To share these humorous parodies on the importance of registering to vote, follow the You Tube links and send them to friends!

ACLU of Wisconsin “Strong Elections” – Voter Registration

ACLU of Wisconsin “Timeless Classics” – Voter Rights

ACLU of Wisconsin "The Voting Zone" - in-person voting

The ACLU of Wisconsin jumps into the voter registration lawsuit debate

This week, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and the Voting Rights Project of the national ACLU signed a "friend of the court" brief (it’s a good read, I promise) in support of the Wisconsin State Government Accountability Board’s (GAB) motion to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Wisconsin Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen. The lawsuit, filed in the Dane County Circuit Court on September 10, would demand that all voters’ registration records be cross-checked with the Department of Transportation database dating back to January 1, 2006. The lawsuit has been a prominent controversy in the news and has garnered strong reactions from clean government advocacy groups and city clerks alike.

Why the lawsuit is bad for voters
Not only does the lawsuit cast doubt about the security of their registration into the minds of the most loyal, consistent voters in the state, but such efforts to “fight voter fraud” can easily turn into barriers for many eligible electors. Read this excellent Wisconsin State Journal article that reveals why such disfranchisement isn’t about people who are too dumb to follow the rules: flawed databases and voting rights barriers disproportionately impact the elderly, the poor and students.

For an excellent summary and timeline of the controversy, read this WSJ article to understand the big picture. The GAB responded to the AG’s lawsuit on the day the suit was filed. In their statement, the GAB pointed out that Van Hollen’s proposed requirements would boot out over a fifth of voters from eligibility due to typos and no-matches. Even four out of six of the GAB members’ names (retired judges) would be no-matches.

Some pre-lawsuit history
More of the backstory of this controversy lies in the previous request by the Republican Party of Wisconsin to the GAB to cross-check registrations and to require anyone with a no-match to bring proof of ID/residence to the polls on Election Day. Provisional ballots would be then given to those who did not have such ID and would only count if the voter went back to the clerk’s office with proof by the end of the next day. Provisional ballots have been controversial with voter roll purges in the previous two presidential elections. The GAB didn’t accept this proposal and instead decided on a more deliberative approach to keep cross-checking records but not booting out no-matches.

Absentee ballot request mailing “mistakes” and database errors
More related news involves last month’s absentee ballot request mailing "mistakes" by the McCain campaign and the state Republican Party. Several voters reported to the GAB that they were receiving ballot requests with the incorrect clerk’s return address. It’s funny that in recent articles (Cap Times and the State Journal) a spokesperson from the Republican Party was quoted denying that McCain campaign applications for absentee ballots sent to voters with the incorrect clerk’s return address were sent on purpose, Wisconsin state Republican Party Executive Director Mark Jefferson said “you do the best with the lists you have - no list is perfect.” Maybe he should have a talk with our Attorney General about databases and mistakes?

Voices of opposition
Many organizations and editorial boards are weighing in on why this situation is bad for voters, bad for government and shows a conflict of interest on the side of the Attorney General (who is also the chairman of the McCain campaign in Wisconsin). Here is just a sample of the flood of opposition to this ill-timed and potentially disfranchising lawsuit.

League of Women Voters - opposes "a rule that will disenfranchise people just because at some time in their lives, their data was entered somewhat differently into two different databases."

One Wisconsin Now - "Van Hollen is doing the bidding of the Republican Party to compromise the right to vote for hundreds of thousands of legal Wisconsin voters."

La Crosse Tribune - "We should not allow such blatant partisanship when it comes to the right to vote."

Green Bay Gazette - the state must fight voter fraud, but "if the lawsuit can stand on its merits, it can do so without Van Hollen. He needs to remove himself from this case."

Sheboygan Press - The lawsuit is "nothing more than partisan politics hiding behind the guise of vote integrity."

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign - "The attorney general’s lawsuit is a solution in search of a problem."

Judge’s decision and timeline
A Dane County judge said at the initial hearing on September 24 that Van Hollen may remain on the court case, despite the fact that his office is involved in other cases on behalf of the GAB. Hearings for motions in the case will be made as late as October 23, bringing into question whether or not the GAB could possibly comply with a full database check by the November 4 election. Regardless, voters have valid worries about long lines and challenges to their right to vote.

What you can do
Don’t panic: Check your status in the statewide voter database. If your registration isn’t up to date, contact your city clerk’s office directly to fix the information. Same-day voter registration is still a part of Wisconsin elections, so if you think there may be a question of your records you can always be prepared to register when you vote.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Activist conference teaches members how to get active, pulpit politics, banned books and more

A big thanks to everyone who attended and helped with the ACLU of Wisconsin statewide activist conference this weekend. We're working on getting pictures and materials posted to our website. Also stay tuned to Cap City Liberty for more media coverage of the event.

Here is the ACLU Technology and Liberty Project Director, Barry Steinhardt, in his excellent interview on WPR's Joy Cardin show.

In this interview, ACLU of Wisconsin's Associate Director, Renee Crawford talks about what issues will be addressed at the activist conference and why they are important.

Free Speech
I woke up this morning to my radio alarm clock and heard NPR’s Lynn Neary talking about the Depression-era California Dust Bowl. I thought it was another story about fears of economic collapse, but it was actually about the banning of The Grapes of Wrath. It’s Banned Books Week and people across the country are celebrating the right to read (check out this story about Banned Books Week activities in Rock County). The NPR story is worth a listen – especially the part about what the librarian said when she risked her job in fighting the book ban. The story is timely: despite the Internet rumor about an attempt by Alaskan Governor and current Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin to ban books in Wasilla, challenges to controversial books and art are something that require constant vigilance.

Check out this ACLU comic on book burning (there is also a link to download a printable PDF) or boost your civil liberties savvy with this “Ban This Booklist.” There is more on artistic freedom on the ACLU Banned Books Week 2008 website.

Separation of Church and State
A West Bend pastor is claiming free speech rights to endorsing John McCain for President during a recent sermon. This action was one of 33 examples of pulpit politicking. A challenge from the IRS may be imminent.

Most people don’t know about the nuances of tax law and why nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations are supposed to also be non-partisan. The idea is that a tax-exempt status is reserved for groups that exist just for education and social welfare. As soon as an organization goes from generally educating their public to telling them who to vote for, the organization’s purpose changes. Endorsing a candidate throws an organization into another tax classification. Churches that cry foul need to either give up the privilege of being tax-exempt or pay up on the expenses and taxes that other groups that endorse candidates have to pay. The conservative Alliance Defense Fund doesn’t see it that way, however, and this election year will see another dispute over politics in the pulpit.

Voting Rights
The ACLU of Wisconsin makes the news again for its work to change the state law and enfranchise citizens on parole or probation from felony convictions. With recent challenges to the Statewide Voter Registration System, we know that weeding out felons from other citizens is costly and time-consuming. If people are able to be out of prison, why can't they be able to vote?

Friday, September 26, 2008

Action Alert! Volunteers needed in South Dakota to fight abortion ban; ACLU conference in WI in the news

The ACLU of Wisconsin is gearing up for our annual activism conference this weekend. Check out some clips below of interviews with ACLU staff. More media coverage to come - stay tuned!

ACLU of Wisconsin Associate Director Renee Crawford

ACLU of Wisconsin Community Advocate Stacy Harbaugh

Reproductive Rights
With 40 days to go until the election, South Dakota is the scene of a major showdown over reproductive freedom, and we’re asking people in Wisconsin to help.

This fall, South Dakotans are again being asked to vote on a sweeping ban on abortion called Measure 11. Measure 11 allows politicians to interfere in the most private and personal decision that women and families can make.

South Dakota’s Measure 11 is poised to have a national impact its real purpose is to overturn Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court.

You can help stop this from happening. Join pro-choice Americans who are pitching in to help defeat this radical and dangerous abortion ban. The ACLU, in coalition with the Campaign for Healthy Families, is recruiting people to come to South Dakota to help talk to voters from Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5.

Can you join us Friday, October 3 through Sunday, October 5? It’s a big commitment, but this is a watershed moment for reproductive freedom. And your help could make an enormous difference.

That’s why we’re looking for volunteers who can arrive in Sioux Falls late Friday afternoon and stay through Sunday afternoon. You will be trained on how to talk to voters, knock on doors and do phone banking.

Travel, lodging, and most meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner, including vegetarian options) will be provided.

This battle can be won. Polls show that when South Dakotans know the facts many of them reject the ban. That’s why it’s crucial that we make sure voters hear mainstream views that expose an anti-choice agenda aimed at silencing women, interfering with private medical decisions, and overturning Roe v. Wade.

Please consider standing with us. We simply cannot allow South Dakota and this November's election to be a watershed moment for the anti-choice movement.

If you are interested or have questions, please email Stacy Harbaugh right away at:

Thank you for considering participating in this critical event.

Stacy Harbaugh
Madison Community Advocate
ACLU of Wisconsin

Friday, September 5, 2008

Issue ad regs postponed, drug sniffing dogs in parks, homeless banned and more

Free Speech
Free speech gets muddled in between the lines of rule-making of the GAB at their recent meeting. While the board didn’t take a formal vote at their last meeting (mainly because it is still up in the air whether or not they have the actual authority to regulate issue ads), they will be working on drafting a rule concerning ads and revisit the topic at their October meeting. This subject goes to the heart of free speech, the ability of all organizations to communicate with the public about the issues they care about, and how to make campaign finance and influencing voters fair.

Privacy Rights
Here’s an article about recent sweeps of public parks by police with drug sniffing dogs. The cops made some small busts of drug users, but the article is a rare example of newspapers detailing the boundaries of people’s rights. It also shows how 1.) police lie, and 2.) open air is searchable. For more on how everyone can interact with police while asserting their rights to privacy, to remain silent and to not consent to searches, visit this Know Your Rights page on the ACLU website.

Rights of the Poor
A recent article points out that the Brittingham Park plan to get rid of disorderly loiterers is working. But the article doesn’t ask anyone where the homeless people went or if they experienced an increase of police harassment or discrimination.

Reproductive Rights
Zweifel writes a solid column about the religious right’s support for Republican V.P. nominee Sarah Palin’s daughter. The spin from Palin’s supporters articulates how Palin’s family is human, subject to mistakes and should have their private decisions kept to themselves. Zweifel notes that this perspective comes from religious right figureheads who have been telling the rest of us how to raise our children and teach them (or not teach them at all, in the case of abstinence-only education mandates) about sex. For more on how the ACLU is challenging abstinence only education, visit our reproductive freedom webpage.

Student Rights
Dane County schools update their rules to bring clarity and more modern definitions to their policies. New regs on cell phones are an improvement that recognizes the ubiquity of this personal communications technology. However, it’s as important as ever for students and parents to read their school rules in the student handbook to understand their rights and the boundaries of what is allowed. Read on to get the scoop on how students can get kicked out of school for something that even looks like a gun and a student ID experiment at Verona that would require students to have IDs visible on lanyards at all times.

Check out this upcoming event which features an excellent speaker who is a former board member of the ACLU of North Carolina affiliate and frequent speaker at ACLU national conferences:

Community lecture: “Civil Liberties and the War on Terror – Past, Present, and Future” with Erwin Chermerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law, UC-Irvine School of Law
When: Friday, September 19, 12:10 p.m.
Where: UW Memorial Union Play Circle Theater
The UW Law School Office of the Dean and the Institute for Legal Studies fall 2008 workshop series will focus on “Ideas and Innovations in Legal Scholarship.” Hosted by Kathryn Hendley, Associate Dean for Research and Faculty Development, this series features current topics shared by legal scholars in our community and from across the country. Professor Howard Erlanger will provide the welcome for Chermerinsky who will doubtlessly give an in-depth, yet accessible talk on the history of threats to civil liberties in times of war and threats to national security. Worth checking out!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Action Alert! Protect Birth Control and Emergency Contraception!

Reproductive Rights
On August 21, 2008, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) released proposed regulations that could seriously undermine access to basic reproductive health services, including birth control and abortion.

The rule leaves open the possibility that based on religious beliefs institutions and individuals can deny women access to birth control and individuals can refuse to provide information and counseling about basic heath care services. Moreover, they expand existing laws by permitting a wider range of health care professionals to refuse to provide even referrals for abortion services.

For years, federal law has carefully balanced protections for individual religious liberty and patients’ access to reproductive health care. The proposed regulations appear to take patients’ health needs out of the equation.

There is a 30 day comment period, ending September 20, 2008. This is the time to make your voice heard and to help protect access to birth control.

Send your comment to DHS today!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Madison's police cameras, terror watch list failures, DNC/RNC protests and more

News roundup!

Domestic Spying
More evidence that casting a wider net to spy on or track Americans doesn’t work – the terror watch list has become so big and poorly maintained that it is rife with search problems. Check out this editorial from the NYT on why the watch list is failing both our privacy and our security. Whether the databases work or not, the watch list frenzy will snag all kinds of people, even would-be gun owners.

In related news, here’s a good story about evolving technology use and ethics with police work. It looks at Madison/Dane County cameras and microphones in squad cars and how they can be both a benefit to protecting both officers and civilians from abuse (when they are actually turned on) and also underscores the need for everyone to know that you don’t have to be read your Miranda rights for anything you say to be possibly used against you in court.

Protest Rights
An article in The Nation illustrates the motivations behind many of the protesters who are demonstrating at the DNC and at the RNC. Check back with CapCityLiberty for updates on our legal observation support at the RNC next week.

Reproductive Rights
A St. Petersburg Times opinion writer who was also a former head of two ACLU affiliates wrote a good editorial about what is at stake for Roe v. Wade in the next election.

Voting Rights
A recent New York Times article details the slowdown on federal certification for electronic voting machines and includes information on how the national trend impacts Wisconsin.

If you haven’t heard the news already, Air America radio talk show host Rachel Maddow will make a big move to MSNBC. She’s slated to be the featured guest at the ACLU of Wisconsin’s annual Bill of Rights dinner event in February 2009.p

Friday, August 22, 2008

Big Brother, Oh Brother!

Lots of news in the domestic spying world...

The US Justice Department has issued a proposal for new rules on domestic spying that would roll back privacy and oversight provisions put in place after Watergate. This “track ‘em all – just in case” system includes data fusion centers in which intelligence about citizens would be stored in databases shared among law enforcement agencies across jurisdiction lines.

According to this McClatchy release on the proposed regs, “Michael German, a former veteran FBI agent who is now policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said if Mukasey moves ahead with the new rules as he describes them, he'll be weakening restrictions originally put in place after the Watergate scandal to rein in the FBI's domestic Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO. At the time, the FBI spied on American political leaders and organizations deemed to be subversive throughout the late 1950s and into the 1960s.”

The concerns about data fusion centers are at the heart of the treatment of protesters at the Democratic National Convention in Denver where peaceful protesters can be lumped together with “terrorists.” In a recent column, Amy Goodman writes about the overbroad definitions of suspicious activity which can land non-violent protesters in federal databases.

Goodman’s column also expressed concern with the literal “caging of dissent” in which arrestees will be taken to a large, temporary detainment facility without bathrooms or running water. The ACLU of Colorado is involved in talks with city law enforcement about attorney access and conditions of detainees.

CapCityLiberty has been sharing information about searches of electronics at the border, but now with the advent of the passport-light card with the radio frequency chip, citizens crossing back and forth into Canada or Mexico will have their travels recorded in a database for up to 15 years.

These data fusion centers are worse than watch lists – and event the watch lists are snagging children now. Here's a recent action alert from the national ACLU:

Why is 7-year-old John Anderson from Minneapolis on the national Terrorist Watch List?

1. He pushed Tommy too hard on the playground.

2. His July 4th birthday means he distracts other Americans from celebrating their country.

3. John didn’t pick up the blocks during playtime.

The truth is that we don’t know how he got on the Terrorist Watch List. Or if he can get off it. It took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, off the list.

This ever-growing and ineffective Watch List demonstrates what's wrong with the U.S. government’s current approach to security: it’s unfair and a waste of resources. And when our government wastes time and money like this, we are all put in more danger -- not less.

Take our national security quiz to learn about other frightening national security “tools.”

The questions above might be light hearted, but the problems Americans face everyday due to overzealous security measures are real.

According to USA Today:
John Anderson of Minneapolis, [now 7] was first stopped at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in 2004, when his family took him for his first airplane ride to Disney World. "We checked in at the ticket counter, and the woman said in a stern voice, 'Who is John Anderson?' " says his mother, Christine Anderson. "I pointed to my stroller."

Her son is allowed to fly. But because his name is flagged, his family cannot print out a boarding pass for him online and he must check in at the ticket counter so an airline official can see that he's a child.

Take Action!
To find out more about how to fight the "bigger monster with weaker chains" of government surveillance, come to the statewide ACLU of Wisconsin 2008 Activist Conference (Saturday, September 27, Monona Terrace in Madison) where we will feature the ACLU's national expert on domestic spying, Barry Steinhardt. Registration is $30 for members, $10 for students and NEW members can get in the conference and get a new membership for $50. For more information, contact the Madison Area Office at (608) 469-5540.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Fake voter registration hoopla, will vets vote? and more...

News roundup!

Religious Liberty
Here's a story on a UW professor who just wrote a book on the complicated issue of religious healings and medical neglect. The interview with the author addresses the clash between religious liberty and state law in Wisconsin.

Voting Rights
Here is an article summarizing some of the recent controversies about non-partisan groups submitting invalid voter registration forms. Read on for the story about what ACORN did to fix their side of the problem. There is a lot here about partisan bickering over who would benefit from what voting reform laws, but ultimately it must be pointed out that eliminating election-day registration or requiring photo ID to vote creates more barriers to legitimate voting than it would stop this continued myth of widespread, in-person voter fraud. Think about it: what would requiring an ID at the polls do to fix the fact that paid canvassers, motivated by making earning money easier, faked registrations? It's not like they then convince their friends to show up at the polls under those fake names. We don't buy the conspiracy. We need fewer barriers to voting, not more.

According to this AlterNet story, the first large block of voters to be disenfranchised in 2008 are the wounded warriors from recent wars and homeless veterans living at hundreds of Department of Veterans Affairs facilities across the country, according to veterans and voting rights activists. While Wisconsin's valuable election-day registration practice may make our vets able to avoid this controversy, what does our state Vets Administration think about this issue?

Issue of ex-felon voting rights was recently covered in the Washington Post - the article looks at some of the myths and assumptions of partisanship in the effort ot restore the vote to the formerly incarcerated and highlights the work of the ACLU nationally on voting rights.

And this is cool: because free speech isn't always "free," TDS just donated a chunk of change to the Lussier Community Ed Center for a studio where youth can record music.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Tell Congress to rein in DHS travel abuses; action on books to prisoners

Action Alert from the ACLU:
Tell Congress: it's time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security

If you travel outside the United States, you can kiss your right to privacy, and perhaps your laptop, digital camera and cell phone, goodbye.

With no suspicion and no explanation, the U.S. government can seize your laptop, cell phone, or PDA as you enter the United States and download all your private information -- including your personal and business documents, emails, phone calls, and web history. The Department of Homeland Security confirms that this is the official policy.

Tell Congress: it’s time to rein in travel abuses by the Department of Homeland Security.

What happens if you refuse to let the agents download your personal photos? Or if you have encrypted your private information? Then Border Patrol -- which is now an agency of the Department of Homeland Security -- can simply copy your entire hard drive or even take your device and hang on to it indefinitely.

Unfortunately, seizing laptops and cameras at the border isn’t the only travel security measure that infringes on our civil liberties.

Just last month, the U.S. government's "terrorist watch list" surpassed one million names and is growing by over twenty-thousand names per month. The watch list includes the names of prominent people, like Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), plus hundreds of thousands of ordinary Americans -- many of them with common names like Robert Johnson and James Robinson. Your name might be on the list, but there's no way to know for sure until you are delayed -- or even detained for hours in a back room. If you discover your name is on the list, it's nearly impossible to get off. It actually took an Act of Congress to get Nelson Mandela off the list. No joke. An Act of Congress.

These abuses have something in common: They make all of us into suspects, with no rule of law and no accountability.

It’s hard to know what surveillance-state bureaucrats will come up with next. For instance, many airports are using scanners that are so invasive that
they are like a virtual strip search! See-through body scanning machines are capable of showing an image of a passenger's naked body. Security measures
like this are extremely intrusive -- and should only be used when there is good cause to suspect that an individual is a security risk.

And recently, the TSA expressed interest in having every traveler wear an "electro-muscular disruption" bracelet that airline personnel or marshals could use to shock passengers into submission. Unless something is done, this plan may not be as far-fetched as one would think.

Traveling shouldn’t mean checking your rights when you’re checking your luggage. It’s time for some sanity when it comes to security. Please, speak out now.

Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
P.S. Many Americans don’t know about these travel abuses. Please forward this link on to anyone you know who travels and ask them to take action, too.

Action Alert from the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice:
Tell the DOC to allow "Books to Prisoners"
After recent news articles about the challenges Wisconsin Books to Prisoners are having in getting the Department of Corrections to allow their commercial agent, Rainbow Books, to be recognized as an approved vendor of books, there is a call out to the public to phone in their concerns about the ban.

Those concerned with the denial of books to Wisconsin inmates are encouraged by the WNPJ to call Governor Jim Doyle (608-266-1212) and John Bett, the DOC administrator (608-240-5104) to express their concern and objection to this ban. This appeal is about protecting the First Amendment rights of prisoners; freedom to speak includes the right to read.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sexism leads to broken bones, what's wrong with data fusion centers

Women's Rights
Discrimination against female football player? Check out this story about a student crying foul about treatment by her football coach. What would you do if your kid wanted to play but was locked out of her locker room where her safety equipment was stored, only to break her clavicle during the practice? Seems like at Evansville High, the only thing behind the athletic glass ceiling are shoulder pads and a fair chance to play. And much like this recent editorial in the Cap Times on updates to federal Fair Pay rules, the best evidence of the state of sexism in America is not in the news but in the forum postings. If we ever needed fair pay or Title IX, it apparently is now.

ACLU reports: Fusion Centers Part of Incipient Domestic Intelligence System

Read the report here!

The nation’s growing network of “fusion centers” is part of an incipient domestic intelligence system, according to the ACLU. The ACLU released a report detailing spying on Maryland peace demonstrators, a mysterious domestic-spying scandal at a California military base and other recent incidents, confirming that its warnings about fusion centers were coming true.

In November 2007, the ACLU released a report, “What’s Wrong With Fusion Centers,” warning about the potential dangers of these new institutions, including ambiguous lines of authority, excessive secrecy, troubling private-sector and military roles, and an apparent bend toward collection of information about innocent activities and data mining. Our recent addendum to the report explains how new developments have only confirmed the urgency of these warnings.

“Congress and state officials need to learn more about fusion centers, engage in some very pointed inquiry about the effectiveness and the precise role of these centers, and at a minimum put in place strong checks and balances,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Too often, we’ve given our government new powers to fight terrorists, only to have them used against peace activists and other innocent Americans. This can’t be the future of law enforcement. Congress needs to end private-sector participation and military involvement in law enforcement. We need to learn from our mistakes, not repeat them.”

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

No used books to inmates, birth control=abortion?, register for primaries

Prisoners’ Rights
Think a used book is a subversive tool to dismantle the prison industrial complex? Maybe the Department of Corrections does. Or at least they are saying that a used book can contain contraband and that’s why a local bookstore is being denied the right to send books to Wisconsin inmates. The Wisconsin State Journal has this story which seems sympathetic to the DOC. The Cap Times offers this version of the issue.

*** update: if you'd like to hear more about this topic, tune in to WORT on Friday, August 8 at noon for A Public Affair as Diane Farsetta interviews volunteers from Wisconsin Books To Prisoners and Paul Wright, editor of Prison Legal News. Go to to stream it live or to catch the archive later.

Reproductive Rights
Under the guise of protecting medical professionals from job discrimination, Bush wants to create a new rule that would define birth control as abortion. Congressional approval isn't required to put the rule into effect, but around 100 legislators have signed onto a letter of protest against this sexist denial of patients' rights. It isn’t a surprise that this effort delights anti-abortion figureheads in the state. The leg affairs director quoted in the article is the same guy who thinks that condoms are immoral too. Be sure to watch the McCain clip. Ask yourself, who’s out of touch on this issue?

Voting Rights
Did you know you can pre-register to vote (now through August 20) to get ready for the state’s primary election? This is great for anyone who has moved recently (ahem… students!). Registration is setting record numbers as people look ahead for the November general election.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

New DVD series on activist generations features ACLU director

Who are your heroes?

After 8 years of truly uninspired leadership on the part of our elected officials, we could all use a little inspiration. That’s why I want to share with you a ground-breaking series jointly created by the nation’s oldest progressive magazine and the country’s most revolutionary media pioneer: This Brave Nation.

Brave New Foundation and The Nation magazine have teamed up to produce This Brave Nation, a 5-part documentary series that brings together some of the most celebrated progressive minds in our country today for conversations with rising young activists. I was honored and delighted to be a part of this revolutionary series, and I hope you can check it out.

It was a thrilling and humbling experience to be asked to participate in this series with some of my own progressive heroes, including Pete Seeger, Carl Pope, Bonnie Raitt, Dolores Huerta, and Tom Hayden. But even more inspiring was the involvement of rising progressive stars.

I had the opportunity to meet and talk with an exceptional young woman, Ava Lowery, a filmmaker who is already changing the world. For her sixteenth birthday, instead of a party, she held a peace protest at the Alabama state capital. Her story and her passions, as well as those of the other young activists highlighted in This Brave Nation won't just inspire you, but will give you hope for the future of liberty and justice in America.

The series is available free-of-charge over the internet, but there are also DVDs available for yourself, your friends or your library.

Thank you for everything you do to help the ACLU keep America safe and free. With your continued support, we will continue to bring to life the spirit of activism celebrated in This Brave Nation.

Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Comments on the UU Church shooting

As readers might know by now, the Sunday morning shooting at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN has captured national attention and is being prosecuted as a hate crime. The hate crime penalty is being pursued due to a letter the shooter wrote detailing his hatred of what he considered to be the liberal movement as well as his own economic frustrations. It has been noted that in addition to the progressive, inclusive tradition of the Unitarian-Universalist church, members also founded a local ACLU chapter.

While it can be tempting to use the church shooter as fodder for a culture war debate (as this conservative blogger criticized, using examples of left-leaning blogger reactions to the shooting), we should be clear that a mentally-ill, lone gunman should not be heralded as the vanguard of a trend to roll back movements for social justice. No one should want to have him as an icon or a hero.

However, the "Shadowboxing" blog on the website did point out that we don't hear the word "terrorist" much in media discussions about the shooting. But as with our current "war on terror," these kinds of violent acts come from disempowered people. Violence happens when people are desperate and run out of options. It doesn't matter if it is an individual who feels he has no economic support and lashes out with a gun, or a band of rebels who do not have a sanctioned army and express their lack of power by bombing an embassy.

Reading the news everyday, even the forum posts written by similar frustrated people, one might wonder if we as a people will ever learn from these examples. Employing the irresponsible use of the rhetoric of violence only inspires the disempowered to take extreme actions.

The only answer is in maintaining a healthy democracy. In a healthy democratic society, people have a voice and an education and can get help when they need it. We will continue to work to maintain our democratic process as outlined in our Constitution. We will continue to work for equality and freedom. But while we do this work, I hope we can all raise the level of the debate beyond violent rhetoric or the temptation to vilify those who do not agree with our ideas.

Simply, the best way to fight this particular war on terror is through ensuring our collective power and the maintenance of our democracy.

There will be a community vigil at the First Unitarian Society in Madison, WI to recognize this tragedy
When: Wednesday, July 30, 5:30 p.m.
Where: First Unitarian Society, 900 University Bay Dr.
From FUS: As many of you are aware, 2 people were killed and 7 others injured at an intergenerational worship service at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee on Sunday morning. There will be a Memorial Vigil for these members of our larger Unitarian Universalist community on Wednesday, July 30 at 5:30 p.m. in the First Unitarian Society Auditorium. This will be a time to reflect, to mourn and to share feelings about this tragic event.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Impeachment and the Constitution, fish and justice, voting rights and more

Here's the news round up for today...

Constitutional Issues
Check out Tammy Baldwin's statement on why she thinks impeachment is a valid step. Whether or not you think impeachment is worth the time and energy, her comments outline all of the Constitutional concerns of the Bush presidency. The national ACLU responded to the committee hearings with a statment on why expanding Presidential powers throws our democracy off balance.

Environmental Justice
When an environmental hazard disproportionately affects people of color, the worlds of environmental protection and fighting for equality collide. Such is the case with the work of the Madison Environmental Justice Organization. MEJO just put out their survey of folks who fish in local waters which offers the numbers behind the faces of people who fish for food (not just for fun). The study underscores why we should first post signs with health warnings around area lakes, and second work to clean up our lakes for everyone to enjoy.

State Legislature
From the do-nothing legislature to the blame-the-other-guy strategy, here's a commentary about what to expect in the WI state election season.

Voting Rights
Here's what happened at the Protect Wisconsin's Vote Education Summit on Thursday. A panel talked about important voting rights trends to watch out for including voter suppression, the myth of voter fraud, ex-offender re-enfranchisement, the pitfalls of voter ID, the importance of preserving same day registration in Wisconsin, the accessibility of polls to those with disabilities, and bilingual barriers. The evening also featured short films and the launch of a website complete with information and resources for voters at

Friday, July 25, 2008

Why yes, we DO have a minute for Civil Liberties

Do you have a minute for Civil Liberties?
That's a question that might be asked of you on State Street or around Madison this summer. The ACLU canvass has come to town! Young activists are asking this question to bring civil liberties awareness to the streets. If you spot one of the ACLU-shirted folks with clipboards, say hello! They can also tell you about an easy way to support the ACLU through monthly donations. They will love to meet our members too.

Here's a story that has been bouncing around print and radio a lot in the past day or two. A UW study shows little difference between girls/boys math scores, but upon further reading the story is really about providing more evidence of why No Child Left Behind doesn't work. Perhaps with this study though, we will stop hearing about the so-called need for sex-segregated classrooms.

In other quasi-education news, did you know that there is going to be a movie about Brown vs. Board of Education? The landmark case that showed the unconstitutionality of school segregation will be a feature film starring dreamboat Toby Maguire. As if Constitutional lawyers weren't sigh-worthy enough in real life...

LGBT Rights
It's time to repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell." This ACLU blog cites polls that show how the public's support for lifting the flawed policy is growing. There is also an action link for voters to tell Congress what they think. There is also an op-ed in the Cap Times today that insists our very safety depends on gays and lesbians and the government has wasted millions of dollars in trying to purge them from the military. The author also looks to the example of civil-rights era school integration of a time when change first came with some backlash but ultimately led to greater understanding.

Here's another story on border searches of laptops and electronics. While border patrol insists they are following the rules, American citizens of Middle Eastern descent feel their searches are racially targeted. There is a nod at the end of the article to Wisconsin Senator Feingold's action on this issue.

Check out this community event...

Community Forum: Dane County Coalition to Fight Poverty
When: Wednesday, Aug. 6th, 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.
Where: First United Methodist Church, 203 Wisconsin Ave., Madison
The Dane County Coalition to Fight Homelessness and End Poverty will hold a follow-up to it's community forum held in June. The event will be an interactive evening designed to increase the individual's understanding of the barriers facing those who are homeless in our community, as well as a greater understanding of the shelter system. The Coalition will also discuss action steps to address homelessness in our community. A light dinner will be provided and the event is free and open to the public, however registration is requested. To register please contact Linda at Madison-area Urban Ministry at 256-0906 or

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tell Congress to reject the Bush/Mukasey plan to subvert the Constitution

A word from the national ACLU...

Here they go again. On Monday, Bush’s Attorney General, Michael Mukasey, called on Congress to take dramatic steps to subvert the Constitution.

Mukasey is demanding that Congress issue a new declaration of war that would make the entire globe -- including the United States itself -- a “battlefield” where the president decides who will be locked up forever.

Instead of ending the Bush system of injustice, he wants Congress to make it permanent.

Tell Congress to reject the Bush/Mukasey plan to subvert the Constitution.

Not only has Bush’s Attorney General called on Congress to issue a new declaration of war, but he is also asking Congress to:

1. Gut habeas corpus -- the freedom that protects people from being thrown in prison illegally -- with no help, no end in sight and no due process.

2. Cover up the Bush administration’s systemic torture and abuse of detainees. Judges would not be allowed to see evidence of torture and abuse and would instead simply have to trust that a president is holding the right people as ”enemy combatants.”

With only five weeks left in the congressional schedule and only six months left in the Bush presidency, Mukasey’s power grab should be laughed out of town. But, given this Congress’ track record, the Mukasey proposal is no laughing matter.

Too many times, we’ve seen Congress cave in to the most outrageous Bush demands for out-of-control powers: The Patriot Act. National Security Letters. The Military Commissions Act. The Protect America Act. And, most recently, the congressional sell-out on FISA.

Four times the Supreme Court has rejected the Bush administration’s efforts to design a war on terror system of injustice that defies the Constitution and mocks the rule of law. In the past, the administration has responded, not by respecting the Constitution, but by counting on Congress to legitimize its indefensible conduct.

There is no way we can let that happen this time. Even as the House Judiciary Committee investigates whether high-level Bush White House officials may have committed crimes of torture and abuse, the Bush administration has the arrogance to ask Congress to give it the power to detain people without trial and hide torture and abuse from the courts.

We can’t take for granted that Congress will reject the Bush/Mukasey plan. We have to meet this outrageous proposal with an immediate wall of protest that says to Congress: “Don’t you dare.”

I urge you to join defenders of freedom all across the country in raising your voice against Attorney General Mukasey’s dangerous proposal.

Thanks for speaking out,
Caroline Fredrickson, Director
ACLU Washington Legislative Office

P.S. You can read a blog post from Christopher Anders, ACLU Seinor Legislative Counsel, on the Bush/Mukasey plan to subvert the Constitution.

Monday, July 21, 2008

More legal observer trainings scheduled, attitudes about race and the election and more

Here's the news round up for today and an announcement about a great opportunity to volunteer for the ACLU and have a direct impact on civil liberties in Madison.

Protest Rights/Free Speech
Reminder: the next ACLU of Wisconsin Madison Area Legal Observer training is coming up on Thursday!

These free workshops are for anyone who wants to defend free speech and assembly by becoming a volunteer legal observer for the ACLU of Wisconsin. Volunteers only have to participate in one workshop to be trained. Bilingual volunteers are especially encouraged to get involved.

Thursday, July 24th - 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 202

Monday, August 18th - 6-8pm; Madison Public Library, Central (downtown) location, 2nd floor, room 204

RSVPs required: email or call (608) 469-5540 if you plan on attending a workshop. Please forward this announcement to friends who are also interested in supporting everyone’s right (even if not always the content) of people’s right to freedom of speech, assembly and protest.

What Are Legal Observers?
Legal Observers are trained volunteers who are legal witnesses to political demonstrations and who document the events of public protests, including any incidents of police misconduct or violations of the rights of protesters. Legal Observers are committed to defending free speech in a way that is as objective as possible so that their documentation of public protests can be used as evidence if police misconduct or obstructions to Constitutionally-protected free speech are challenged in court. As a Legal Observer, volunteers can commit to being among others who are free speech defenders, but also aren’t expected to be at every rally – volunteers pick which protests to observe with neutrality and can choose not to volunteer at protests where they wish to be participants.

Speaking of protest...
Did anyone catch the Madtown Liberty Players at the Farmers Market this weekend? They did a skit on wiretapping which has been recently amended: the updated skit shows the now-legal wiretapping occurring with the aid of a democratic donkey.

In the skit, a puppet representing a spying Bush eavesdrops on Franklin and Jefferson's communications about how people who give up some liberty for a little security deserve neither.

Sadly, the street theater skit is more relevant than ever.

Immigrant Rights
Here is an interesting LA Times feature about the anxiety undocumented students feel about getting their education, but remaining "illegal" after they graduate. Courts ruled that public schools can offer education to children of undocumented immigrants (and recent grants such as the ones to the Wisconsin Department of PUblic Instruction go to teaching English and culture to immigrant children), but higher education continues to be either a haven or out of reach.

Racial Justice
If anyone still doubts that race will play a factor in the 2008 elections, check out this story about the results of a UW-Madison PolySci/WisPolitics poll. Note that the respondents to the survey were mostly white making it more of an example about the motivations they feel on the issue, rather than the opinions of people of color in Wisconsin as they look to November.

Voting Rights
WI statewide voter database is still working out kinks. The expensive Accenture database is supposed to be a system to ensure that properly registered voters are identified at the polls, but flaws in the system still exist and the potential for non-matches can be connected to common errors. All the more reason to register early and get a confirmation before you get to the polls.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Voting rights summit scheduled for Milwaukee

Election Protection Expert Sheila Cochran and
The Institute for One Wisconsin invite you to participate in:


Thursday, July 24 from 5:30pm to 8:00pm
The Times Theater, 5906 W. Vliet Street
Milwaukee, WI 53208

The Protect Wisconsin’s Vote Education Summit will feature a lively panel discussion on:
♦ Voter Suppression
♦ The Myth of Voter Fraud
♦ Felon Re-Enfranchisement
♦ Bilingual Barriers
♦ Accessibility at Polls
♦ Pitfalls of Voter ID
♦ Same Day Registration

Featuring: Short films on voter rights by Milwaukee's MATA Media and excerpts from the film Uncounted. Refreshments Provided

***For more information please call 414.220.9250***


Event partner Organizations: Milwaukee Area Labor Council, Voces de la Frontera, ACLU of Wisconsin, Disability Rights Wisconsin, and League of Women Voters of Wisconsin


If you would like to join the growing list of organizations and individuals committed to restoring the vote in Wisconsin, email for more information!

Restore the Vote Wisconsin Wisconsin coalition members will be actively engaged in public education on: the issue of felon enfranchisement statewide, current laws for the 2008 election, Voting While Incarcerated program for incarcerated individuals who are not felons (misdemeanants, awaiting trial or sentencing), and public education on the legislation currently proposed in Wisconsin.

Organizations that have joined the coalition include: ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, ACLU Racial Justice Project, 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women, NAACP – Milwaukee Branch, NAACP-Racine Branch, NAACP – Wisconsin State Office, Citizen Action of Milwaukee, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Campaign Against Violence, Grassroots Northshore, Wisconsin Women’s Network-Women in Prison Task Force, ACORN-Wisconsin, SEIU-AFRAM and Voces de la Frontera, Liberty Tree Foundation, Veterans for Peace-local 102 (Cudahy), League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Faith Community Workers for Justice (a project of the WI AFL-CIO), Citizen Action of Milwaukee – Faith-based Caucus, WI-CURE (WI-Citizens United to Rehabilitate Errants), Institute for One Wisconsin, Voices Beyond Bars a project of Madison area Urban Ministries, Project Return, Racine Dominican Justice and Rights Commission, The Sentencing Project, National Black Police Association, Urban Underground, Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, National Lawyers Guild-Milwaukee Chapter, Vessels of God, American Associate of Probation and Parole Officers, Community Connections Wisconsin, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Peace Education Project of Peace Action-Wisconsin and WISDOM.


Restore the Vote WI NOW! coalition members will be actively engaged in public education on: the issue of felon enfranchisement statewide, current laws for the 2008 election, Voting While Incarcerated program for incarcerated individuals who are not felons (misdemeanants, awaiting trial or sentencing), and public education on the legislation currently proposed in Wisconsin and direct action lobbying with legislators to advance the legislation in the WI State Assembly and State Senate with a goal to have it passed in both houses and signed by the WI governor by the end of the 2010 session.

Organizations that have joined the coalition include: ACLU of Wisconsin, ACLU Racial Justice Project, 9 to 5 National Association of Working Women, NAACP – Milwaukee Branch, NAACP-Racine Branch, NAACP – Wisconsin State Office, Citizen Action of Milwaukee, Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods Coalition, One Wisconsin Now, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin, Campaign Against Violence, Grassroots Northshore, ACORN-Wisconsin, SEIU-AFRAM, Liberty Tree Foundation, Faith Community Workers for Justice (a project of the WI AFL-CIO), Center Advocates, National Lawyers Guild-Milwaukee Chapter, American Associate of Probation and Parole Officers, Community Connections, Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, Madison area Urban Ministries, Project Return, Community Connections and Peace Action-Wisconsin