Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Police Info Request on GPS Tracking in Wisconsin - Your Cell Phone Knows Where You Were Last Night . . . Who Else Does?

This blog post by ACLU staffer Allie Boehm was originally posted on the national ACLU's Blog of Rights.

On August 3, 34 ACLU affiliates filed 379 public records requests in 31 states around the nation, including in Wisconsin, to seek information about how our local law enforcement agencies are using our cell phone location information to track us.

Chances are you’re walking around with a tracking device in your purse or pocket – a cell phone. Location data from your cell phone can make it easy to get directions or locate the nearest coffee shop, leaving no doubt that your cell phone knows where you are. Even if you use a dumb phone, cell phones constantly send out signals searching for the nearest cell tower in order to make sure your calls actually go through – and companies can estimate your location based on your proximity to nearby towers with ever-improving accuracy. The amount of time they store this information, and in how much detail, depends on the cell phone provider. (Remember the public outrage over Apple’s surreptitious storage of iPhone and iPad user’s location information a few months ago?)

Map Of Public Records Requests
Check out our interactive map to see what agencies we've requested records from in YOUR state!

What’s revealed by this perpetual tracking can be intensely personal; as a court recently found, one’s location might reveal “whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups — and not just one such fact about a person, but all such facts.”Okay, I hear you thinking, “Right, but I’m not a criminal. Why should I care?” Think again. Law enforcement’s use of cell phone location data has been widespread for years. In fact, just last week, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) asked Matthew Olsen, current general counsel for the National Security Agency and President Obama’s nominee to head the National Counterterrorism Center, whether the government can use cell phone location data to track Americans in the United States. Olsen replied, “There are certain circumstances where that authority may exist.” Cagey much?

Here’s what we do know: in 2010, FBI agents investigating a series of bank robberies demanded the records of every cell phone that was near each bank when it was robbed. That same year, Michigan police officers sought information about every cell phone near the site of a planned labor protest.

You might be asking yourself, “how can they do this?” Our laws simply haven’t kept pace with new technology. Furthermore, while we believe that law enforcement should always be required to obtain a warrant based on probable cause to access cell phone location information, the scary truth is that they don’t always obtain said warrant, and courts don’t always insist that they do.

What’s more, much of this jurisprudence is shrouded in secrecy, leaving the public in the dark about when our location information is sought and under what standards. And you were wondering why we only had two examples.

In order to lift the veil on this secrecy – and uncover some more examples of when, why, and how law enforcement agencies are using our cell phone location data to track us – 34 ACLU affiliates are filing public records requests with 379 agencies seeking information including:
  • whether law enforcement agents demonstrate probable cause and obtain a warrant to access cell phone location data;
  • statistics on how frequently law enforcement agencies obtain cell phone location data;
  • how much money law enforcement agencies spend tracking cell phones and
  • other policies and procedures used for acquiring location data.
We’ll keep you posted on what we learn. In the meantime, Sen. Wyden (D-OR) and Rep. Chaffetz (R-UT) have introduced bills that would create location privacy protections for law enforcement and the commercial sector. You can urge your representative and senators to support this legislation right now.

Supporting the Wyden/Chaffetz bill is just one way to Demand our dotRights -- we shouldn’t have to pay for our cell phones with our privacy rights.

You can read more about this nationwide info request in the LA Times or on Wisconsin Public Radio where the ACLU of Wisconsin was quoted on why GPS tracking is a matter of basic privacy concern. Stay tuned to the Cap City Liberty blog or follow us on Twitter @ACLUofWisconsin for updates as we learn more about police practices across the state.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Transgender People’s Right to Access Medical Treatment in Prison Upheld by Federal Court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit today upheld the right of transgender people to receive medical care while they are incarcerated. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal had challenged a Wisconsin law that prohibited prison doctors from prescribing hormone treatment or sex reassignment surgery to transgender inmates.

“This was a discriminatory law that cruelly singled out transgender people by denying them – and only them – the medical care they need,” said John Knight, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Too often the medical needs of transgender persons are not treated as the serious health issues that they are. We are glad that the appeals court has found that medical professionals, not the Wisconsin legislature, should make medical decisions for inmates.”

The appeals court wrote: “Surely, had the Wisconsin legislature passed a law that DOC inmates with cancer must be treated only with therapy and pain killers, this court would have no trouble concluding that the law was unconstitutional. Refusing to provide effective treatment for a serious medical condition serves no valid penological purpose and amounts to torture.”

In 2005, the state of Wisconsin passed a law that barred prison doctors from providing transgender inmates medically necessary hormone therapy or sex reassignment surgery while in state custody. The ACLU, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Lambda Legal sued the state on behalf of transgender inmates, some of whom had been receiving hormone treatment in Wisconsin prisons for years. An injunction was granted to continue hormone treatment until a ruling was made. In April 2010, after a full trial, a federal district court struck down the so-called “Inmate Sex Change Prevention Act.”

“The court correctly ruled that denying prisoners medical treatment constitutes cruel and unusual punishment,” said Dru Levasseur, Lambda Legal’s transgender rights attorney. “The medical needs of transgender people don’t disappear once they enter prison. We’re glad that the court has ruled that the legislature cannot outlaw the only effective treatment for some people with Gender Identity Disorder.”

“This decision should make it abundantly clear that it is unconstitutional to deny transgender inmates hormone therapy and sex reassignment surgery absent a medical basis for doing so,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin.

Read more about this case including the text of the court's decision on the American Civil Liberties Union Fields v. Smith case profile page or on Lambda Legal's case page.

Media coverage of the court victory included stories in the Wisconsin State Journal (AP wire stories ran in Chicago, the Twin Cities and other areas in the country), Milwaukee Journal Sentinelthe Advocate, the Wall Street Journal law blog and LGBT-related blogs around the country.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Take Action: Tell Attorney General Holder to Protect Every Citizen's Right to Vote

Tell Attorney General Holder: Protect Every Citizen's Right to Vote

If you share our concern about the new restrictions on voting rights in Wisconsin, including the requirement to show photo ID in the 2012 elections, here's an action you can take right now. 

Tell AG Holder to review how these restrictions in Wisconsin and across the country violate the Voting Rights Act.
Share the action alert with your friends on Facebook or Twitter

More than four decades ago, the Voting Rights Act put an end to the widespread discrimination that robbed people of color of their voice at the ballot box. This year, in state capitals across the country, we are again seeing a pernicious attack on one of the American people's most cherished and fundamental rights: the right to vote.

Tell the federal Department of Justice to fully enforce the Voting Rights Act by aggressively scrutinizing new voting restrictions for discriminatory impact, refusing to pre-clear laws that have a discriminatory purpose or effect, and bringing cases in other states where necessary to challenge regressive voter laws. Don't let America turn back the clock on the fundamental right to vote.  

ACLU of Wisconsin Resources on Voting Rights Are Available On-line
With special and recall elections scheduled in various parts of Wisconsin in July and August and the recent passage of a "voter id" law, many people have questions about voting procedures. The FAQ below may answer most of voters’ common questions. Perhaps most important, voters should know that the photo identification requirement does not go into effect until 2012. Voters will be asked for identification, but they are not required to provide it at elections in 2011 and will be able to vote if they do not have an id. However, there are some changes to registration and voting procedures that will be in effect for the July and August elections. The Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections in Wisconsin, has more information on the Voter ID law and other aspects of voting.
Fact Sheet: Wisconsin Voting: Know Your Rights; Voting Rights FAQ (detail)

More on the Why the Voting Rights Act Protects our Democracy
Today, 30 states have passed laws requiring voters to present identification to vote, and in 15 of those states, voters must present a government-issued photo ID. These laws will result in untold numbers of legal voters being turned away from the polls because over 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification. Obtaining a photo ID presents a substantial — and unnecessary — barrier for many of our nation's citizens. There is no credible evidence that in-person impersonation voter fraud — the only type of fraud that photo IDs could prevent — is even a minor problem in our country.

The attacks are not just limited to voter ID. Some states are engaging in other voter suppression tactics like restricting voter registration drives and reducing the amount of time for early voting. All these laws disfranchise eligible voters — especially racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, low-income individuals, students, and voters with disabilities.

The Voting Rights Act vests significant authority in the Department of Justice to ensure laws are not implemented in a discriminatory manner. Because of some states' troubling history of voter suppression, any changes in their elections laws are subject to approval — or "pre-clearance" — by the Justice Department under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. In jurisdictions not covered by Section 5, the Department must ensure that these laws are implemented in a way that does not discriminate against protected groups in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Volunteers Needed Statewide: Be a Poll Watcher on August 9th and 16th!

Want to volunteer during the recall elections in a nonpartisan effort? The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is asking our poll watchers and volunteers to connect with the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin in their effort to monitor the implementation of new voting restrictions during the upcoming recall elections. Sign up today!

Volunteer with the League of Women Voters
Be an Election Observer August 9th and 16th!

The Voter ID law was recently signed and parts of it are now in effect. The LWV-WI wants to be sure the law is implemented evenly across the state and does not disenfranchise voters. Working with many non-partisan groups across the state, we are looking for volunteers to be our eyes and ears to report on what happens in the Senate recall elections in August. We will be observing in six recall districts on August 9 and in three recall districts on August 16.

You can find the full list of which Senate districts are facing recall elections on the Government Accountability Board's website. You can find a map of the Wisconsin Senate districts (as of today's blog post on 7/25/2011) online (PDF)

Anyone can volunteer who:
  • Can spend six to seven hours (or all 13 hours) at a polling place in one of the nine state Senate districts with recall election,
  • Is willing to participate in a two-hour training session—a webinar—prior to the election,
  • Agrees to mail in a report following the election,
  • Has access to a cell phone.
  • You don't need to be a League member to volunteer.
League of Women Voters will provide:
  • Nonpartisan materials that let you know your role, what to look for, what to do if there are problems at the polls,
  • Online training,
  • A number to call on election day to report problems.

How to Volunteer
Go to the state League’s website,, and sign up on our 2011 Election Observer Volunteer Form to give us your name, address, cell phone number and the date(s) you would like to observe. We will get back to you about where you are needed and times for online training.

Tell your friends about this opportunity. We need over 1,000 volunteers to cover the nine Senate districts!
Contact Sharon Munson at 414-358-8393 or
or Dorothy Sherman at 414-425 0127 or

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

ACLU of WI, Community Shares and the Center for Change: You Can Support Nonprofit Collabortion in Madison That Works

Did you know that the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a member of Community Shares of Wisconsin? Below is an update on the Center for Change, a Community Shares project that we are a part of. You can read more about how the Center for Change encourages collaboration among nonprofits like ours. We are in the midst of a matching gift campaign, so if you are looking for ways to make your donations have a big impact across organizations, check this out. Gifts to the Center for Change will be doubled through August 12!

Support the Emerging Center for Change
The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation's Madison Area Office is a proud member of Community Shares of Wisconsin (CSW) and a tenant of the Center For Change, a shared office space that is more than co-location. Tenants are all nonpartisan nonprofits that share resources, space, volunteers and ideas to make Wisconsin better. 

We collaborate to identify common needs and concerns—whether through planned partnerships or spontaneous conversations in the break room.  Volunteer, intern, and staff resources are put to their most efficient use by sharing their time and skills. Our interconnectedness saves on overhead costs and increases our potential to create a stronger social justice movement at the same time.

Help Community Shares of Wisconsin build the social justice movement by supporting the Center for Change. Donate through August 12 and your gift will be matched, thanks to an anonymous donor.  With your help, the Center for Change will become a destination for social justice education and involvement.


Get Inspired: Celebrate CSW's Anniversary with 40 Ways You Can Create Change
To celebrate Community Shares of Wisconsin's 40th anniversary, we've highlighted "40 Ways You Can Create Change"—40 items you might consider to help our community.  Many of the 40 Ways offer interesting historical information about CSW or our member groups, and all of them offer suggestions for steps you can take.

The first couple of entries:

#1 of 40:  Thank someone who has made a difference for nonprofits.  Community Shares of Wisconsin began in 1971 with a small group of committed people searching for a way to help nonprofits.  Since then--thanks to our founders and to all of our supporters over the years—we have distributed over $13 million! Everyone who has given to the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation through their Community Shares workplace campaigns has made a difference for us: Thank you for every donation that keeps us strong.

#2 of 40:  Support the emerging Center for Change. (See the news item above.)

Check CSW's website, Facebook, or Twitter updates regularly through the summer and fall to read all of the 40 Ways You Can Create Change.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Redistricting Is In a Rush: Legislators Must Slow Down As Proposals May Pose Violations of Federal Law

The ACLU of Wisconsin today urged the Wisconsin legislature to slow down the rush to redraw state legislative districts so that affected communities have time to fully review and respond to the proposals. 

Federal law prohibits the drawing of districts that have the effect of diluting minority voting strength.  Determining whether a plan dilutes minority voting strength requires careful consideration of a number of factors and alternative plans.  That analysis cannot be completed on the timeline contemplated by the legislature. 

The important task of redrawing of district lines demands deliberation and public input. Rushing the plan through without thorough analysis creates the risk that an illegal plan will be adopted.

This Eau Claire Leader-Telegram editorial gets is right on why partisans shouldn't draw political maps. Critical editorials were published all over the state by the Appleton Post-Crescent (which had another critical editorial on how the process hurts municipalities), the Oshkosh Northwestern, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, the Beloit Daily News, the Marshfield News Herald, and the Cap Times.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

FAQs About Voting in the Summer 2011 Recall and Special Elections in Wisconsin

Frequently Asked Questions About Voting in the summer 2011 Recall and Special Elections in Wisconsin

Do I have to show proof of identification/photo id to vote in recall or special elections this year?

No. The new “Voter Identification Act,” 2011 Wis. Act 23, does not require a voter to present proof of identification to vote until the Spring 2012 primary election and all elections thereafter.

However, election officials will ask voters to present proof of identification at elections prior to the Spring 2012 primary. A person who does not show proof of identification will still be able to vote, but will be given information about the new identification requirements. 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 144(2). There is no requirement that a person give a reason for not presenting proof of identification.

If you choose to show identification at elections this year, poll workers will compare the name on the identification to the name on the poll list to verify that the names “conform” to one another. Names may still “conform,” even if there are small differences, such as presence or absence of a middle initial, use of a shortened version of a first name (such as “Bob” for “Robert”) or variations of upper and lower case letters (such as “Maclane” for “MacLane”). GAB, Polling Place Voting Step-By-Step for All Elections Prior to 2012 February Primary (June 22, 2011). Poll workers will also compare the photograph on the identification to the voter’s appearance to verify that the photograph “reasonably resembles” the voter. ID. For all elections prior to the 2012 February Primary, there is no consequence if election inspectors believe the photo ID does not reasonably resemble the voter. Once photo ID is required in the February 2012 election, election inspectors will be instructed to challenge a voter if they believe a voter does not reasonably resemble the photograph on the identification presented.

I am not registered to vote. Can I register on election day?

Yes. The voter ID law did not change election-day registration. As long as you are at least 18 years of age, a U.S. citizen, have lived at your current address for 28 days, have proof of residence (see below), and are not serving a sentence – including imprisonment, probation, parole or extended supervision – for a felony conviction, you can register at the polls on election day. If you have a current and valid driver license, you will need to provide the license number on the registration form. Wis. Stat. § 6.33(1). If you do not have a current and valid driver license, you will have to provide your Wisconsin state identification card number or the last 4 digits of your social security number. If you do not have a current and valid driver license, state identification card or social security number, you will have to check a box saying you do not have any of these numbers, but you will still be allowed to register. You will also have to provide the location of your two “previous residence immediately before moving to” your current residence. Wis. Stat. § 6.33(1), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 30.

I moved to my current address two weeks ago. Can I vote at the polling place for
my new address?

No. The new law requires a person to have lived in a ward or election district for 28 consecutive days prior to the election to be eligible to vote in that ward or district. Wis. Stat. § 6.02(1), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 10. If you moved more recently than 28 days from another location in Wisconsin, you may vote at your previous polling place. Wis. Stat. § 602.02(2), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 11. If you moved to Wisconsin from another state more recently than 28 days before any election in 2011, you may not vote in that election.

What documents will I need to register?

Any of the following documents are sufficient to prove residence, if they have your first and last name and your current street address:
• Current & valid Wisconsin driver’s license. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)1.
• Current & valid Wisconsin state photo identification card. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)2.
• An official identification card or license issued by a Wisconsin governmental entity. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)3.
• An employer-issued photo identification card (not a business card). Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)4.
• A university, college or technical college identification card, along with either a receipt for tuition or fees paid within the previous 9 months or a certified list from the college or university of students currently living in student housing who are U.S. citizens. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)7., as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 33m.
• A utility bill that is no more than 90 days old. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)8.
• A bank statement. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)9.
• A property tax bill or receipt from the past year. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)5.
• A current residential lease in effect on election day. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)6.
• A paycheck. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)10.
• A check or other document issued by a unit of government. Wis. Stat. § 6.34(3)(a)11.3

Documents like credit card bills, collection notices, magazine subscriptions, personal mail and mail solicitations do not qualify for proof of residence.

I don’t have any of the documents for proving residence that are in my name. Can I have someone vouch for where I live?

No. Until the voter ID law passed, another eligible voter from your municipality who knew where you lived could “corroborate” your residence by signing a statement confirming where you live. The new law eliminates corroboration as proof of residence. See 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 17, amending Wis. Stat. § 6.15(2)(d)1r.

I heard that I will have to sign the poll list when I vote. Is that true?

Yes. If you are registered to vote before Election Day, there will be a box on the poll list for your signature. Wis. Stat. § 6.79(2)(a), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 45. If you are unable to sign because of a disability, you can get an exemption from the signature requirement.

My signature changes all the time. Will the poll workers let me vote if my signature doesn’t look like it did when I registered?

Yes. The law does not require election officials to compare your signature on the poll list to the signature on your registration, the signature on your proof of identification or residency or to any other signature.

Can I vote in person before Election Day?

Yes. You can vote an in-person absentee ballot at your municipal clerk’s office or, in the City of Milwaukee, at the Election Commission Office starting the 3rd Monday before Election Day until 5 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. Wis. Stat. § 6.86(1)(b), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 57. When you vote before Election Day in this way, your ballot is set aside for counting with other absentee ballots on Election Day. As with voting on Election Day, you will be asked, but not required, to show photo identification when you vote in person absentee in 2011. GAB, Major Impacts of the New Voter Photo ID Bill: Changes to the Election Process Effective Immediately at 3 (June 20, 2011). If you have not already registered, you may also register at the municipal clerk’s office before voting in person absentee. Wis. Stat. § 6.29(2)(a), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 29.

Can I vote by mail?

Yes, you can cast an absentee ballot by mail. You can request an absentee ballot from the municipal clerk or election commission by mail, email or facsimile. Wis. Stat. § 6.86(1)(a). The application must be received by the municipal clerk no later than 5 p.m. the Thursday before the election. Wis. Stat. § 6.86(1)(b), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 4 23, § 57. Municipal clerks will begin accepting in person applications for absentee ballots no earlier than the third Monday before the election. Id.

You may either vote the absentee ballot in the clerk’s office, or the clerk can mail it to you. If you request, the clerk must also send the ballot by email or facsimile. Wis. Stat. § 6.87(3)(d), as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 65.

You must return the completed ballot to the municipal clerk or election commission in a properly completed ballot envelope. The envelope will have a certification, which the voter and a witness (who is an adult U.S. citizen) must sign. Wis. Stat. § 6.87(2) & (4)(b)1., as amended by 2011 Wis. Act 23, § 66. The absentee ballot must be received by the clerk or election commission no later than 8 p.m. on election day. Wis. Stat. § 6.87(6). You can return the ballot in person or by mail, but remember that if you send it by mail it must arrive (not just be postmarked) by 8 p.m. on election day.

You must be registered in order to vote absentee, but you can register in person at the clerk’s office when you submit a request for an absentee ballot. You can also register by mail, but your registration must be postmarked no later than the third Wednesday before the election. Wis. Stat. § 6.28(1). You will not be sent an absentee ballot until you are registered and submit an absentee ballot request.

This document only deals with elections in 2011. When the voter identification requirement takes effect next year, a number of other questions will arise. Election Protection will produce a revised FAQ prior to elections in 2012.

Monday, June 27, 2011

South Milwaukee Lake Bluff Apartments - Final Chapter in Housing Discrimination Challenge Settled

Fair housing advocates announced the settlement of a long-running court challenge to protect the Lake Bluff Apartments, an integrated, affordable and accessible development in South Milwaukee. After a 2009 jury verdict found that tearing down Lake Bluff would have a discriminatory effect in violation of the Fair Housing Act, and after nearly two years of subsequent negotiations, Lake Bluff will remain a diverse and accessible place to live.

The tenants’ counsel issued the following statement about the settlement: “Legal Action of Wisconsin, Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee and the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Foundation, who represented tenants at Lake Bluff Apartments, applaud the City of South Milwaukee for resolving this case in a way that promotes fair housing and integration. The City negotiated this settlement in good faith. We are satisfied that with the settlement, which allows our clients to remain in diverse, affordable and accessible housing in South Milwaukee, the City has fully complied with its obligations under the Fair Housing Act not to discriminate in housing and with its obligations to affirmatively further fair housing.”

“We’re happy that the residents of Lake Bluff will be able to stay in their homes,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation Legal Director Larry Dupuis. “Finding affordable and accessible housing during an economic downswing hits people with disabilities and limited incomes the hardest. At the same time, the verdict and settlement in this case demonstrate that cities cannot afford to deny affordable, diverse housing. The results of this lawsuit will ensure that the buildings will stay up and tenants will no longer face the prospect of housing discrimination.”

The Lake Bluff tenants were represented by Dupuis, ACLU of Wisconsin Senior Staff Attorney Karyn Rotker, Legal Aid Society’s litigation director Peter Koneazny, and Legal Action Staff Attorney Mark Silverman.

You can download the official statement online or read the combined press release on the ACLU of Wisconsin website. 

The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation is a non-profit civil liberties and civil rights organization working to protect the rights of Wisconsinites. For more on the work of the American Civil Liberties Union and Foundation of Wisconsin, visit our webpage. You can also get news and opinion on civil liberties in Wisconsin on our Cap City Liberty blog. Find us on Facebook and Twitter at ACLUMadison and ACLUofWisconsin

Established in 1968, Legal Action of Wisconsin is a nonprofit law firm that provides free civil legal services in 39 southern Wisconsin counties. Legal Action serves low-income, elderly and other clients through six offices statewide. More information is available at

The Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee is one of America's oldest, public-interest law firms and was founded in 1916 with a unique charter "to do all things necessary for the prevention of injustice." Each year the Society provides free legal services to 8,000 of Milwaukee’s most vulnerable residents. More information is available at

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Racial Profiling Law Could Have Helped Cops End Biased Policing

Today Governor Scott Walker signed a bill to repeal a law designed to help police managers identify biased policing. The law had only just gone into effect and set up a system to collect and analyze data on the race and ethnicity of motorists when police officers initiate certain types of traffic stops or conduct searches of vehicles. 

The ACLU of Wisconsin asks, shouldn’t Wisconsin law enforcement agencies make it a priority to protect and serve all of the members of the public without bias, including motorists of color?

Governor Walker signed the repeal of the law that took effect January 1, 2011 and gave Wisconsin law enforcement managers a new tool to identify biased policing during traffic stops. The new law set up a system to collect traffic stop data and have the Office of Justice Assistance analyze it to determine if minority motorists were being stopped or searched disproportionately compared to non-minority motorists.

ACLU of Wisconsin's Executive Director Chris Ahmuty served on the Wisconsin Office of Justice Assistance advisory committee that helped design the traffic stop data collection system. This advisory committee was mostly composed of law enforcement professionals. It conducted listening sessions around the state where we heard compelling testimony from residents who felt they were victims of biased policing. The advisory committee also heard from many law enforcement professionals who had significant input into the creation of the system.

Most professional law enforcement leaders nationwide recognize the importance of identifying bias where it exists and addressing it. The Wisconsin legislators and Governor Walker repealed this law without giving it a chance.

While some small departments may have legitimate technical and financial issues in complying with the new law immediately, assertions regarding expense and labor costs are overblown. It is disturbing that opponents of addressing biased policing chose to repeal the law rather than attempt to make the system work. Their haste calls into question their commitment to solving the problem of racial profiling and bias among law enforcement officers in our state.

The ACLU of Wisconsin will work with law enforcement officials, community leaders, racial justice advocates and any residents of Wisconsin to identify workable solutions to the problem of racial profiling. In response to the repeal of the traffic stop data collection law, the ACLU of Wisconsin will begin an effort to collect the stories from individuals who have experienced biased policing.

Monday, June 20, 2011

WI Domestic Partner Registry Not a Violation of State Same-Sex Marriage Ban

Judge Daniel Moeser resoundingly rejected today an attack on Wisconsin’s Domestic Partner Registry brought by Board members of Wisconsin Family Action, an organization whose members pushed for Wisconsin’s anti-Marriage constitutional amendment in 2006. Despite securing passage of the amendment by assuring voters that domestic partnerships would still be allowed, the Wisconsin Family Action plaintiffs asserted that the anti-Marriage amendment prohibited the Domestic Partner law passed by the legislature in 2008 to provide crucial but very limited protections to same-sex couples.

“While, as the court recognized, the domestic partnership law is in no way equivalent to marriage, it is a lifeline for committed couples who seek the security and dignity of being able to provide for their families,” said John Knight of the ACLU’s LGBT & AIDS project.

In a well-reasoned 55-page opinion, Judge Moeser noted that proponents of the anti-Marriage amendment had repeatedly insisted that the amendment was about preventing same-sex marriage and “look-alike” civil unions that were marriage in everything but name, and reassured voters that it would not prevent domestic partnership laws.  

The Judge also recognized that the few protections available under the Domestic Partner law were in no way comparable to the extensive rights and privileges that go along with marriage. Wisconsin’s law allows for same-sex couples to register as domestic partners, granting them hospital visitation rights, the right to make certain decisions about medical care and rights to family and medical leave. Same-sex couples are still denied crucial protections provided only to married couples, such as the right to decide what happens to their partner’s body at death, and are denied access to all federal benefits, such as Social Security and veterans’ benefits.

Larry Dupuis, the legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin, added, “The court rightly rejected this mean-spirited and dishonest attack on gay and lesbian couples.  Our clients know what it’s like to worry about not being able to visit a partner in the hospital or to be left with nothing when a partner dies without a will.  The protections offered by the domestic partner law at least allay some of those fears.”

Government officials initially defended the domestic partner registry against the lawsuit, but Governor Scott Walker’s administration abandoned the defense.  That left several same-sex couples, Fair Wisconsin, Lambda Legal, and the ACLU as a friend of the court, to defend domestic partnerships.

Attorneys on the case include Knight of the ACLU, Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin and David J.B. Froiland, Linda E.B. Hansen, Daniel A. Manna and David B. Goroff of Foley & Lardner LLP.

Please visit the ACLU's Appling v. Doyle page for more information on our involvement in this challenge including support documents such as our amicus brief. You can also find a link to the full text of the Circuit Court Judge's decision on the ACLU of Wisconsin website.

News coverage of today's breaking news was included in newspapers statewide including the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Wisconsin State Journal, the Wisconsin Gazette, Reuters, AP, the Chippewa Herald and the Capital Times. The AP story also ran in the Washington Post.

Voucher Schools Have Created a Separate, Unequal System

Private voucher schools are failing Milwaukee children with disabilities. When these voucher schools ignore their obligations to educate and accommodate children with disabilities, they force Milwaukee Public Schools to pick up the slack - while giving MPS fewer resources to do so. Voucher schools' large-scale exclusion of children with disabilities has led to a segregated environment with a disproportionate share of children with disabilities attending MPS.

Indeed, if the state Legislature and governor have their way and expand the voucher program, the separation and exclusion of children with disabilities will only get worse.

That is why civil rights groups have filed the first systemic disability discrimination claim against a voucher program, at a time when well-financed pro-voucher lobbies are pumping money into voucher expansion efforts across the nation. The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin and Disability Rights Wisconsin have asked the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the voucher program and to shut down expansion as long as exclusion and segregation remain.

The ACLU and DRW have requested a federal investigation because of families like our clients. K.S., for example, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder but whose doctor has not prescribed medication, was told he would not be admitted to one voucher school unless his mother medicated him anyway. His brother, S.E., who needs speech therapy services, was discouraged from even applying to a voucher school and as of the time the complaint was filed had not been admitted - even though he applied in January.

Another voucher school expelled B.J. after she had an argument with another child and without the reasonable accommodations MPS would have to give her if she was in school there. The voucher school expulsion forced her back to MPS, which, of course, must accept and educate her. These are just examples of the children that the voucher schools will not serve - not the only ones.

Separate is not equal, but separate is exactly what is occurring in Milwaukee: Voucher schools educate about 20% of Milwaukee students, but a mere 1.6% of voucher students receive services due to disabilities. That compares to the more than 19.2% of MPS students who receive special education services. If the voucher program expands, it will take more non-disabled children and the segregation of children with disabilities in MPS will inevitably increase.

Voucher supporters claim that they really serve a greater number of children with learning disabilities, but they have no proven data to support their arguments. Besides, their own numbers say they are only serving half as many children with disabilities as MPS.

Voucher supporters also talk only about serving children with learning disabilities. Meanwhile, MPS serves children with a wide range of disabilities - such as deafness, autism, cognitive delays and mental illness, as well as profoundly disabled children whose expenses the district also must absorb.

The vouchers were sold as a better alternative for all of Milwaukee's families. But the truth is that even though they do not serve students with disabilities, voucher schools are failing Milwaukee children. Testing data released this year shows that overall MPS performs better than voucher schools.

Realizing they are losing the argument on quality, voucher supporters now try to emphasize that they educate cheaply. But the voucher schools do not just get state and local tax dollars. In fact, one of the reasons we are asking for an investigation is that the voucher schools receive millions of dollars a year in federal money and services. The receipt of federal money obligates the private schools to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.

This failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has led to the segregation of children with disabilities within MPS, while reducing resources the public school system needs to educate all students. That's a separate - and unequal - system that cannot continue, let alone expand, in its current discriminatory form.

Courtney Bowie is senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union Racial Justice Program; Karyn Rotker is senior staff attorney, American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin; and Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick is managing attorney, Disability Rights Wisconsin.

This editorial was originally published in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Saturday, June 18 2011.  A counter-opinion editorial was also published from School Choice Wisconsin which paints the federal complaint as an attack on the voucher program, but fails to adequately address the trend of increasing segregation of students with disabilities in public schools in Milwaukee which prompted the request for a federal investigation.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gay-Straight Alliance in West Bend School Approved - But It Shouldn't Take a Lawsuit to Support LGBT Youth

On Monday, the board of the West Bend School District narrowly voted in favor of allowing a Gay-Straight Alliance at their high school. The ACLU of Wisconsin was there to live-tweet from the meeting (you can see the tweets on the @ACLUofWisconsin Twitter page). Many LGBT rights advocates are applauding the victory this week. Unfortunately, the school board’s narrow vote came about, not because it was simply the right thing to do for equality and freedom of expression and association, but because a potentially costly lawsuit has forced them to acknowledge that the law is against them.

When the school board originally voted in May to not allow the club official recognition, lawyers on behalf of students who wanted to start a Gay-Straight Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal district court to overturn the board’s decision on the basis that it violated both federal equal access protections and first amendment rights.  As a public school that receives federal funding, the West Bend School District must not have policies that discriminate against students or deny them basic rights. 

Students at West Bend have been trying to organize a GSA for nearly a decade but have faced one barrier after another (the legal complaint tells the students’ compelling story). It is unfortunate that it took a lawsuit for the school board to make a decision that recognizes all student clubs. But their decision could have been better. They could have voted unanimously in support of the club. They could have taken a strong public stand against discrimination and bullying.

On Monday, the West Bend School Board barely approved a decision that should have been made in support of their diverse student body back in 2000. But from this point on, we expect the best in accommodation and support for the GSA in West Bend. The West Bend School district needs a real process to not just approve but cultivate student clubs and promote leadership development in a way that is clear, fair and consistent. Teachers who champion diversity should be applauded, not criticized. Perhaps school board seats in the future will be filled by community members who represent and protect all students, rather than a narrow ideology. 

The school board vote got media coverage on the AP wire, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, TMJ-4, Fox News 6 (both with video) and WISN. The Department of Education also recently reminded public schools that Gay-Straight Alliances have the right to organize.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Ethics Files Less Open in Budget Provision

While the Assembly takes up the state budget today and discusses the state's near fiscal and policy future, do you ever wonder if your state legislator has a financial relationship with a big polluter or a bank getting a government bailout? How about a financial relationship with an ideological think tank? How about a noisy night club down your block?

A majority of the Legislature's powerful Joint Finance Committee wanted you to keep wondering.

Those legislators have approved a budget provision that would require you to travel to Madison in order to inspect or copy any of the statements of economic interest filed by state public officials, including all state legislators.

Currently, nearly 2,400 state public officials, candidates and nominees file statements of economic interest with the Government Accountability Board each year. The GAB on its website indicates that it "experiences virtually 100% compliance with the law." On average, according to the website, the public examined 500 statements of economic interest each year.

Currently these statements are not online, but you can search indexes to them on the GAB's website at If there is something that interests you, you can request that the board mail or email you a copy of a public official's complete statement.

You get to decide what seems significant. But you should know the current law requires the board to inform the public officials of your request. You may not inspect statements anonymously through the GAB. It is not an easy to use system - it's even a little intimidating.

Copies of statements of economic interest have been posted online by private advocacy groups. This posting would not stop under the budget proposal approved by the Joint Finance Committee. Indeed, the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin believes that it would violate the constitutional rights of these groups to censor them. But the public should not have to rely on private groups for public information held by the public GAB.

If the full Legislature passes this new obstacle to financial disclosure in the budget and Gov. Scott Walker doesn't veto it, ordinary Wisconsin residents will find it nearly impossible to access these documents.
There is no evidence that the limited online access to this information has been abused. Given the compliance rate with the law filing isn't a burden, and even if it were, restricting access would not reduce any burden on filers.

As in most online posting of existing information the cost must be minimal. When men and women enter public service, they know that the public has a right to know about their significant financial relationships. Some people choose not to enter public service to avoid disclosure.

Apparently the reason for decreasing the already limited transparency of this reporting process is to save the public officials from embarrassment or the necessity of explaining their financial relationships to their constituents and voters.

Wisconsin residents deserve good government. They deserve to be able to make informed decisions about matters relevant to the public interest.

They have a right to speak freely with the knowledge of the contents of the statements of economic interest. Requiring Wisconsinites to travel to Madison to examine and copy these public records is an affront.
The Legislature should reconsider this scheme to subvert the liberties of Wisconsin residents.

This op ed, written by ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty, has been updated since it's original publication in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on June 11, 2011.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Milwaukee Voucher Schools Discriminate Against Students with Disabilities, Allege ACLU, Disability Rights WI: Federal Investigation Requested Today

The American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, and Disability Rights Wisconsin filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division today, charging discriminatory practices in Milwaukee’s private voucher schools have led to an egregious segregation of students with disabilities. The complaint was filed against the State of Wisconsin, its Department of Public Instruction and two voucher schools. The groups say that Wisconsin has failed to hold taxpayer-funded private voucher schools accountable for serving children with disabilities, and has created a program that segregates and isolates children with disabilities.

“Twenty years of offering vouchers to attend private schools in Milwaukee have demonstrated that children with disabilities are not welcome in Milwaukee’s private schools,” said Jeffrey Spitzer-Resnick, attorney for Disability Rights Wisconsin. “Even worse is when these voucher schools occasionally accept children with disabilities, take their voucher funds, and then expel them without recourse leaving the family no other option than to return to Milwaukee Public Schools. In fact our complaint includes one family whose children with disabilities were not admitted to a voucher school, and another whose disabled child was kicked out of a voucher school and sent back to the public school system.” 

“This failure of voucher schools to serve children with disabilities has led to the segregation of children with disabilities within Milwaukee Public Schools, while reducing resources the public school system needs to educate all students,” added Courtney Bowie, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program.

“Right now only about 1.6% of voucher students have disabilities, while 19.5% of Milwaukee Public School students do,” said Karyn Rotker, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Wisconsin. “Increasing the size of the voucher program – as the state intends to do – will only lead to even more discrimination and more segregation of children with disabilities. We hope DOJ will step in to stop that from occurring.”

Read more on the national ACLU website.This story also received coverage in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as well as the Huffington Post, WUWM-FM, WORT-FM's In Our Backyard and the 8 o'Clock Buzz, Disability Scoop, The American Independent and Education Week.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Chippewa Valley: Chapter Volunteers Cheer on the ACLU at Bobfest North

On Saturday May 21 the Chippewa Valley chapter of the ACLU of Wisconsin sponsored a table at Fighting Bobfest North, the northern version of the progressive festival that has been a feature of the Baraboo area each fall for nearly a decade. Chapter volunteers met over 150 people from northwest Wisconsin and from around the state, answered questions and encouraged people to join as card-carrying members. It was great to meet members in the area.

Shu-Chuan, Ann and Stacy

Many people who spoke to us had questions and comments along a central theme: the abuse of power in Wisconsin and on a federal level. Even though some said that they had never felt such a divided Wisconsin, they came to Fighting Bobfest North to learn, get inspired and find some rejuvenation to keep the dialogue going in their home communities.

Photos - Jeremy Gragert

Thank you to everyone who stopped by the ACLU table to share your thoughts.

If there are tabling opportunities in your area, let us know how you can help with our statewide outreach. Contact the ACLU of Wisconsin headquarters in Milwaukee at

Friday, May 27, 2011

Open Meetings Law Violation Court Decision is About Checking the Abuse of Power

On May 26, Dane County Circuit Judge Mariann Sumi invalidated a billpassed by the legislature in March, taking away most public employees’ collective bargaining rights. Judge Sumi based her decision on evidence thatlawmakers violated Wisconsin’s open meetings law when it voted on the bill with less than two hours public notice. 

But the Judge's decision has been criticized by political leaders including Senator Glenn Grothman who said legislators were being told what to do by an "ideologue judge" and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald questioned the separation of powers of a judge trumping "two democratically elected branches of government."  (Sumi was originally appointed by Republican Governor Tommy Thompson in 1998 and has since been reelected by voters.)

“Criticisms by legislators, attorneys and others that it was wrong for Judge Sumi to invalidate a state law – some going so far as to claim that judges have no business reviewing legislative enactments – show a shocking disregard of our system of checks and balances, and are dangerous to a society built upon the rule of law,” said ACLU of Wisconsin Executive Director Christopher Ahmuty.

As Judge Sumi wrote in her decision, in 1803 the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear that it is “emphatically the province and the duty of the courts to say what the law is.” That bedrock principle has governed our nation for centuries.

“The checks and balances built into our constitution make sure that no one branch of government – not the executive, or the legislature, or the judiciary – usurps power,” said Ahmuty. “In this system, it is the role of the courts to ensure that the actions of the legislature and the governor comport with the constitution and the laws. While there may be limited areas where separation-of-powers principles clearly prevent the courts from interfering with exclusively legislative or executive functions, this is not one of those areas.

“Judge Sumi did not ask that anyone challenge the collective bargaining bill or that the challenge end up in her court. But judges have to decide the cases brought before them. Doing so is not “judicial activism” – it is doing the job of a judge. Even those who disagree with her decision should thank Judge Sumi for fulfilling her constitutional duty, rather than fulminating about the bogeyman of so-called activist judges.”