ACLU News

What You Need to Know about Affirmative Action at the Supreme Court

After over a hundred years of total or near total exclusion of Black students and other students of color, the University of North Carolina and Harvard began admitting larger numbers of students, including students of color, in the 1960s and 70s. For decades, Harvard, UNC, and other universities have had the ability to consider a student’s race along with a wide range of other factors — academic merit, athletics, extra curriculars, and others — when it comes to deciding whether to admit a student. But now, the Supreme Court could change all of this.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear two cases concerning affirmative action today. If the court strikes down affirmative action — also known as race-conscious admissions policies — it would make it unconstitutional for universities across the country to consider a student’s race as one factor in a holistic admissions review process. The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Massachusetts, and ACLU of North Carolina filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold universities’ ability to consider race in college admissions earlier this year.

If the court strikes down affirmative action — also known as race-conscious admissions policies — it would make it unconstitutional for universities across the country to consider a student’s race as one factor in a holistic admissions review process.

Below, we answer some of the key questions that you need to know about how race conscious admissions policies work, how students and universities benefit from them, and what’s at stake at the Supreme Court.

Q: What is affirmative action, or race conscious admissions policies?

A: Race conscious policies, such as affirmative action, aim to address racial discrimination by recognizing and responding to the structural barriers that have denied underrepresented students access to higher education. Race-conscious admissions practices allow universities to consider a student’s race as one factor in the admissions process in order to help create a diverse student body that enriches the educational experiences of all students.

Q: What cases are before the Supreme Court concerning race conscious admissions policies?

A: There are two cases in which the Supreme Court will consider whether to uphold universities’ ability to consider race in college admissions: Students for Fair Admissions v. President and Fellows of Harvard, and Students for Fair Admissions v. University of North Carolina. In both cases, the organization Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), led by anti-affirmative action crusader Edward Blum, is once again, after previous failed efforts, seeking the elimination of all race-conscious admissions practices. Twice already, the Supreme Court has rejected Blum’s arguments and ruled that universities can consider race in admissions to promote diversity on campus and enrich students’ learning experience.

Q: What legal rights do universities and colleges have to consider race in the admissions process?

A: Colleges have an important interest in student body diversity that furthers the values of academic freedom and equal protection. A holistic, race-conscious admissions process is the extension of a university’s academic freedom to assemble a diverse student body. Removing the consideration of race in admissions conflicts with the ability of a university to select its student body.

Additionally, the consideration of race in college admissions furthers the values of equal protection under the Constitution by helping to diminish stereotypes, promoting integration on college campuses, and improving the ability of students of all races to participate in the academic community.

Q: Has the Supreme Court ruled on affirmative action before?

A: Yes. In Fisher v. University of Texas, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that diversity is a “compelling governmental interest,” permitting schools to consider race as a contributing factor to admissions in higher education. Time and again, lower courts and the Supreme Court have recognized this.

The American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of Massachusetts, and ACLU of North Carolina filed an amicus brief urging the Supreme Court to uphold universities’ ability to consider race in college admissions earlier this year.

Q: How do colleges, universities and students benefit from affirmative action?

A: Race-conscious admissions policies help create a diverse student body, promote integration on college campuses, and create an inclusive educational environment that benefits all students. Students from diverse backgrounds who learn from each other and are exposed to a variety of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and talents are better prepared to be successful in our society. Banning any consideration of race would hamper the growth of generations of students who will be unprepared for an increasingly diverse nation.

Q: What’s at stake if the Supreme Court moves to block race conscious admissions policies? Will this impact affirmative action efforts in other areas, suchs as workplaces?

A: A decision blocking universities’ ability to consider race will almost certainly mean a significant drop in the number of students of color being admitted to selective universities. In fact, that’s what lower courts in both cases found after closely studying several race-neutral alternatives like a class-based affirmative action or plans similar to Texas’s top 10 percent plan, which guarantees Texas students who graduated in the top 10 percent of their high school class automatic admission to all state-funded Texas universities. Less diverse campuses will harm students of color and white students alike, and take us backward in our efforts to overcome the country’s shameful legacy of racism and racial inequality.

A decision outlawing consideration of race in college admissions could also make it harder for employers to take steps to promote equity and diversify their workforce. Dozens of government programs that address past and current discrimination, advance racial equity, and seek to close the racial wealth gap, such as business incubator programs, could also be jeopardized.

Q: What actions can colleges and universities take if the Supreme Court does rule to block race conscious admissions policies?

A: Higher ed institutions will still be able to do outreach and recruit students from all backgrounds. Universities will still be able to stop considering factors that have been proven to create unjustifiable barriers for historically underrepresented students of color. For example, many schools have already stopped considering SAT and the ACT.

No matter what happens, we continue to advocate for race conscious admissions and ensuring higher education is accessible to all.

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Religious Discrimination Persists in Zoning Proceedings, Despite Strong Legal Protections

Last Sunday marked a historic and joyful day in DeSoto County, Mississippi. The county’s first mosque, the Abraham House of God, finally broke ground in the City of Horn Lake. While the occasion was celebratory, it was also a relief to the mosque’s founders, who were forced to sue last year after city officials — motivated by anti-Muslim prejudice — denied them a critical zoning authorization.

Represented by the ACLU, the ACLU of Mississippi, and Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP, the mosque and its founders argued in a 2021 lawsuit that the zoning decision violated both the First Amendment, which prohibits singling out one faith for discriminatory treatment, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), a federal law that provides heightened protections for religious groups seeking to establish a house of worship or to use property for other religious purposes. In a decisive victory, our clients quickly won a consent decree (a court order to which the parties agree) requiring the city to approve their construction site plan and prohibiting further discrimination against them.

Members of the mosque gathered in prayer at the groundbreaking ceremony.

Yoselin Moreno

But that didn’t stop Horn Lake from once again trying to thwart our clients’ right to develop their property. In April, our clients applied for a conditional-use permit to establish an Islamic cemetery next to the mosque. Although the city’s Planning Commission staff “strongly and categorically” recommended approval of the application, some commissioners balked. Echoing the biased sentiments expressed nearly a year before by a city Alderman who voted against the mosque’s site plan, one planning commissioner complained, “I am assuming that Muslims nationwide will be coming to Horn Lake to bury their dead.”

It was only after we intervened, yet again, and reminded the city that it must comply with the First Amendment, RLUIPA, and the consent decree, that the Planning Commission voted 4-3 to recommend approval of the permit. And, last week, the Board of Aldermen voted in favor of the recommendation, ensuring that the mosque will be able to offer vital funeral and burial services for the local Muslim community.

The Horn Lake matter is not the only recent incident in which minority-faith groups or houses of worship have faced discriminatory hurdles in zoning proceedings. In some instances, as in Horn Lake, the prejudice is overt and unmistakable. In others, the bias may be more veiled, cloaked in vague — and unsupported — allegations that the proposed land use will cause problems with parking, traffic, or noise.

Congregants gather and smile for the camera at the groundbreaking.

Yoselin Moreno

This past summer, the ACLU and the ACLU of Rhode Island stepped in to represent the Horn and Cauldron, Church of the Earth, a small Wiccan church located in Coventry, Rhode Island. Wicca is a nature-based religion, and the church’s religious services, educational classes, and other faith-based activities focus on the relationship between the earth and the divine. As in Horn Lake, the Coventry Planning Commission staff recommended approval of our clients’ permit application, noting that the application met all requirements and that “the church has been holding activities on the property for many years and the Planning and Zoning department has not received any complaints since the church’s founding.”

Nevertheless, during a public hearing, members of the Coventry Zoning Board of Review declined to approve the permit, citing inaccurate parking concerns (the church has more-than-adequate parking for visitors) and unsubstantiated allegations about fire safety (the church follows all fire-safety laws, and the facilities comply with the fire marshal’s directives). When we became involved, it was clear that town officials either were not aware of, or did not care about, their obligations under RLUIPA, let alone under the First Amendment. Earlier this month, in response to our advocacy, the zoning board granted the church’s permit.

Unfortunately, some zoning discrimination matters are not resolved so quickly. In 2016, the Thai Meditation Association of Alabama, a Buddhist religious organization, filed suit after the City of Mobile repeatedly stymied its attempts to develop a meditation center on a 100-acre parcel of property. The complaint argued that’s the city’s denial of zoning approval bowed to community animus against Buddhism — to some, an unfamiliar faith. The case has dragged on for years, with a court recently finding that city officials made deceptive statements, violated local ordinances, failed to account for the religious nature of the proposed use, and “manipulated the reasons that the planning approval was denied,” including by drafting false meeting minutes. As the lawsuit proceeds, the ACLU and a number of other civil-rights and religious-freedom groups recently filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, supporting the Association’s claims.

Abraham House of God congregants smile as they great each other.

Yoselin Moreno

Even if the Association ultimately prevails, however, it will come at great cost, as we have seen with our own clients. Challenging discriminatory zoning decisions often requires religious groups to tap into limited financial reserves. Moreover, every day that zoning approvals are wrongfully denied is another day that the religious groups or houses of worship are prevented from fully exercising their faith in fundamental ways. And because zoning matters are deeply rooted in and tied to the local community, the distress and dignitary harm that minority-faith applicants suffer from discriminatory denials hits that much closer to home.

That’s why we’ll continue to defend the right of all faiths — especially those that may be unfamiliar to some or unpopular in the eyes of others — to be free from unfair treatment in zoning proceedings. It’s not only the law; it’s the right thing to do.

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Gender-Affirming Care Gave My Daughter a Future. Lawmakers Want to Take it Away.

Four families of transgender youth and two doctors have challenged an Arkansas law that would prohibit healthcare professionals from providing or even referring transgender young people for medically-necessary health care. A trial began last week. Here, one of our plaintiffs shares how the law would impact her daughter and family.

My husband, Aaron, and I are raising our three daughters in Arkansas. Our entire family and community are here and we love our home state.

My oldest daughter, Sabrina, is transgender and the medical treatment she has received for her gender dysphoria has changed her life. At one time, Sabrina shrank from the world. She was anxious and unsure of herself and struggled with severe dysphoria. Today, Sabrina is confident and has hopes for her future and a joy that we had not seen in her before she started this care. We are fighting to ensure the medical treatment that has given her the life she has today.

Sabrina Jennen

Credit: Rana Young

When Sabrina was younger and before she started receiving medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, she expressed to us, the best she could at the time, that she couldn’t see a future for herself and didn’t know why. As parents, we were in agony watching her struggle. We saw her as a brilliant, gifted mind, with a very gentle soul. It was heartbreaking that she didn’t see the beautiful person that we saw in her.

After she came out to us and began to receive medical treatment for her gender dysphoria, we began to notice her confidence. She began to smile again and found joy in shopping and styling outfits for not only herself, but her two sisters. They love to swap clothes and accessories, which is really fun to watch. She is also a gifted artist who has created some pretty amazing self-portraits that emphasize her beautiful red curls. Sabrina, who once was a very shy, reserved, and unhappy person, is now our confident social butterfly who loves a good selfie opportunity.

As a parent, I never imagined I’d have to fight for my daughter to be able to receive medically necessary health care. I never imagined having to watch my child suffer and then get better only to have lawmakers take away the treatment she needs.

As a parent, I never imagined I’d have to fight for my daughter to be able to receive medically necessary health care.

The state of Arkansas has suggested that people are rushing into this care, but nothing could be further from the truth for us. My husband and I are very careful and thoughtful people. We had many long, serious discussions with each other, with Sabrina, and with her medical providers. We prayed about the decisions we all had to make as a family.

Arkansas is our home. We have lived here our entire lives, and our parents, siblings, grandparents, church, and entire support system are all here in Arkansas. We do not want to have to leave our home simply to be able to provide necessary medical care for our daughter.

Sabrina is an amazing, smart, beautiful person and an incredible daughter. I wish that those politicians who passed this law would take the time to listen to the experiences of trans youth and to get to know people like our daughter. I can’t imagine anyone who truly got to know and understand how this care has impacted Sabrina could take action that would jeopardize her joy, her smile, and her sense of possibility for her future.

What you can do:Take the Pledge: Support Trans Youth NowTake the pledge

Voting With a Disability: Breaking Down Barriers to the Ballot

People with disabilities have long faced some of the greatest barriers to voting in our elections. From inaccessible polling places and a lack of working accessible voting machines to onerous restrictions on absentee voting, our right to the ballot has often been ignored or forgotten.

In 2020, over 11 percent of voters with disabilities reported that they faced some type of difficulty casting a ballot — more than any other group and despite expanded access to mail-in voting due to the pandemic. But instead of embracing the more accessible forms of voting that sparked record turnout, including among voters with disabilities, states have doubled down on new and more restrictive voter suppression laws.

In 2021 alone, more than 400 anti-voter measures were introduced by states across the country, many of which are most burdensome to people of color and voters with disabilities. These measures run the gamut from restricting access to absentee voting, eliminating Election Day registration, and making it more difficult to vote early in person, to criminalizing the act of assisting voters with disabilities to vote. We’re challenging some of the measures that have become law in court in Georgia and Texas, where egregious restrictions illegally burden the right to vote for people with disabilities.

Whether you choose to vote in person early or on Election Day, or vote absentee, you’ll have to navigate a complex web of state and local election rules and deadlines regarding voter registration, absentee ballots, and fixing or “curing” a ballot that was rejected, often due to missing or incorrect information.

This election season, we’re fighting back against voter suppression and urging all Americans to vote for their values and fight for their rights.

American Civil Liberties Union Vote Your Values | American Civil Liberties Union

For voters with disabilities, we’re making sure you know your rights and can find resources about how to vote, including voting absentee and curing a ballot if it’s rejected.

Register to Vote or Check Your Registration

Vote.gov helps you quickly register to vote if you haven’t already. Register early, as some states require you to register to vote 30 days or more before an election.

If you’re already registered, double check that your registration, including current address, is up to date.

Request an Absentee Ballot

All U.S. states and Washington, D.C. permit people with an illness or disability to vote absentee, allowing you to mail in your ballot or drop it off at a drop box or polling location.

Similar to voter registration, each state has its own set of deadlines and rules for voting absentee. Check out the deadlines here on Vote.org. Some states require you to complete an application in order to receive an absentee ballot, and the deadline to apply may be as early as two weeks before the election. New voter suppression laws may require you to provide proof of ID to request an absentee ballot.

An absentee ballot from the Wayne County Board of Elections.

Hannah Schoenbaum/ AP Photo

You can find information about how to request an absentee ballot in your state using this tool from the National Association of Secretaries of State. Pick your state from the drop down menu and it will open a page or document with instructions on how to request an absentee ballot.

VoteAmerica, Vote.org, and the Election Protection Hotline have additional resources and information.

Cast Your Ballot, and Make Sure It’s Counted

If you plan to vote in person or return your absentee ballot in a drop box, locate your polling place or drop box. Many states do not allow you to vote in person at a location that is not designated as your assigned precinct. Check to see if your state requires an ID to vote in person.

If you plan to submit your ballot by mail, send it at least a week before the election to be sure it arrives by Election Day. Your absentee ballot will likely require you to sign the ballot and/or ballot envelope, and may require one or more witnesses to sign as well. Your ballot will be rejected if the signature is missing

Once your ballot is in, use your state’s ballot tracker to see if it’s been counted. Ballots may be rejected if there is a missing signature on the ballot envelope or a discrepancy in the signature matching process, or if your voter file is missing identifying information like your social security number or driver’s license number. One in eight mail-in ballots were rejected in the Texas primary earlier this year, so make sure your voter file is up to date with all the required information.

If your ballot is rejected, 24 states will allow you to correct your ballot in a process known as “curing.” These states are required to notify you via mail, phone, or email, that your ballot has been rejected and you need to correct it.

Most states will notify you within days of the election if your ballot has been rejected, and you will be given between 3 days and two weeks to prove your identity for your ballot to be counted.

Know Your Rights at the Polling Place

Federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act and Voting Rights Act, require election workers to:

  • Make polling places fully accessible to voters with disabilities.
  • Have at least one voting system at each polling place that allows people with disabilities to vote privately and independently.
  • Allow voters with disabilities to receive in-person help at the polls (except from an agent of your employer or union).
  • Make other reasonable accommodations if possible for them to do so.

Read more about your rights as a voter with a disability here.

Get Help if You Need It

If you need more information about voting, or want to report voter suppression or intimidation, contact the Election Protection Hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683).

What you can do:Join the Vote Your Values TeamSign up

Brandt v. Rutledge: What to Know About the Arkansas Trial on Gender-Affirming Care

Among the many responsibilities that come with raising a child, standing in a federal courtroom and defending your child’s constitutional rights isn’t likely what most parents plan for. But in a federal courthouse in Little Rock this week, a historic trial against Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming care brought four families together to defend the rights and well-being of their transgender adolescent children.

The first in a two-part trial, the week-long hearing in Brandt v. Rutledge focused first on the safety and efficacy of gender-affirming health care: an individualized, evidence-based approach to reducing gender dysphoria that can include counseling, hormone therapy, and, in some more exceptional cases for adolescents, top surgery. Experts with decades of research and practice told the court about widely accepted treatment protocols that are supported across the medical community — including by endocrinologists, pediatricians, general practitioners, and bioethicists, among others.

American Civil Liberties Union Brandt et al v. Rutledge et al Families of transgender youth and doctors are fighting an Arkansas law that would prevent transgender youth from getting medically necessary care.

The court also heard from two providers who’ve worked with transgender youth in Arkansas: Dr. Michele Hutchison and Dr. Kathleen Stambough, the former and current medical directors of the Gender Spectrum Clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. In the language of professionals quite used to describing complex medical concepts to children, the doctors explained to the court the careful balance they and families strike when making decisions about a child’s medical needs related to gender dysphoria, weighing carefully the risks and benefits of treatment for each individual child’s current and future well-being.

They also spoke about the impact of the law banning this widely accepted treatment. Dr. Hutchison — who testified against the bill in the Arkansas General Assembly — noted four of her own patients were hospitalized for suicide attempts shortly after the bill was introduced, and anxiety scores of patients being seen at the clinic climbed from 40 percent to 60 percent in the wake of the bill’s introduction. Even after the law was blocked by a preliminary injunction, Dr. Stambough explained that the clinic was forced to decline medically-necessary care like puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in anticipation of the law potentially going into effect at some point in the future.

Fundamentally, however, this trial was about the constitutional and civil rights of the parents and transgender youth impacted by Act 626, an Arkansas law banning this evidence-based medicine passed in 2021 and currently blocked by a federal injunction. Four parents — Donnie Ray Saxton, Aaron Jennen, Amanda Dennis, and Joanna Brandt — took the stand to share their experience of watching their children suffer from dysphoria, come out as transgender, and flourish with the help of medical providers who prescribed treatment the state they are proud to call home now seeks to ban.

Donnie Ray Saxton, who operates a plumbing business while raising his five children, spoke about the confidence his 17-year-old transgender son Parker gained after starting testosterone treatment.

“We’re a family, and we’re not a family without Parker,” Donnie told the court. “We’d have to pick up and leave if this took effect. This is home. Our small town transitioned with us.” Asked what would happen if Parker could no longer access this care, Donnie replied tersely, “I’m not going to think about that.”

Aaron Jennen, a government attorney and father of 17-year-old Sabrina, described his transgender daughter as “smart, gifted, beautiful.. [she] easily has the most envied hair in the courtroom.” Sabrina, who has struggled with depression, anxiety, and a noted lack of confidence, now proudly shares selfies and “even put her name in the hat to be homecoming queen.”

Denying Sabrina this care is simply not an option, said Aaron. Through tears, he stared across the courtroom at his daughter sitting in the gallery. “I promise you,” he said emphatically, “that will not happen.”

Left to right: the Brandt, Jennen, and Saxton families.

Credit: Gillian Brandstetter

Amanda Dennis, an advertising technology specialist and mother of 10-year-old Brooke, said her young transgender daughter “was one of the most incredible humans I know.” While Brooke is too young for any endocrine treatments for her gender dysphoria, she is already wary of the coming effects of puberty; she sees her older brother growing taller and his Adam’s apple becoming more prominent, and is growing more and more anxious, leaving Amanda gravely distressed her daughter may be forced to undergo her endogenous puberty with the potential irreversible changes that come with it.

“I’ve always promised all of my children that we will care for you,” said Amanda. “It fills me with so much sorrow that this would happen where I live.”

Joanna Brandt took the stand and spoke of her 17-year-old transgender son Dylan, who began testosterone in 2020.

“His capacity for empathy for others — but more importantly for himself — has been remarkable,” said Joanna. “Dylan is the most emotionally intelligent person I know. The kid that Dylan was [before transitioning] would not be in this courtroom today. It is because of this care he is able to fight for himself.”

And fight he did. Dylan Brandt took the stand as the lone transgender person to testify in any of the hearings. Calmly and stoically, he told the court of his experiences with dysphoria, his family’s “right off the bat” acceptance when he came out, and the relief gender-affirming care has brought him.

“The thought of going back is just not an option,” said Dylan. “We’d probably have to leave the state. I have a job, my mom has a business. I still have a year and a half of high school left. Being pushed out of the place I’ve lived my entire life is hard.”

The last person called to the stand by the plaintiffs challenging this ban, Dylan was asked by ACLU attorney Chase Strangio how he would sum up the way his treatment made him feel. Leaning into the mic, he said “hopeful.”

What you can do:Take the Pledge: Support Trans Youth NowTake the pledge

It’s Time to Reaffirm Our First Amendment Right to Boycott

From the Boston Tea Party to the Montgomery bus boycott to the boycott of apartheid South Africa, politically motivated consumer boycotts have long been part and parcel of American politics. But are they protected by the First Amendment? For 40 years, the answer has been an unequivocal “yes.” But in a recent case from Arkansas, a federal court of appeals ruled otherwise. If the right to boycott is to be preserved, the Supreme Court must step in.

In NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., the Supreme Court in 1982 unanimously upheld the First Amendment right of Black Mississippians to boycott local businesses in protest against segregation and racial inequality. The decision established that politically-motivated consumer boycotts are fully protected by the Constitution. As a result, today, people of all political stripes can proudly exercise their right to boycott — from right-wing boycotts of companies that support Planned Parenthood to left-wing boycotts of companies that support the National Rifle Association. Now, that long-standing precedent has been called into question.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the First Amendment does not protect “the purchasing decisions at the heart of a boycott” — even if a law selectively penalizes boycotts on a specific topic, like boycotts of Israel.

Since 2016, 28 states have passed laws requiring individuals and businesses that receive government contracts – from substitute teachers to construction workers — to certify that they will not participate in boycotts of Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. My client, the Arkansas Times, was asked to sign such a certification in order to renew its advertising contract with a state technical college. Although the Arkansas Times does not boycott Israel, it refuses to be bullied by the state into disavowing its civil liberties. As Alan Leveritt, the publisher, put it: “If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.”

These anti-boycott laws have affected Americans from all walks of life. A teacher in Kansas was told that she could not participate in the state’s teacher-training program because she refused to sign the anti-boycott form. A lawyer in Arizona was told that he could not be paid for his work on behalf of incarcerated people because he refused to sign the certification. And a child speech pathologist in Texas lost her contract with a local school district because she refused to sign. Engineers, writers, journalists, and even university students who want to judge high school debate tournaments have all been asked to certify that they do not participate in boycotts of Israel or Israel-controlled territories. One town in Texas even briefly required victims of Hurricane Harvey to sign the anti-boycott certification as a condition of receiving disaster relief funds.

If the right to boycott is to be preserved, the Supreme Court must step in.

Most of the federal courts that have addressed these anti-boycott laws have recognized that they violate the First Amendment. Unfortunately, the Arkansas Times’ case came out differently. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit held that the First Amendment does not protect “the purchasing decisions at the heart of a boycott” — even if a law selectively penalizes boycotts on a specific topic, like boycotts of Israel. Under the Eighth Circuit’s reasoning, Alabama could have suppressed the Montgomery bus boycott by outlawing boycotts of municipal buses or segregated businesses. That notion is in direct conflict with the precedent set in Claiborne Hardware affirming our right to participate in political boycotts, as well as a long line of Supreme Court cases recognizing that the government cannot take sides and distort public debate by selectively penalizing disfavored viewpoints.

The court of appeals reasoned that because one can’t know the meaning of a decision not to purchase from a business unless it is accompanied by speech, the boycott itself is not protected, and the state is free to single out and penalize the boycotts it disfavors. The same reasoning applies to marches. One can’t know the meaning of a group of people walking together unless it is accompanied by placards, chants, and speeches. But surely the government could not selectively ban marches protesting the Israeli government’s policies.

That is why the ACLU just filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the Arkansas Times’ case and reaffirm that the First Amendment still protects the right to boycott. While we await their decision, states have started to pass similar laws suppressing boycotts of the fossil fuels, firearms, mining, timber, and agriculture industries. All sorts of special interests are pushing anti-boycott laws to stifle protest against them. If the court does not step in, a form of protest dating back to the American Revolution itself will remain in jeopardy.

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LA County’s Failure to Invest in Alternatives to Incarceration Fuels Inhumane Jail Conditions

Celia Banos calls her son, Jhean, a born musician. Ever since he was a little boy, Jhean loved music. He learned the guitar, and after high school, he played in a band called The Parallels. At the age of 21, Jhean had his first episode of schizophrenia.

Jhean is 28 now, and — like thousands of people with serious mental illness — he cycles in and out of the Los Angeles County jail system. This cycle repeats itself because the county does not fund robust mental health services and alternatives to incarceration. Jhean’s family has tried to get him the help he needs, but they cannot find affordable, quality care for him. In moments of crisis, the family’s only option has been to call the Los Angeles Police Department.

Calling the police, however, causes the family even more trauma. In one recent incident, LAPD officers tased Jhean multiple times. In another incident, Celia says the police made fun of Jhean and laughed at him.

“This is someone’s son. Someone’s brother. He’s our family member, and he’s sick,” said Celia. “Being sick doesn’t mean that he is a criminal, and you have no right to laugh at someone like that, especially in front of a mother.”

Celia Banos

Credit: Tara Pixley

I met Jhean and Celia over the summer while investigating conditions at the LA County jail.

Every day, I get updates from the jail telling me how many people are stuck in processing at the Inmate Reception Center (IRC) for more than 24 hours.

I get these updates because, since 1978, the ACLU has served as a court-appointed monitor of the LA County jail system. In that capacity, we gather information from the county and from incarcerated people in order to advocate on their behalf when jail conditions fall below basic constitutional standards of safety, hygiene and decency.

Earlier this summer, one of these daily updates showed exceptionally long wait times at the IRC. On that day in June, at least 28 people had been stuck at the IRC for more than 49 hours. That same day, I went down to investigate.

What I saw shook me.

The IRC was filthy. My shoes stuck to the floor. Two toilets were overflowing with human waste. More than a dozen people were trying to sleep on the floor. In an area known as the “front bench,” five individuals were sitting chained to their chairs as is required. The daily report noted that two of those five had been chained to the front bench for more than 24 hours. People called out to me that they had only been given peanut butter sandwiches to eat. Others called out that they hadn’t been provided with their medication and were awaiting psychiatric evaluations.

Over the next few weeks, I went back to the IRC with my ACLU colleagues to investigate the conditions, talk to people detained at the IRC, and talk to the LA County Sheriff Department’s staff about improving conditions.

Conditions worsened throughout the summer, and by August people were stuck in the IRC for four to five days, and some chained to the Front Bench for over 72 hours.

This is when Celia called the ACLU, and I eventually met Jhean. Celia was concerned that Jhean had been arrested and taken to the IRC but had not received housing for days, even though he had been diagnosed with a severe mental illness. I checked our reports and discovered that Jhean had spent almost 100 consecutive hours chained to the front bench. I went to visit Jhean, who had finally been transferred to a cell in the Twin Towers Jail. I saw that his wrists were swollen, cut and bruised — consistent with being handcuffed for so many hours.

Tragically, Jhean was just one of many who suffered from pervasive abuse in the IRC in late summer. My colleagues and I saw and heard reports of:

  • People with serious mental illness chained to chairs for days at a time, where they slept sitting up.
  • Dozens of people crammed together, sleeping head-to-foot on the hard concrete floor.
  • People defecating in trash cans and urinating on the floor or in empty food containers in shared spaces.
  • Unhygienic conditions, including floors littered with trash, overflowing sinks and toilets, no access to showers or clean clothes for days, and lack of adequate access to drinking water and food.
  • Lack of adequate health care, including failure to provide people with serious mental illness or chronic medical conditions their medications, or to provide care to people dangerously detoxing from drugs and alcohol.

Ultimately, the ACLU of Southern California and the ACLU National Prison Project sought an emergency order from a federal judge to make LA County and the LA sheriff limit wait times and provide adequate hygiene and medical care at the IRC.

The level of daily suffering and misery experienced by people in the IRC is unspeakable. The LA County Board of Supervisors — the people ultimately responsible for the jails — know about the suffering, and the county’s attorneys even conceded in court that the horrors we recounted were true.

This level of suffering and misery could be avoided.

Years ago, the LA County Board of Supervisors committed to a “care first, jails last” approach to mental health treatment and meeting the needs of our unhoused community. But the Board of Supervisors has yet to commit to a timeline for establishing the thousands of community beds and services needed to reduce overcrowding and stop the cycle of people coming in and out of jail because they cannot access necessary mental health care, substance use treatment, or housing.

Celia and Jhean’s brother Kevin.

Credit: Tara Pixley

Jhean remains in jail, as of this writing. Celia hasn’t been able to visit him, because the sheriff’s office keeps canceling her visits. She believes it is in retaliation for speaking out about Jhean and the nearly 100 hours he spent chained to a chair in IRC. Celia wishes her family could access consistent treatment for Jhean.

“Why jail?” said Celia. “My son does not belong in jail. He has an illness.”

She worries for his safety. “I’m scared for my son,” she said. “This is an everyday thing.”

Learn more about Celia and her son’s story below:

 

Play the video

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Ask the Experts: How to Fight for Reproductive Freedom in Your Community

With the midterms coming up, we are chatting with some of our great affiliate volunteers about what issues are most important to them, and how they motivate voters to cast their ballots. We hope these conversations inspire you to vote for your values and join us in this once-in-a-generation battle to protect our nation.

American Civil Liberties Union Vote Your Values | American Civil Liberties Union This election, join us by pledging to vote for your values, and fight for your rights by encouraging your friends and family to do the same.

This week, we spoke to Connie Horton-Kross, a retired nurse from Holland, Michigan, who worked in reproductive health her whole career and now volunteers with the ACLU of Michigan. Through the determination of Connie and countless other abortion rights advocates, the Reproductive Freedom for All ballot committee, supported by the ACLU of Michigan, rallied and got more than 750,000 petition signatures to put Proposal 3 on the ballot this November, which would restore the protections of Roe v. Wade in the Michigan Constitution. Connie tells us what motivated her to get involved, why she is voting Yes on Proposal 3, and why talking to her friends and family about voting is so important.

Connie Horton-Kross

Image Courtesy of Connie Horton-Kross

ACLU: What motivated you to get involved with the ACLU of Michigan as a volunteer, especially around the Reproductive Freedom for All initiative?

Connie Horton-Kross: Nursing has been my passion my whole life. My public health career focused on reproductive health. I retired as a public health nurse in 2018, but stayed involved at the Michigan Family Planning Advisory Council as a private citizen. I also volunteered giving out COVID-19 vaccines, but still wanted to do more. That’s when I really started watching what was going on with the Dobbs decision. I’d never been really politically active aside from some volunteer work, but this time, I couldn’t sit here and let this happen. At first, I was just going to take a couple of petitions and have them signed. But then, I was creating events and mobilizing people and it just blossomed into this whole thing. I’ve spoken to professionals and during conferences before about abortion and reproductive health, but to get out there and talk to someone that may have an opposing opinion was frightening. But I have really gained confidence with that and I’ve never had any negative interactions this whole time.

ACLU: How do you reach out to folks to get them involved?

CH: Most of the outreach I do is specific to people. For example, I’ve got a group of friends that are retired nurses too. I got them all together and they ended up volunteering and collecting signatures with me. Now that they’ve gotten involved, we’ll go out to happy hour and we discuss the next steps. I also take part in activist groups to get people to mobilize. After the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, we actually had a march in Holland, Michigan with over 1,500 people. I met women in their early 20s with megaphones, marching. People had tears in their eyes because Holland is so conservative and to see that kind of support … I still get choked up. It was just amazing to see all walks of life, all ages, saying that we couldn’t let this happen.

I learned that if I was passionate enough and not afraid to speak up, then I could motivate people to get involved.

ACLU: How do you explain to people why voting is important, and persuade them to take part in upcoming elections?

CH: I just start with a conversation. I make sure they’re registered. If they’re not, I keep the QR code to register to vote on my clipboard. I’ve met a lot of young people that hadn’t registered yet and that did it right on the site so they could sign the petition. I really push that and I tell them that’s their say in what happens. If you don’t stay involved, things will happen that you won’t have any control over. The perfect example of this is reproductive freedom. These people are going to be making rules and laws about you and your body. If you don’t get out there and vote, you really can’t gripe. That’s why I tell my kids, if you don’t vote, you just agreed to whatever happens.

ACLU: What would you say to people who feel like their vote might not matter, or who just feel disempowered?

CH: I tell them that if we give up, then they win, and they’re just going to keep taking more freedoms away. I just focus on that point, that this is taking your rights and choices away. On abortion for example, if they take this choice from you, what’s next? This is health care. It’s part of the decision between you and your doctor. It’s not meant to be political. I can be pretty persuasive that way and talk to people with the facts.

Connie Horton-Kross (right) and friend stop for a picture while canvassing.

Image Courtesy of Connie Horton-Kross

ACLU: How do you motivate your own friends and family to get out there and vote?

CH: I talk to all my friends, especially about abortion. My mother-in-law is 86 years old and was staying at my house on the Fourth of July, during the last weekend of the petitions. She started seeing all these people come in, dropping off last-minute petitions, so I told her that I’ve been volunteering. She knows what my job was, so I explained to her that some women that have an ectopic pregnancy, can’t get a procedure to remove the tissue afterwards, other women suffer membrane ruptures prematurely and could get an infection, but they need to get very sick before they can get a termination. I’ve been hitting everybody strictly from a medical point of view and how this is going to affect women’s lives. I think that she’s willing to listen. My son also, who’s 25 and leans more conservative, didn’t sign the petition and we had some discussions about it. It’s interesting that we have such an opposite point of view, but it’s okay. We were able to talk openly.

ACLU: Has anything surprised you in your activism around this issue?

CH: It is surprising to see the amount of support and passion. Women that came out to sign petitions, many of them had their own abortion story. I didn’t know any of these people. They just came out to sign the petition and we were sitting there, my husband and I, and they opened up and told us their story. Stories on how they could have died without an abortion or how they would be living in poverty now. This happened at least a dozen or more times.

ACLU: Why did you decide to share your story? And what else do you want people to know about your experience?

CH: I want people to know that I really felt empowered by doing this, and I felt like I was empowering others to come out and help too. I learned that if I was passionate enough and not afraid to speak up, then I could motivate people to get involved. It was great to see my friends involved, and see that empowered women empower women. I’m looking forward to continuing fighting for this and getting this passed.

Interested in working with people like Connie to defend our rights? Find out more about how to get involved here.

American Civil Liberties Union Midterm Elections: How These Offices Impact Your Rights | News & Commentary | American Civil Liberties Union Elected officials don’t have the final say when it comes to our rights — we do. Let the ACLU help you step into your power at the ballot box!

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc., 125 Broad Street, New York, New York 10004, in coordination with Reproductive Freedom for All.

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How to Fight for Your Rights at the Ballot Box

As midterm elections near, there is no question that we are facing a real and existential threat to our basic human rights and the fundamentals of American democracy. Engendered by the election of Donald Trump to the Presidency in 2016, and emboldened by the January 6 insurrection in 2021, we have an important opportunity to make sure our elected officials commit to standing up for the values we hold dear: the right to bodily integrity, the right to access abortion, the right to have your vote counted.

These fights have moved in full force to the states. Most people understand the importance of who sits in the governor’s mansion, but it’s also true that secretaries of state, state attorneys general, state supreme courts, state legislators, and county clerks all wield extraordinary power in our government. That’s why we are doubling down on “down-ballot” races, where voters can cast an informed vote and hold these elected officials accountable.

The ACLU is nonpartisan, so we don’t tell voters who to vote for, but we do inform voters about what is at stake in an election. Here’s a quick snapshot of the types of civil liberties and civil rights issues that could be on your ballot.

American Civil Liberties Union Vote Your Values | American Civil Liberties Union This election, join us by pledging to vote for your values, and fight for your rights by encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Abortion Access is Facing a Dire Moment

Because the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, states are now more empowered to restrict or ban abortion care outright. So, we’re taking our fight to the states and elected officials to create a firewall to protect abortion access.

Starting with a ballot initiative in Michigan, we’re working to pass Proposal 3, which would ensure every Michigander has the fundamental right to reproductive freedom, including the ability to make personal medical decisions about pregnancy, birth control, abortion, prenatal care, and childbirth. Michiganders are energized and motivated now more than ever to restore the protections of Roe v. Wade through this initiative, with a record number of signatures — more than 730,000 — putting it on the ballot.

In Vermont, we are working to ensure every Vermonter has the right to make their own reproductive decisions, including whether and when to become a parent, use or refuse birth control, or seek abortion care by passing Proposal 5. In Kentucky, our coalition is fighting against a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would pave the way for a complete abortion ban. We’re urging voters to vote no on Amendment 2 to protect the rights of people to control their own personal, private medical decisions.

While ballot measures are an important part of our strategy, elected officials at all levels of state government will have a hand in either protecting or restricting abortion access, so we’re engaging in key state races that will impact this right. State supreme court judges can and often do find that state constitutions protect more rights than the U.S. Constitution, making them a powerful backstop against the attacks of radical, anti-abortion rights minorities. Now, state courts will likely be the final arbiters to decide whether our reproductive freedom is protected in the states. So for the first time, we’re focusing on state supreme court races, specifically in North Carolina, to hold a pro-abortion rights majority of 4-3.

In Kansas, where pro-abortion rights voters recently defeated an anti-abortion ballot initiative, we have to fight to protect that win by engaging in state House races to prevent the legislature from gaining enough votes to override a veto from the state’s pro-abortion rights governor. We are also working to make sure that local prosecutors will not prosecute individuals accused of accessing an abortion in states where care is banned by educating voters in places like Maricopa County, Arizona, about the candidates’ positions in their district attorney races. When we elevate this issue in races in states that have banned abortion, it places pressure on politicians to not enforce bans or pass new ones.

Voting Rights are Local

There is no more fundamental right in a democracy than the right to vote. It is how we make sure our voices are heard. It is how we hold politicians accountable. It is how all the other rights guaranteed to us under the federal and state constitutions can be protected. Yet that right is under attack in state after state. The Big Lie about the 2020 presidential election has emboldened those who would take away the right to vote from those with whom they disagree.

In Michigan, we are fighting back against voter suppression efforts that took hold after the 2020 election and the passage of a ballot initiative in 2018 that made it possible to engage in no-excuse absentee voting and same day registration. We led the 2018 ballot initiative and are prepared to defend that win with measures that would prevent an election steal. Proposal 2 will allow nine days of early voting, require pre-paid postage for absentee applications and ballots, require military and overseas ballots to be counted if postmarked by Election Day, and require ballot drop boxes for every 15,000 voters in a city. It will also protect the vote against the anti-democratic tactics that other states used during the 2020 election, by establishing that post-election audits may be conducted by state and local officials and that canvassing boards may only certify election results based on official vote counts. Proposal 2 will enhance election integrity and increase election security by modernizing how we administer elections to ensure every vote counts.

And in Connecticut, voters will be able to pass a ballot measure that will allow early voting in the state.

In most states, the integrity of the vote depends upon the secretary of state as the state’s chief election officer responsible for the oversight and administration of elections. So in Arizona, Minnesota, and Nevada, we are educating voters about candidates for this important office. Secretaries of state can expand voting access by implementing measures such as automatic voter registration and universal mail-in voting, and advocate for a legislative agenda that pushes for greater access to the ballot.

Racial Justice and Immigrants’ Rights are at Stake

There are many other important issues at stake during this midterm election. Across the nation, voters will have the chance to send a clear message to elected officials that they oppose efforts to ban books and prevent students and teachers from discussing race and gender in their classrooms. We will not let politicians infringe on our right to learn by imposing their own partisan interests or political and religious beliefs in our classrooms.

We are working to make sure that in places like Arizona, immigration status is not a barrier to education. Proposition 308 would enable any person who has lived in the state for two or more years and graduated from a state high school to attend Arizona colleges, regardless of immigration status.

In Colorado, the No Eviction Without Representation ballot measure will ensure that Denver families will have equal and fair access to legal counsel when faced with housing injustice. This will help ensure all people — especially communities of color and women, who disproportionately face the threat of eviction — have access to safe and stable housing.

Vote Your Values

Your vote is your voice. Vote for what matters to you, and vote for the people you know will protect what matters to you. Make a plan and recruit friends and family to join you at the polls. For more on how you can vote for your values and fight for your rights, check out our midterm conversation guide, available here.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc., 125 Broad Street, New York, New York 10004, in coordination with Reproductive Freedom for All.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. in coordination with Vermont for Reproductive Liberty.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. in coordination with Protect Kentucky Access.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc., 125 Broad Street, New York, New York 10004, in coordination with Promote the Vote 2022.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc., in coordination with ACLU of Connecticut Rise PAC Incorporated.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. in coordination with Yes on 308.

Paid for by American Civil Liberties Union, Inc. and authorized by NEWR Denver.

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The US Government Gave Them Protection. Now It May Take It Away.

Since the early 1990s, our nation has welcomed and assisted people whose countries have been devastated by war and natural disaster through the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program. Today, many TPS holders have established roots in the U.S., raising families and contributing to their communities.

In recent years, the Trump administration tried to terminate TPS for six countries and undermine the program altogether, fueling anti-immigrant sentiment and threatening hundreds of thousands of families. But TPS holders fought back and won relief from the courts in 2018 in Ramos v. Nielsen. Unfortunately, that protection could soon expire.

Now, four years later, over 300,000 people are again at risk of deportation and family separation from the Trump terminations. Their fate now rests with the Biden administration. Unless the administration acts now to reach a just settlement in the pending Ramos litigation or to redesignate TPS for these countries, the Trump terminations could go into effect for El Salvador, Honduras, Nepal, and Nicaragua after December 31.

We spoke about the urgency of this moment with TPS holders and their children, who are leading the fight for a just settlement to their case as well as long-term relief.

Cristina Morales

Crista Ramos and Cristina Morales

Credit: James Matthew Daniel

Cristina fled El Salvador in 1993 and traveled to the US when she was just 12 years old. Her mother had escaped domestic violence and fled before her. Cristina, who suffered the same abuse, followed — alone. Cristina has had TPS since 2001, which has allowed her to work in a job she loves, in early childhood education, and to raise and support her family without fear.

“[TPS] gives me a chance to work. To walk on the street free with our family and not be in fear that we’re going to get arrested by immigration.”

Cristina’s younger child was recently diagnosed with cancer and Cristina’s health insurance ensures her son and her family have the health care that they need. Cristina also is financially and emotionally supporting her older daughter as she embarks on her undergraduate education.

All that could change if Cristina loses TPS. Cristina, her two children, and her husband are haunted by the possibility that their family could be ripped apart if she loses her immigration status in the U.S.

“I have nothing [in El Salvador]. I don’t own anything over there. My whole family is over here.”

Cristina and her family are committed to defending TPS for themselves and other families through their lawsuit, and maintain hope that they will be able to stay together in the country they all call home.

“You know, many times people ask me, ‘what about if you lose?’ And I tell everybody ‘I can’t think like that because I believe in justice — I believe in this country. I believe justice will be served to us.’”

Crista Ramos

Crista Ramos

Credit: James Matthew Daniel

Crista, Cristina’s eldest child, is 18 years old, a first-year college student, and a vocal immigrants rights activist. Crista joined the Ramos v. Mayorkas litigation as the lead plaintiff when she was 14, after learning her mother was at risk of losing her status and being deported to El Salvador.

“I got involved because I want to help maintain my family together. I don’t want to just stand by. I want to be involved in the fight.”

If Crista’s mom were deported, she and her brother would have to decide whether to stay in the U.S. without their mother, or move to El Salvador, far from the rest of their family and friends.

“Home for me is the United States — here in my house, with my family. It’s a safe place where I can be myself and be with my family.”

Through litigation and advocacy, Crista fights not just for her own family, but for the hundreds of thousands of other families at risk of separation.

Keshav Bhattarai

Keshav Bhattarai

Credit: Constanza Hevia

Keshav Raj Bhattarai and his wife came to the United States in May of 2015 around the time a 7.8-magnitude earthquake tore through Nepal, killing thousands and leaving much of their home city of Kathmandu in rubble.

They had not intended to stay in the U.S., and only came to celebrate their son’s graduation from a medical fellowship program in Pittsburgh. But in June of 2015, the Obama administration designated Nepal for Temporary Protected Status, based on the devastation from the earthquake. Keshav and his family were relieved to be able to apply for and receive TPS while their country was struggling to rebuild.

But in 2018, President Trump removed protections for Nepal while the country was still recovering from the massive damage caused by the earthquake, in addition to other problems.

“We were receiving TPS continuously and when we got the information that the Trump government had suddenly terminated TPS, we were very discouraged.”

Keshav is a lead plaintiff in a companion case to the Ramos litigation – Bhattarai v. Mayorkas — which challenges the Trump administration’s terminations of TPS for Nepal and Honduras. While his immediate fight is to keep TPS, Keshav also hopes to win more permanent protections and stay in the U.S. long term with his wife and son.

“We are in a very critical situation, full of chaos, but we still are hopeful that the government, which works for people, will certainly make a decision in our favor. Though we are hopeful, we have fears of deportation; there is a constant fear that we might get deported.”

Learn more about Keshav’s story below:

Play the video

Sorayda Motiño

Sorayda Rodriguez

Credit: Will Martinez

Sorayda Rodriguez Motiño grew up in rural Honduras, where she remembers being surrounded by violence from a young age. Some of her neighbors were massacred during a period of severe regional instability, and she recalls living in fear for her life.

“Those are events that you just can’t forget,” she recounted, describing neighbors being killed and, as a child, having to hide under a table to avoid being shot. “When you wake up, and you hear bullets coming through the walls and you’re so little, you don’t know what to do. All you can do is hide under the table and hope for the best that one of those bullets is not going to hit you.”

Sorayda fled to the United States to escape the instability in Honduras when she was a child. Around the time of her arrival in the U.S., Hurricane Mitch devastated Honduras, killing thousands and displacing many more, and leading the U.S. government to designate the country for TPS.

Now, Sorayda has lived in the U.S. for 24 years — more than half her life. She is married to another TPS holder and they live in Harrisonburg, Virginia with their two U.S.-citizen children, ages 12 and 19. She is grateful to have a stable job in hospitality and to be able to raise her children in a safe community.

But Soryada worries continually that she and her husband could lose their TPS, and either be separated from their children or be forced to take them to an unfamiliar place, far from their home. Her children have never been to Honduras.

“My kids, this is the only place that they know. This is where they were born. So for them … Honduras is a foreign country they’re not going to know much about.”

Sorayda is a plaintiff in Bhattarai v. Mayorkas, where she is challenging Trump’s termination of TPS for Honduras. She and her family also continue to fight for more permanent protections.

“For my kids to know that a permanent residency or citizenship for their parents [is possible] means their future — to live with their parents here — is secure. It means they don’t have to worry about losing their parents.”

Learn more about Sorayda’s story below:

Play the video

Imara Ampie

Imara Ampie

Credit: Constanza Hevia

Imara Ampie and her husband are TPS holders from Nicaragua. They own a home in Northern California and have lived in the United States for more than 20 years. Imara is a plaintiff in Ramos v. Mayorkas, where she is challenging Trump’s termination of TPS for Nicaragua.

Imara’s husband has worked in building maintenance for the same school for the past 15 years. Imara cares for her two U.S. citizen children, aged 12 and 19.

Neither Imara nor her husband have returned to Nicaragua since they left more than 20 years ago, and her children have not set foot in Nicaragua.

When the Trump administration announced that it would terminate TPS for Nicaragua, she had to discuss this with her children. Her children are autistic and have special needs, and have been deeply affected by any discussion of losing their parents or the only home they have ever known.

“When the Trump Administration canceled [] TPS, I was worried for the emotional wellbeing and the educational support that my kids require for their special needs … We really feel we are in an immigration limbo. It is an inhumane chaos.”

The Trump administration’s decision to terminate TPS has caused Imara to feel sick; she has lost sleep and has found herself short of breath and anxious.

“We kindly need President Biden’s help so that all the families may stay in this country, because we need to keep contributing. We need to carry on with the work to reach our goals, our objectives for the future, and the wellbeing of our kids.”

Learn more about Imara’s story below:

Play the video

        American Civil Liberties Union Keep Families Together and Protect TPS Holders Take action and tell the Biden administration to do good on our nation’s promise. What you can do:Congress: Shrink the Cruel Immigration Detention SystemSend your message

U.S. Military Academies Continue to Discriminate Against Parents

Just weeks before his graduation from the United States Coast Guard Academy, Isaak Olson learned he wouldn’t receive the bachelor’s degree he had earned. The reason? He became a father before his final year of school.

“No parents allowed” sounds like a sign on a child’s bedroom door, not official United States policy. But the academy, along with the nation’s four other federal military service academies, bans parents from enrolling or graduating.

Cadets who learn they are expecting must terminate their (or their partner’s) pregnancies by 14 weeks or, if the cutoff has already passed, must irrevocably surrender their parental rights with no guarantee of ever getting them back. Those who don’t may face stiff penalties, including being kicked out of their home on campus, forfeiting their degree and commission, and repaying the cost of their education if they don’t enlist.

Isaak Olson would have received a set of the new hats and shoulder bars laid out for US Coast Guard Academy graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Commencement Exercises had he been allowed to graduate.

AP Photo/Stephen Dunn, File

Punishing cadets for becoming parents is unfair and sexist. That’s why the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School, the ACLU, and the ACLU Foundation of Connecticut sued the academy on Mr. Olson’s behalf. In a settlement, the academy agreed to award Mr. Olson the mechanical engineering degree he should have received eight years ago. That’s a win for Mr. Olson, but thousands of cadets are still subject to the archaic policy.

Seemingly recognizing the absurdity of the ban on parents, last fall Congress directed the Department of Defense to draft a new rule allowing cadets at the Military, Air Force, and Naval academies to keep their parental rights. That proposal was expected in June, but it’s yet to be announced. Troublingly, the directive to revisit the ban excludes the Coast Guard Academy, which is run by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Defense Department.

“No parents allowed” wasn’t always the rule at the service academies. The Coast Guard Academy’s ban wasn’t adopted until after 1976, when women were first admitted. Though the academies weren’t alone in resisting women’s integration into the military, other parts of the armed forces have since updated their rules. In 1972, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, then a lawyer with the ACLU, challenged an Air Force rule that would have required Captain Susan Struck, a nurse in Vietnam, to terminate her pregnancy or lose her job; Captain Struck sought to carry her pregnancy to term while continuing to serve. The U.S. Supreme Court was set to hear the case when, at the last minute, the Air Force agreed to change its policy.

Today, parents are found throughout the military: among enlisted troops, Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC), Officer Candidate Schools, commissioned officers, and even combat zones — everywhere except the service academies.

The Biden administration should do everything it can to protect pregnant and parenting cadets. That includes bringing all of our nation’s military academies into the 21st century by ending the ban on parents now.

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Hidden Taxes Don't Belong Anywhere, Least of All in Our Justice System

Picture this: On your way home from work after a long week, you’re pulled over and issued a ticket for rolling through a stop sign. The fine is $75 — but once mandatory fees are tacked on, the ticket’s total cost is over $300.

What would happen if you couldn’t afford to pay this cost immediately? In most places in the U.S., your government would tack on additional fees and interest charges, suspend your driver’s license, or even issue a bench warrant — meaning that police could arrest and jail you.

Fees are a hidden, regressive tax that harshly punish hard-working families living paycheck to paycheck.

This is just one of the ways that fees in the justice system trap far too many people in a vicious cycle of debt and punishment. Hard-working people living paycheck to paycheck are forced to make once-unimaginable choices: Do I forgo basic necessities like food, medicine, and housing for my family? Or do I pay all these fees in order to avoid arrest and jail?

A burgeoning movement is building momentum in states across the country to tackle this problem head-on. Americans for Prosperity and the ACLU, along with the Fines & Fees Justice Center, recently launched the End Justice Fees campaign to support and sustain advocacy efforts to eliminate fees charged to people at every stage of the justice system. Dozens of organizations from across the political spectrum have signed on as supporters, united in the belief that eliminating these fees is foundational to a fair and effective justice system.

While “fines and fees” are often spoken of in conjunction with one another, they are separate and distinct. Fines are ostensibly imposed as a punishment for violating the law, while fees exist solely to raise money for the government and try to recoup some of the costs created by law enforcement. In practice, fees are a hidden, regressive tax that harshly punish hard-working families living paycheck to paycheck.

Americans for Prosperity and the ACLU, along with the Fines & Fees Justice Center, recently launched the End Justice Fees campaign to support and sustain advocacy efforts to eliminate justice fees.

Over the past three decades, the number and amount of fees imposed by the justice system has grown exponentially, as states and municipalities have chosen to become reliant on them to fund their growing systems of policing, surveillance, and incarceration. Fees exist at every stage of the justice system — warrant fees, booking fees, pretrial supervision fees, diversion program fees, prosecution fees, probation fees, fees for medical care, phone calls and more during incarceration, and parole fees, among countless others.

Almost everyone charged with a crime is required to pay fees, from people charged with a minor traffic violation or a low-level misdemeanor, to those charged with more serious felonies — who typically spend years in prison without the ability to earn a living, only to reenter their communities trapped in insurmountable debt.

Fees devastate families and entire communities. Most people who are arrested and prosecuted for a crime are already low-income, as evidenced by the fact that about four out of five people in the system are eligible for a court-appointed attorney.

Fees are also disproportionately assessed against certain groups, given the massive racial and economic disparities pervading the justice system. Funding the system this way takes money directly out of the pockets of the families least able to afford them and further locks many individuals in a cycle of economic instability.

When governments rely on fees to fund essential government functions, it creates an incentive for unnecessary laws, regulations, and enforcement. Law enforcement officers spend an extraordinary amount of time and resources on arresting and booking people for minor offenses with hefty fees attached, or for not paying those fees.

We must demand that state and local governments find a better solution for funding the justice system — not only to alleviate the harms caused by fees, but also because fees are an inefficient and unreliable source of funding. While states and municipalities don’t track how much they’re spending on collections and enforcement costs, available research shows the cost of collecting fees consumes nearly 100 times as many taxpayer dollars as collecting revenue through taxation. In fact, some jurisdictions spend more money on collecting fees than what they are raising in revenue through those fees.

A growing number of states are recognizing the harms associated with justice fees and have begun to address them. Oklahoma, Kentucky, Louisiana, Texas, and several other states have recently eliminated some or all fees charged to youth in the juvenile system. And just this week, Delaware Gov. Carney signed legislation to eliminate a wide range of fees, including probation and parole fees, counsel fees, and juvenile system fees.

Join us and collaborate in efforts to End Justice Fees. Get started by taking action and showing your support for eliminating fees, and ask your friends to get involved too.

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Voting Rights Are Center Stage This Supreme Court Term

The Supreme Court this term will hear Merrill v. Milligan, a case concerning Alabama’s congressional districts that may have serious implications for the power of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The Supreme Court should reject Alabama’s dangerous invitation to remake the Voting Rights Act into a law that entrenches — rather than fights against — racial discrimination in voting.

The state’s redrawn congressional maps double down on Alabama’s historical practice of limiting Black voting power, and harm not only Black Alabamians and communities of color, but all Alabamians who care about fair representation.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act bans racial discrimination in voting nationwide. When it comes to drawing district lines, the law requires that line drawers do not unfairly dilute the power of voters of color. Congress intended this provision to protect against even subtle or hidden forms of racial discrimination in voting, and it reinforced this vision by amending Section 2 in 1982, in response to a restrictive Supreme Court decision to make clear that proof of intentional discrimination was not required to prevail.

Voters, mostly black, line up to vote in a queue that snakes along the perimeter outside the polling station building.

Cory Young/Tulsa World via AP, File

Last year, Alabama adopted new congressional maps as the result of its once-in-a-decade redistricting process. These new maps double down on Alabama’s historical practice of limiting Black voting power, and disserve not only Black Alabamians and communities of color, but all Alabamians who care about fair representation.

Alabama’s congressional districts continue to harm Black Alabamians and other communities of color in several ways. The new map creates only one district out of seven in which Black Alabamians can elect preferred candidates, despite comprising more than 27 percent of Alabama’s voting-age population.

It does so by first packing a larger number of Black Alabamians into Congressional District 7 than necessary. It then cracks the rest of state’s strongest community of interest — the Black Belt, including Montgomery, a longstanding majority-Black area — across Congressional Districts 1, 2, and 3.

It’s essential that the Supreme Court uphold and affirm the Voting Rights Act by requiring Alabama to redraw the maps, and reject their arguments to ignore racial discrimination in the state’s political processes.

That’s why earlier this year after a lengthy trial, even a panel of three judges appointed by presidents of different parties ruled in a detailed 200-page opinion that the state must redraw the map. Alabama’s plan reinforced discrimination in voting, employment, health care, and other areas that make it more difficult for Black people to turn out, vote, and sponsor candidates.

It is essential that the Supreme Court uphold and affirm the purpose of the Voting Rights Act by requiring Alabama to redraw these discriminatory maps, and reject their arguments to ignore deep-seated racial discrimination in the state’s political processes. The VRA is as important to democracy today as it was nearly 60 years ago. Alabama’s increasingly diverse population calls for two districts where Alabama’s Black residents can elect candidates of their choice to Congressional office.

Alabama has a long and continuous history of discriminating against Black voters. Without a functional Voting Rights Act, our efforts to make and keep the United States a truly functional, multiracial democracy will be set back. Black voters deserve to be heard in the electoral process, not to be packed into one district or diluted into several districts by a congressional map that attacks their political power.

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Ask an Expert: How to Connect With Hesitant Voters

With the election just around the corner, we are chatting with some of our great volunteers about what issues are most important to them, and how they motivate voters to cast their ballots. We hope these conversations inspire you to vote for your values and join us in this once-in-a-generation battle to protect our nation.

https://go.peoplepower.org/signup/vote-your-values-fight-for-rights/

This week we talked with Connie Jeung Mills, a California-based arts activist and team volunteer with the ACLU People Power text team. People Power is the ACLU’s platform for grassroots action. Our volunteer teams help mobilize and organize communities all across the country in defense of our civil liberties by making calls, sending texts, and connecting with prospective voters about the issues that matter most to them.

ACLU: What motivated you to get involved with the ACLU as a volunteer?

CJM: I’ve known about the ACLU since I was a kid and they’ve always done great work. I’ve worked with other voting rights organizations in the past, so I was very inspired to work with an organization that cared about the same issues important to me.

Activist Connie Jeung-Mills persuading people to vote in her community.

ACLU: What experiences have informed your activism?

CJM: I’ve voted my entire life, and my family has been involved in activism since I was young. An important part of my activism is the artwork I do. I remember watching television and seeing political activists at the D.C. Courthouse during the Trump administration holding signs with messages that were so powerful. And after that moment, a light bulb went off in my head, it was just the impetus for me to use my art and passion for activism to fight back.

ACLU: How do you explain to people why voting is important, and persuade them to take part in upcoming elections?

CJM: I find the best way to motivate people is to find out what motivates them. What issues motivate them to want to do something to help their community. And then I try to connect the dots between their passion for that issue and voting by explaining how the electoral process has a direct impact on their lives. Because when they’re voting, they’re voting for people that are going to represent them in government to bring about the change that they seek.

Being an activist and voter is not just one action for an election, it’s a lifelong effort.

ACLU: Sometimes people feel like their vote doesn’t matter, and are really discouraged by the current state of politics. What would you like to say to people who might opt not to vote because they feel powerless?

CJM: I would tell them that I understand how they feel. But especially right now, they can’t give up and change doesn’t come overnight. Although things seem tough right now, as we saw with the Supreme Court recently, too much is at stake in our country. Being an activist and voter is not just one action for an election, it’s a lifelong effort.

ACLU: Do you have any other advice for people who want to encourage people to get to the polls? What else do you want people to know about your experience?

CJM: The biggest piece of advice I could give people when talking to their friends and family about voting this November is it takes one person at a time and to always be authentic. People can tell when you talk to them if you are really listening to what they are saying to you. Also, I’m so happy to be volunteering for the ACLU. The ACLU stands up for me and I want to help them, help other people, not just me.

Interested in working with people like Connie to defend our rights? Find out more about how to get involved here.

https://www.aclu.org/news/voting-rights/midterm-elections-how-these-offices-impact-your-rights

What you can do:Vote Your Values, Fight for Your RightsTake the pledge

Arizona's New Law Banning People from Recording Police Violates our First Amendment Rights

It is disturbingly easy to find examples of law enforcement wielding brutal violence against people while claiming to protect or safeguard. Black and Brown communities in particular have long-experienced disproportionate targeting and violence at the hands of law enforcement, and this violence is too frequently lethal. Whether people are exercising their constitutional rights to protest, driving, experiencing a mental health crisis, or even sleeping — there are far too many instances of law enforcement encounters causing harm.

Arizona recently passed a law that makes it a crime, punishable by up to a month in jail, for people to record videos within eight feet of police activity.

One of the best tools available to hold law enforcement accountable is a video camera —in other words, the right to record. The First Amendment protects our right to record police engaged in official duties. Every federal circuit to consider the right to record — seven out of 13 circuits — has held that this right clearly exists, and most have specified that it applies to law enforcement. In recent years, there have been numerous, tragic deaths at the hands of police that were recorded by civilian bystanders, and that footage has been critical to pushing back on unchecked police brutality. But now, this essential right is under attack.

Arizona recently passed a law that makes it a crime, punishable by up to a month in jail, for people to record videos within eight feet of police activity. Specifically, it prohibits people from recording police if they are within eight feet of an area where the person “knows or should reasonably know” law enforcement activity is happening. This law is a blatant attempt to gut First Amendment protections for recording police. That is why we are suing Arizona to challenge this unconstitutional law, and urging the court to immediately prevent it from going into effect.

The ACLU is suing Arizona to challenge this unconstitutional law, and urging the court to immediately prevent it from going into effect.

Unsurprisingly, members of law enforcement commonly attempt to interfere with recordings of their conduct or harass those who have recorded them in violation of the constitutional right to record. The Arizona law, too, has been framed as “preventing violence and misunderstandings, preventing the destruction of evidence and preventing police officers from harm,” but it makes shockingly little effort to hide its true purpose — preventing people from exercising their constitutional right to record. Under this law:

  • Standing within eight feet of “law enforcement activity” and holding up a cell phone without making a video recording would be perfectly legal.
  • Only “video recordings” are targeted — not writing on a notepad, texting, or setting up a painting easel within eight feet of an officer.
  • “Law enforcement activity” is defined extremely broadly — including simply “enforcing the law.” In essence, this boils the restriction down to recording “within eight feet of a police officer.”
  • An officer can “create the crime”: Legally recording an officer outside of the eight-foot distance would turn into a crime if the officer moved closer to the person recording and got within eight feet of them.

The law also contains toothless exceptions to the eight-foot distance requirement for recording within a private and indoor place, a vehicle, or when you are the subject of the police interaction. However, each of these “exceptions” falls away as soon as a “law enforcement officer determines that the person is interfering in the law enforcement activity” or, in the case of individuals indoors, that it is “not safe to be in the area.” In other words, each exception problematically maintains the power of any officer to shut down the recording based on a subjective determination in the moment of what “interferes” with their “law enforcement activity.” To make matters worse, “interference” is not defined at all.

This law is a violation of a vital constitutional right and will severely thwart attempts to build police accountability. It must be struck down before it creates irreparable community harm.

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Native Families' Right to Stay Together is at Stake at the Supreme Court

Since European settlers arrived on the shores of what is now known as the United States, federal and state governments, intent on seizing Indian lands, have sought to undermine and threaten the existence of tribes through the forced separation and assimilation of Native children. By severing Native children from their families, tribes, and culture, colonizers believed they could stamp out Indigeneity and erase tribal people altogether. As with any nation, the future ceases to exist if children are prevented from carrying on the languages, traditions, and knowledge passed down from each generation to the next.

This tool of assimilation and genocide has been wielded against tribal nations and Native children repeatedly throughout history, and it is happening again now.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (IWCA) — a law that aims to protect Native children from forced removal from their families, tribes, and culture and preserve tribal sovereignty — is currently under attack and at risk of being overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. Congress passed ICWA in 1978 to address the nationwide crisis of state child welfare agencies tearing Native children from their families and placing them in non-Native homes, in an attempt to force Native children to assimilate and adopt white cultural norms. Before ICWA, public and private agencies were removing 25 to 35 percent of Native American/Alaska Native children from their homes, and 85 percent of those children were placed in non-Native households.

The tools of assimilation and genocide have been wielded against tribal nations and Native children repeatedly throughout history, and it is happening again now.

Overwhelming evidence has found that being removed from homes and disconnected from culture, tradition, and identity profoundly harms Native children. The Indian Child Welfare Act requires state courts to make active efforts to keep Native families together and to prioritize the placement of Native children within their families and within tribal communities — where their cultural identities will be understood and celebrated.

This November, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland, a case that challenges the constitutionality of ICWA. If the Supreme Court rules ICWA unconstitutional, it could have devastating consequences for Native children, families and tribes while simultaneously putting the existence of tribes in jeopardy. That’s why the ACLU and the ACLUs of Northern California, Alaska, Arizona, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Washington filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court today urging the court to uphold the constitutionality of ICWA.

ICWA aims to address the forced separation of Native children and families and represents a small step toward acknowledging the centuries of genocidal violence that underpin this case. Beginning in the early 1800s, the architects of the Federal Indian Boarding School Program designed the program to erase the Indigenous identities of Native people. The government snatched children as young as four years old from their families and sent them to militarized boarding school institutions designed to destroy their Native identities and culture, often hundreds of miles away from their tribal homelands.

Any markers of their Indigeneity — language, clothing, traditional hairstyles, and even their names — were prohibited in these institutions. Indian boarding schools were not simply places where Native youth were stripped of their culture: many children died at these schools from outright neglect, malnutrition, untreated illness, and as a result of physical violence carried out against them.

The National ACLU and several ACLU affiliates filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court today urging the court to uphold the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA.)

While boarding schools were largely shuttered by the mid-1900s, the philosophy lived on: Native children were better off living with white families, even at the expense of their mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.

In 1958, the Bureau of Indian Affairs created the Indian Adoption Project. The project’s explicit goal was to assimilate Native children into white culture through adoption and the intentional destruction of Indigenous family units and tribal communities. During this era and continuing today, practices rooted in ethnocentric stereotypes operating under the guise of “child protection” resulted in the baseless separation of thousands of Native children from their families and homelands.

It is incomprehensibly heinous that — in order to build the country we all live in today — federal and state governments targeted Native children, robbing those children, their families, their communities, and their tribal nations of everything it meant to be Indigenous.

Brackeen v. Haaland is the largest threat to Native children, families, and tribes before the Supreme Court in our lifetimes. If ICWA is overturned, states would once again be allowed to tear Native children from their families, tribes, and culture while simultaneously threatening tribes’ very existence. The legal arguments made by the plaintiffs challenging ICWA in Brackeen undermine key tenets of federal Indian law, and threaten many other laws upholding tribal sovereignty.

Tribal sovereignty is the right of tribes — 574 currently recognized by the federal government — to make and be governed by their own laws. This sovereignty is inherent, as Native Nations existed long before the creation of the United States. Hundreds of treaties have guaranteed tribal nations the right to self-govern. Through these treaties, Native Nations gave up their right to millions of acres of land that would become the United States in exchange for promises to tribes, including the guarantee that lands “reserved” for tribes would be governed by the tribes in perpetuity. The outcome of Brackeen v. Haaland could put centuries-long legal precedent upholding tribal sovereignty — including tribes’ right and ability to preserve their unique cultural identities, raise their own children and govern themselves — in jeopardy.

Native families have a right to stay together, to care for their children, and to preserve tribal culture by ensuring access to their cultural identity, language, and heritage. The Supreme Court must protect this right and uphold the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act.

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Ask the Experts: How to Inspire People to Vote for Their Values

With the election just around the corner, we are chatting with some of our great volunteers about what issues are most important to them, and how they motivate voters to cast their ballots. We hope these conversations inspire you to vote for your values and join us in this once-in-a-generation battle to protect our nation.

Our first conversation is with Julia Lundy, a Maryland-based team leader with the ACLU People Power text team. People Power is the ACLU’s platform for grassroots action. Our volunteer teams help mobilize and organize communities all across the country in defense of our civil liberties by making calls, sending texts, and connecting with prospective voters about the issues that matter most to them.

A smiling Julia Lundy.

ACLU: What motivated you to get involved with the ACLU as a volunteer?

JL: I was very disappointed in the direction the country was heading in after the election of Donald J. Trump, the Muslim ban, and the selection of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Jeff Sessions had said in the past that people with disabilities like me should not be in mainstream classrooms, which I was when I was growing up. There were just so many violations of law and decorum that really scared me.

ACLU: What experiences have informed your activism?

JL: As a person with disabilities, I was not able to vote on my own. For a while I was voting, but somebody had to fill up the ballot for me. And when I finally got the opportunity to go in there and vote on my own, it just felt like another level of freedom, because I was able to say what I wanted to say with no interference. This experience really motivated me to help vulnerable people and populations who can’t speak for themselves.

As a person with disabilities, I was not able to vote on my own. Somebody had to fill up the ballot for me. And when I finally got the opportunity to vote on my own, it felt like another level of freedom.

ACLU: How do you explain to people why voting is important, and persuade them to take part in upcoming elections?

JL: I always try to explain the impact a particular election will have on someone’s life. It’s also important to get across to a potential voter why their vote at this moment is so necessary. It’s not always clear how consequential something is until you think through it a little bit and you have to explain it to someone else. That’s pretty much the strategy I use to try to get people more on board when texting volunteers, and I find that it works pretty well.

ACLU: What has surprised you over the years in your activism?

JL: It’s surprised me how much through texting volunteers I am able to inspire people. And also, the level of what people are willing to do for what they believe in. In the beginning, it was very shocking. Some of the responses I got when texting supporters could be mean. But at the same time, I have found that there has been such an outpouring of support. And I’ve also learned over time not to jump to conclusions on a civil rights issue because there are angles that I haven’t even thought about. So, I’ve learned to ask more questions and try to get to the bottom of something before jumping to any kind of judgment. I found that all of this also has been extremely useful in my day-to-day life.

I always try to explain the impact a particular election will have on someone’s life. It’s also important to get across to a potential voter why their vote at this moment is so necessary.

ACLU: Why is the right to vote so important to you?

JL: I think being able to speak for yourself, and stand with people who have the same values as you, to get together and make the changes that we need to see, is empowering. Every vote counts. It’s amazing how a few votes can sway a whole election or how a bunch of votes can make a point. For example, look at the Kansas ballot initiative on abortion access. People came out and voted for their rights. You can’t make the change unless you give it a shot.

ACLU: Why did you decide to share your story? What else do you want people to know about your experience?

JL: Sometimes things can be difficult, like the moment we are going through as a country right now. But if you work hard at it, you can come to a solution as long as you all work together. I love working with the team of volunteers we have at the ACLU, and I love knowing that there’s so many dedicated people that work around the clock to make the good work the ACLU does happen.

Interested in working with people like Julia to defend our rights? Find out more about how to get involved here.

https://www.aclu.org/news/voting-rights/midterm-elections-how-these-offices-impact-your-rights

What you can do:Vote Your Values, Fight for Your RightsTake the pledge