The Supreme Court Takes Up the Issue of Birth Control Coverage – Again

The Supreme Court just announced that it will hear yet another case about the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) birth control coverage requirement. If you are experiencing déjà vu, you are not alone. Court battles over the birth control coverage requirement have been raging for almost a decade. How did we get here?

2012: The Birth Control Benefit is Established

Congress passed the Women’s Health Amendment to the ACA to try to close the disparity in health care costs that women have historically experienced. In 2012, the independent, nonpartisan Institute of Medicine was tasked with determining what health care should be covered under the ACA’s Women’s Health Amendment. The Institute determined that all FDA-approved prescription contraception should be covered without a copay in all plans covered under the ACA.

As a result, an estimated 62 million people now have birth control coverage with no copay, and in one year alone, women saved $1.4 billion in out-of-pocket costs. Access to contraception is incredibly important for gender equality: Being able to decide whether and when to become a parent means that you can make decisions about your economic, educational, and family life.

But despite how popular and important the birth control benefit is, religiously affiliated employers and universities unleashed a flood of lawsuits trying to take away birth control coverage from their employees and students.

Round One: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

The arts-and-crafts retailer, Hobby Lobby, took its case to the Supreme Court in 2014. Hobby Lobby argued that under a federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it should be allowed to withhold contraception coverage from its employees because of Hobby Lobby’s owners’ religious beliefs.

  • Outcome: The Supreme Court agreed somewhat, and held that the federal government could simply allow Hobby Lobby and other companies like them to take advantage of the “accommodation” that was already in place for non-profit organizations. This accommodation involves the company filling out a simple form, at which point the health insurance company steps in to provide the coverage. In the Court’s decision, this accommodation was sufficient to ensure that Hobby Lobby employees have contraception coverage.

Round Two: Zubik v. Burwell

A number of colleges and universities also sought to take away birth control coverage from their students and employees by bringing lawsuits saying that they shouldn’t have to fill out the one-page form for the accommodation. In other words, they wanted a complete exemption from the contraception coverage requirement. In 2016, their case reached the Supreme Court.

  • Outcome: The Supreme Court punted and asked the parties to the case to try and figure out a solution that would respect the religious objections of the universities and ensure that students and employees had coverage.

Round Three: Trump v. Pennsylvania

By the time Donald Trump took office, the conflict remained unresolved. Shortly after Donald Trump took office in 2017, his administration issued a new regulation saying that employers or universities could invoke their religious or moral beliefs to withhold contraception coverage from employees and students without filling out the form for the accommodation, essentially giving the religiously affiliated companies and universities exactly what they were trying to accomplish through the courts. A new round of lawsuits ensued, including one brought by the Pennsylvania Attorney General, who argued that the new rules were unlawful. The trial court and the court of appeals agreed and granted a nationwide injunction blocking the Trump rules while the case proceeds.

Today, the Supreme Court agreed to review that case.

We will do everything we can to ensure that the Supreme Court continues to block Trump’s dangerous rules. We strongly support religious liberty — but allowing companies and universities to use religious beliefs to block employees’ and students’ birth control coverage is discrimination, not religious liberty. Everyone should have birth control coverage, regardless of where they work or where they go to school. 

2019 Proved We Can Stop Face Recognition Surveillance

This piece originally appeared on Fast Company.

In 2019, we proved face recognition surveillance isn’t inevitable. Now, it’s time for Congress to rein in the technology once and for all.

Last year, communities banded together to prove that they can — and will — defend their privacy rights. As part of ACLU-led campaigns, three California cities — San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland — as well as three Massachusetts municipalities — Somerville, Northhampton, and Brookline — banned the government’s use of face recognition from their communities. Following another ACLU effort, the state of California blocked police body cam use of the technology — forcing San Diego’s police department to shutter its massive face surveillance flop. And in New York City, tenants successfully fended off their landlord’s efforts to install face surveillance.

Even the private sector demonstrated it had a responsibility to act in the face of the growing threat of face surveillance. Axon, the country’s largest body camera supplier, announced it would ban face recognition on its products for the foreseeable future. 

With Congress today holding its first hearing of 2020 on face recognition, it’s critical that lawmakers heed this unmistakable message from constituents: Face recognition surveillance has no place in our communities.

Face recognition offers governments a surveillance capability unlike any other technology in the past. The powerful capability can enable the government to identify who attends protests, political rallies, church, or AA meetings on an unprecedented scale. In China, the government is already using face recognition surveillance to track and control ethnic minorities, including Uighurs. Protesters in Hong Kong have had to resort to wearing masks to trick Big Brother’s ever-watchful eye.

In the United States, federal and local law enforcement agencies have been eagerly adopting this technology too, often in secret, at the urging of private companies, and despite widespread evidence that the technology is biased.

In 2018, an ACLU report revealed Amazon was actively helping multiple police departments deploy the technology in communities. A Georgetown University report revealed that the NYPD used altered photos, artist sketches, and celebrity look-alikes when trying to find criminal suspects using face recognition. And just a few months ago, a massive government study of nearly 200 face recognition algorithms further confirmed that the technology is flawed and biased. For instance, false positives were found to be between two and five times higher for women than men.

One false match can lead to missed flights, lengthy interrogations, tense police encounters, false arrests, or worse. But the technology’s flaws are only one concern. Accurate or not, face recognition technology threatens to forever alter our free society, eroding the little remaining semblance of privacy guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment and turning us all into subjects to be monitored, tracked, and scrutinized wherever we go.

As Congress continues to hear from experts on face recognition, it is critical that it move fast to put the brakes on this technology. It must also press government agencies to disclose when, where, and how law enforcement agencies are using the technology, and what safeguards, if any, are in place to protect our rights.

At the same time, Congress must investigate the technology companies arming law enforcement with this surveillance technology. They should have hearings forcing companies who continue to stonewall Congress to disclose how they are marketing their technology, who they are selling it to, and the representations they have made about its efficacy. As part of these hearings, they should request and make public documents revealing which government agencies use face recognition and from which companies the agencies have purchased this technology. It is unacceptable that many of these companies tout transparency on one end but then on the other end stonewall Congress and continue to secretly do business with law enforcement agencies, often under secrecy agreements.

There can be no accountability if there is no transparency. And communities are demanding action.

In 2019, we proved a face surveillance dystopia isn’t inevitable. Congress can — and must — make 2020 the year we rein this technology in once and for all.

The White House’s Dangerously Expansive Views on Trump’s Powers That You Can’t See

A basic legal consensus about our democracy is that the Constitution assigns the “power of the purse” to Congress. Turning this edict on its head, White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) lawyers reportedly concocted a legal theory that President Trump can override Congress’s foreign policy spending decisions enshrined in law. If such a dangerously expansive proposal exists as a full legal opinion, it should be publicly disclosed — but chances are, it’ll stay secret for a generation unless Congress intervenes.

To recap, the president tried to withhold congressionally-mandated military aid to Ukraine, while cutting Congress out of the process, to force an investigation into one of his political opponents. Overshadowed by the ensuing impeachment firestorm were concerns that the president had violated appropriations law, the Impoundment Control Act, and the legislative branch’s constitutional primacy over spending. Perhaps mindful of the resulting legal red flags, including those raised by Pentagon officials, White House attorneys manufactured a legal justification. As reported, they claimed the president “could do so … if he determined that, based on existing circumstances, releasing the money would undermine military or diplomatic efforts.” Trump would purportedly just need to invoke “constitutional commander in chief powers.”

Trump is not the first president to assert expansions of executive power or dispute Congress’ funding mandates, although he is unique in absurdly claiming that the Constitution gives him “the right to do whatever I want.” It’s also not the first time Trump encroached on legislative control over the budget and flouted appropriations statutes. Last year, the ACLU went to federal court to challenge the president’s unlawful diversions of public money to fund a border wall.

But the White House’s legal justification for Trump’s Ukraine aid machinations is a new, potentially more far-reaching and alarming twist. Depending on the details of the White House’s legal analysis, which has not been officially confirmed or disclosed, such an extraordinarily broad power grab set as precedent could gut the separation of powers and upend our constitutional order. A maximalist version could even foreclose Congress’s ability to check presidential overreach and fulfill basic duties involving matters of war and peace, including conducting oversight through appropriations laws and establishing spending priorities. What Congress enacted wouldn’t matter under the worst-case scenario because the president could unilaterally ignore or nullify it. It’s an especially galling argument with respect to military funding, as the Constitution explicitly allocates that authority to Congress.

That’s why the public should be able to review the complete content of what the White House lawyers authored. However, a key obstacle is how the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) works today. FOIA is the mechanism by which Americans can ordinarily obtain government records; in fact, the law presumes that any government document is public unless covered by one of its narrow exceptions. But if faced with a FOIA request for the new legal theory, the administration is likely to hide it behind a particular exemption. (Unlike other parts of the White House, OMB is subject to FOIA.) 

Specifically, FOIA Exemption 5 allows the government to choose to withhold (or release) certain “inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters” and includes the so-called “deliberative process privilege,” which no longer shields records 25 years or older due to recent reforms. This ostensibly allows government employees to engage in candid internal conversations during the decision-making process. In practice, Exemption 5 is notorious for overuse and abuse, fueled by recent pro-secrecy court rulings. It’s been invoked to conceal even the titles and publication dates of the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel’s final and binding legal opinions — a form of secret law, which has no place in a democracy and was one of the evils that FOIA was intended to prohibit.

In the Ukraine scandal, the administration already invoked Exemption 5 to make suspicious redactions. Seizing a rare opportunity to compare those redactions to unredacted emails, Just Security uncovered the censorship of crucial excerpts questioning the legality of the White House’s actions, thereby painting a misleading picture — even though FOIA cannot be used to conceal governmental misconduct. So it would be unsurprising if the administration sought to shield the White House’s new legal theory behind Exemption 5. It’s possible the courts would be skeptical because it doesn’t protect post-decisional records and news reporting suggested that the legal justification came after the decision was made to withhold the military aid. That said, we cannot count on the courts to save the day, especially when the executive branch invokes foreign policy or national security interests.

Congress must intervene to reform the FOIA exemptions on behalf of the public, not just access the White House’s legal theory for itself. Such amendments would be timely because as the Ukraine scandal shows, the president’s attempts to usurp Congress’s power of the purse and the broader problem of “secret law” are both ongoing issues. There are many good ways to update FOIA; one idea to consider, for example, is a new Exemption 5 balancing test to require agencies and reviewing courts to weigh the public’s interest in transparency against an agency’s interest in secrecy. In order for FOIA to truly and fully deliver on its promise of a transparent and accountable government, the legislature must act.

Arkansas Legislators’ Attack on Abortion is Unconstitutional

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled time and again that reproductive privacy is “central to personal dignity and autonomy, [which] are central to the liberty protected by” the Constitution. The Court has made eminently clear that under the Constitution, the right of a pregnant person to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability is a right so essential to our freedom that our government cannot ban or impose an undue burden on its exercise. But despite the long-standing clarity of this principle, reproductive health and rights continue to come under blistering, unrelenting attack.

Nowhere is this clearer than with the enactment of record numbers of outright pre-viability bans on abortion over the past few years. In enacting these bans and a slew of other devastating restrictions on abortion access, states such as Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Utah, and Arkansas have clearly undermined reproductive autonomy in blatant violation of the Constitution.

Enough is enough. That’s why we, along with our colleagues and fellow scholars in constitutional law, filed a friend of the court brief in the 8th Circuit last week, speaking up against Arkansas’s recent attempts to interfere with the right to reproductive autonomy. Right now, Arkansas is asking the 8th Circuit to overturn a lower court order that blocked a set of abortion bans and restrictions the state passed last year from taking effect. These laws include: a ban on doctors performing abortions prior to viability if the abortion is sought after 18 weeks (18-week ban); a ban on doctors performing abortions prior to viability if the doctor has “knowledge” that the abortion is sought “solely” due to a belief that the fetus may have Down syndrome (reason ban); and a medically unnecessary restriction on the types of physicians who can perform abortion in the state, which would prohibit all qualified providers who are not board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology from continuing to provide the safe, compassionate abortion care they have been providing in Arkansas for years (OBGYN requirement).

Arkansas insists that its two bans on pre-viability abortion are not actually bans but merely “regulations.” This is nothing but Orwellian subterfuge. We know a ban when we see one and so do people looking to terminate their pregnancies. Regulations are laws that control how a right can be exercised. Bans prohibit a right from being exercised at all. And that is exactly what the 18-week ban and reason ban would do if permitted to take effect.

Arkansas has also denied that the Constitution treats the right to pre-viability abortion, or any other right, as absolute. The Constitution begs to differ. Within the realm of privacy, states cannot ban many expressions of liberty and autonomy, including interracial unions, same-sex marriage, consensual same-sex intercourse, and more.

Arkansas’s OBGYN requirement fares no better under constitutional scrutiny. With it, Arkansas is attempting to impose an arbitrary and medically unnecessary restriction on who can provide abortions in the state with the aim of making abortion even more difficult — if not impossible — to access. The state defends this restriction as protecting patient health, but cannot show that current abortion providers who are not OBGYNs — and who have been providing compassionate abortion care in Arkansas for years — are doing so unsafely. It also claims that restricting those who can provide abortions to only board-eligible or –certified OBGYNs would lead to better health outcomes for patients. What the record does show is that if the law is allowed to go into effect, an estimated 62 to 70 percent of people wish to have an abortion in Arkansas will be unable to do so. Arkansas’s medical safety justification is just another failed post-hoc rationalization for an abortion restriction that would unduly burden access to vital reproductive health care. Indeed, if Arkansas were really concerned about maternal health, it would take action to lessen its fifth-highest in the country maternal mortality rate, a rate that is dramatically worse for Black women.

Thankfully, a district court saw through Arkansas’s sophistry and phony justifications and preliminarily enjoined the state’s two bans on abortion prior to viability and OBGYN requirement, with a decision rooted in long-standing precedent and bedrock principles of justice. Let’s hope the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals follows our brief and heeds the wisdom of the lower court, preserving not only that decision but also the civil rights and civil liberties of all people who want to terminate a pregnancy.

Lawmakers Playing Politics with Trans Kids’ Lives at the Start of the Decade

We’re just days into the first state legislative sessions of 2020 and across the country, lawmakers are once again targeting transgender young people with a slate of proposed laws that would bring devastating harms to the transgender community.

In 2016, lawmakers fixated on where transgender people go to the bathroom. This year, lawmakers have zeroed in on transgender people playing sports and receiving life-saving medical care. It is hard to imagine why state legislators have decided to prioritize barring transgender young people from sharing in the benefit of secondary school athletics or disrupting medical treatment consistent with prevailing standards of care. But here we are, the start of the session, a time to fight.

As has been the case since 2015, South Dakota is leading the way with legislation targeting transgender youth. On the first day of this legislative session, South Dakota lawmakers introduced HB 1057, a bill that would make it a felony for medical providers to affirm a transgender minor’s gender. This bill would not only compromise positive health outcomes for transgender youth, but it would lead to the arrest and imprisonment of doctors for simply treating their patients consistent with prevailing medical standards.

That’s right. Lawmakers want to throw doctors who follow basic medical standards for trans youth behind bars and leave trans youth with no recourse at all.

Denying best practice medical care and support to transgender youth can be life-threatening. It has been shown to contribute to depression, social isolation, self-hatred, risk of self-harm and suicidal behavior, and more. The “problem” this bill and other similar bills in Florida, South Carolina, and Missouri is supposed to be addressing? That medical providers are treating children in accordance with long-established standards of care and the Hippocratic oath they took to do no harm.

Lawmakers want to stop people from being transgender and they are willing to put doctors in jail and tell transgender youth that they shouldn’t receive health care in order to achieve their aims.

Imagine being a young person in South Dakota who struggled with depression and anxiety in early childhood, as many transgender people do, because they couldn’t quite identify why they felt so alienated from their peers, their family, and their own body. Over time, they come to recognize that they have a gender that does not align with what they were assigned at birth, tell their family, find support, and begin a course of medical treatment that is quite literally saving their life. With bills like those proposed in South Dakota and elsewhere, young people are at risk of having their lifeline stripped away in an instant. The care that gave them a chance to live is at risk of becoming a crime. Their lives are at risk of becoming criminalized before they even get a chance to live them.

And these legislative attacks go beyond health care. Elsewhere, lawmakers have taken aim at transgender people through proposed bans on transgender student athletes participating in sports consistent with their gender identity. These measures would exclude transgender people from enjoying the benefits of sport on equal terms with their non-transgender peers. Not only do these bills discriminate against transgender young people in ways that compromise their health, social and emotional development, they also raise a host of privacy concerns.

In New Hampshire, for example, the proposed law would require any student athlete whose gender is “disputed” to have medical verification of their sex via “(a) The student’s internal and external reproductive anatomy;(b) The student’s naturally occurring level of testosterone; and (c) An analysis of the student’s chromosomes.” This type of Orwellian intrusion into the bodily autonomy of youth will sweep much broader than transgender youth and potentially impact the ability of all young people — particularly young girls — to safely partake in school activities.

And, if some lawmakers have their way, this will be the national norm as similar bills are pending in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee, and Washington state.

Though lawmakers claim that these measures are aimed at protecting vulnerable youth, they in fact do the opposite. And this, too, is a pattern.

The first anti-LGBTQ bill to pass this session is a Tennessee bill that allows foster and adoption agencies to turn away prospective foster families based on the agencies’ religious beliefs — thus limiting prospective parents for kids in out-of-home care. At the end of the day, with all these measures, it will be young people who suffer most.

For transgender young people across the country, this time of year means bracing for public debates over their bodies, athletic abilities, medical care, and restroom practices. In some fundamental ways, these are ultimately debates about whether transgender people should exist at all. The latest round of proposed legislation tells us is that some people don’t think we should.

We must all fight to remind lawmakers that we already do exist, that we aren’t going anywhere, and that we have communities of people fighting alongside us.

The Offensive Hypocrisy of Banning Abortion for a Down Syndrome Diagnosis

This piece originally appeared on

Last week, the full Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals announced it would hear arguments in a challenge to HB 214, an Ohio law criminalizing abortion if even part of a person’s reason for seeking the abortion is a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome.

Politicians have packaged this law somewhat differently from the 20 other abortion restrictions enacted in Ohio since 2011, but make no mistake: This is just another not-so-thinly-veiled attempt to push abortion out of reach.

And it is not only in Ohio — similar bans have been enacted in Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, North Dakota, and Utah (just several of the more than 480 politically-motivated, medically unnecessary abortion restrictions politicians have enacted nationwide since 2011), and introduced on the federal level

Proponents of these bans claim that their goal is to protect the rights of people with disabilities. Such attempts to co-opt the mantle of disability rights to ban abortion are not only hypocritical but also deeply offensive. 

Let’s be clear on what HB 214 does not do. It does not ensure that pregnant people are given information, resources, and support to raise their children — including children with Down syndrome (or any other disability) — with dignity.

It does not expand access to necessary services and opportunities or protect any person with disabilities from discrimination in education, housing, employment, medical care, or any other area of life.

It does not make it easier for people with disabilities to have — and keep — their children. And it does not protect people with disabilities from violence and abuse, such as coerced sexual and reproductive health decisions, sterilization abuse, and police violence

Instead, what HB 214 does, indeed, the only thing it does, is take away an individual’s ability to make one of life’s most deeply personal decisions and turn it over to politicians.

The hypocrisy is stunning: While Ohio politicians are passing abortion bans under the guise of disability rights, Ohio parents of children with disabilities are struggling to afford the services their children need to thrive.

Cuts in funding for these necessary services are routine, and Ohio provides significantly fewer resources for people with disabilities than, for example, its neighbor Pennsylvania.

And the government officials defending Ohio’s ban in court? They are the same officials making it even more difficult for disabled Ohioans to exercise their right to vote. The list goes on and on. 

There is no question that stigma, prejudice, and misconceptions about people with disabilities are widespread. But forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term against their will does nothing to tackle underlying and systemic ableism and discrimination against people with disabilities.

On the contrary, forced pregnancy threatens a person’s physical, mental, and emotional health, as well as the stability and wellbeing of their family, including existing children. 

We will never address discrimination and the needs of people with disabilities by stigmatizing people who have abortions. We cannot know all the personal circumstances behind an individual’s decision to continue or end a pregnancy, including in cases of fetal diagnoses.

These decisions are often based on a multitude of factors — which is why the pregnant person and their family best make these decisions, and them alone.  

Contrary to what anti-abortion politicians want you to believe, efforts to promote the rights of people with disabilities need not compromise other fundamental rights.

Indeed, the disability and reproductive rights and justice movements share common goals: for every person to decide what happens to their own body and for every person to have the rights, resources, and respect to live their full potential. They also share a common foundation in the principles of equality, dignity, and self-determination. 

For years, we have seen politicians push medically unnecessary abortion restrictions in the name of women’s health and use junk science to defend unconstitutional bans on abortion.

Now, they are advancing their extreme anti-abortion agenda by claiming abortion bans are necessary to protect people with disabilities from discrimination. Enough is enough. 

Under no circumstances should politicians be allowed to force any individual to make particular decisions about reproduction, including forcing them to become a parent against their will, depriving them of the ability to become a parent, or interrogating their own decisions about pregnancy. That hurts all of us. 

The Trump Administration Weakens Standards for ICE Detention Facilities

Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officially released a new version of its National Detention Standards (NDS), which govern the treatment of immigrant detainees held in almost 140 facilities in 44 states. These facilities include local and state jails and prisons — some operated by private prison companies — under contract with ICE. Despite being considered “civil detention,” almost 20 percent of ICE detainees are held in these jails and prisons, many of which are located in remote, rural locations.

ICE describes its revisions to the NDS as a set of “streamlined,” “updated, modernized standards.” In reality, the new NDS weakens critical protections and lowers oversight requirements, which could have disastrous consequences for the health and safety of thousands of people in immigration detention.

ICE’s own Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Office recently noted that ICE has “systematically provided inadequate medical and mental health care and oversight to immigration detainees in facilities throughout the U.S.” Yet, ICE’s new NDS has removed even basic, minimal safeguards necessary for adequate medical care. ICE no longer requires facilities governed by the NDS to maintain current accreditation with the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC).

Also gone is the requirement that health assessments of detainees be performed according to national correctional standards. It’s important to remember that the journey to the U.S. is arduous — many people arrive in poor health, and at least 16 people died in ICE custody in 2018 and 2019. These health assessments, which already lack rigor, are a critical life-saving mechanism.

Although ICE has come under fire for inadequate medical and mental health staffing, the new NDS no longer requires health care and medical facilities at these jails to be under the direction of a licensed physician, but instead a “Health Services Administrator.” Congress has called for greater oversight of deaths in immigration detention, but ICE has now weakened reporting and record-keeping requirements in the event of a detainee’s death at these facilities.

The new NDS further weakens protections for immigrant detainees against the use of force and solitary confinement by officers. The prior version of the NDS barred officers from the use of “hog-tying, fetal restraints, tight restraints, improperly applied” against immigrant detainees — but this restriction is now eliminated. Facilities are no longer explicitly required to store use-of-force equipment securely. The new NDS broadens allowable reasons to place a detainee in solitary confinement and has removed specific protections for detainees in disciplinary proceedings facing solitary confinement. Medical staff at these facilities may now place detainees in medical segregation (solitary confinement) for refusing examination or treatment.

ICE has also eliminated standards that help to preserve detainees’ basic dignity. For example, ICE no longer requires that hold rooms have toilets with modesty panels, and removes the ratios for the number of toilets per detainee. ICE has removed language requiring that new contract facilities have outdoor recreation facilities, meaning that more detainees could be held for months or even years without time outdoors as they wait for their cases to be heard.

Under the new rules, immigrant detainees will face even greater hurdles in accessing lawyers and legal materials. The new NDS no longer requires facilities to guarantee non-governmental organizations access to detention facilities, and removes specific requirements for non-profits to provide legal education, monitoring, and visitation in these facilities. The new NDS eliminates a list of required immigration law materials that each facility must maintain in their law libraries, and limits indigent detainees to only five pieces of legal mail per week. Detainees may be subject to strip searches after an attorney visit.

The new NDS has improved some provisions for guaranteeing telephone access to detainees in order to find counsel, although they fall short of the requirements outlined in a settlement to Lyon v. ICE, a lawsuit brought by the ACLU in 2016. The new NDS has also added new provisions for the prevention and intervention of sexual abuse and assault in detention, accommodations for disabled detainees, and language access for people with limited English proficiency. These provisions, however, were already required by the Prison Rape Elimination Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.

Detention standards provide the clearest set of requirements for the treatment of immigrants in detention, and contractually bind the local jails, prisons, and private prison operators that detain immigrants for ICE. ICE’s standards also serve as the metric for facility inspections and oversight by the Department of Homeland Security, which the DHS’s Office of Inspector General has already found to be dangerously flawed. These weakened standards also disregard Congress’s expectation that ICE implement the Performance Based National Detention Standards (PBNDS), a more rigorous set of standards, at all immigration detention facilities nationwide. By cutting these standards, ICE has set the stage for further danger and abuse of immigrant detainees.

The detention of immigrants is a cruel and harmful practice, which has only grown worse under the Trump administration. We cannot allow this administration to lock up more immigrants in a system that is already so broken. We must demand Congress call for a moratorium on detention, reduce the number of detention beds, cut funding for Trump’s massive deportation force, and reject all funding and proposals for any new plans to jail immigrants and families. Instead, Congress should shift funding and resources away from detention and toward community-based alternatives to detention and access to counsel.

Coercive Plea Bargaining Has Poisoned the Criminal Justice System. It’s Time to Suck the Venom Out.

In 2006, George Alvarez was charged with assaulting a prison guard while awaiting trial on public intoxication. He knew he didn’t do it — the guards actually jumped him — but the ten year mandatory minimum sentence at trial scared him so much that he pled guilty. Little did he know that the government had a video proving his innocence, but they buried it long enough for prosecutors to extract the plea first. George spent almost four years behind bars fighting for his innocence before finally being exonerated.

In 2015, Lavette Mayes got in a fight with her mother-in-law. She had no criminal history and had sustained injuries herself, yet a prosecutor charged her with aggravated assault, and a judge set her bail at $250,000. Unable to pay, she spent fourteen months in jail awaiting trial, unable to see or touch her children once. She lost her job. She developed health problems. Even after getting released on bond and downgraded to an ankle monitor, she struggled to resume her previous life due to the trauma she’d experienced while incarcerated. So instead of spending years fighting her case in failing health, she pled guilty to end the ordeal.

Just last year, the state of Georgia executed Ray Cromartie for a 1994 murder. The case against him was paper thin and Cromartie maintained his innocence until the end, but Georgia denied every request for DNA testing that could have set the record straight. A lesser-known fact about the case is that 20 years ago, Georgia prosecutors offered Cromartie a plea deal under which he could have been paroled after seven years and free by now. But Cromartie refused to admit guilt, and so the state retaliated by seeking the death penalty and ultimately killing him.


These heartbreaking stories illustrate the damned if you do, damned if you don’t nature of criminal justice in America today. Succumb to coercive tactics like evidence suppression and pretrial detention like George and Lavette, and begrudgingly accept a conviction with lifetime consequences. Or assert your constitutional rights, like Ray, and face certain retribution.

This impossible choice we call plea bargaining takes place tens of thousands of times every day in America. It’s how over 95 percent of all state and federal convictions occur, with minority defendants receiving disproportionately worse offers. In fact, in 2012, the Supreme Court said that “plea bargaining . . . is not some adjunct to the criminal justice system; it is the criminal justice system.”

Criminal case dockets have become so bloated in the last fifty years as Americans have disastrously over-relied on the criminal legal system to solve all our problems. Pressure-packed, quick-as-possible plea bargaining has become the only release valve. The grossly divergent sentences offered to defendants who plead guilty versus those who don’t — often called the “trial penalty” — proves just how divorced from public safety, justice, or even rationality this system is.

Plea bargaining would be an acceptable way to resolve criminal cases if it were a fair fight between prosecution and defense. But it’s not. Since roughly the 1970s and the accompanying War on Drugs, prosecutors have been handed — and in many cases lobbied for — increasingly punitive tools to pressure defendants to take bad deals. These tools include:

  • Pretrial detention to separate defendants from family, jobs, and community
  • Mandatory minimums and sentence enhancements that ratchet up the trial penalty
  • Lax discovery rules that allow prosecutors to hide favorable evidence during negotiations, as in George Alvarez’s case
  • Virtually zero transparency requirements, which robs defendants, defense lawyers, and voters of the ability to scrutinize how the deals get done
  • Supreme Court precedent that allows judges to rubber stamp the deals without asking the prosecutor a single question about how they used these tools. Instead, at a typical plea acceptance hearing, the judge asks the defendant whether they felt coerced, which is bit like asking the hostage if the kidnapper played fair while the hostage still has a gun to their head.

In other words, plea bargaining as practiced today has turned our criminal legal system into a cheap backroom shakedown. There is virtually no process, much less due process. Defendants’ lives are determined primarily by power dynamics and leverage, not facts and law. And it all occurs almost entirely behind closed doors, rather than in front of a judge, a jury, and the American public, as the Founders intended

To be fair, jury decisions aren’t perfect. Juries are made of people, and people are flawed, biased, and often vindictive. They often get the verdict and/or the sentence wrong. But they’re drawn from a reflective pool of the community; in all states but one, they have to return a unanimous verdict; they get to review all the evidence; and when they get it wrong, defendants can appeal. None of that is true of the typical plea bargain in America today.

We don’t need to eliminate all plea bargains or punish all prosecutors to fix the problem. Indeed, if negotiated fairly, plea deals can be beneficial to all sides and promote justice and public safety. But we need to establish commonsense guidelines around the process, such that defendants who want to negotiate can do so on a level playing field. All we ask is a fair fight.

We see this as a critical step toward ending our mass incarceration crisis, so we’re embarking on a nationwide campaign — working with advocates, defenders, prosecutors, and directly impacted communities — to educate the public and establish these rules of the road. We’ll have more for you on this front. Stay tuned!

Clearing the Record: How Eviction Sealing Laws Can Advance Housing Access for Women of Color

In 2008, Ashley called the police after her ex-partner refused to leave her apartment, threatened her, and threw a rock at her window. The police issued a “trespass notice,” prohibiting Ashley’s abuser from coming back to the home. When Ashley informed her landlord about the incident, the landlord responded by filing an eviction against Ashley and her child. Because evictions based on domestic violence are unlawful, the court threw out Ashley’s eviction. But seven years later, Ashley still struggled to obtain housing because of the prior eviction filing on her record.  

As Ashley’s story illustrates, tenants with prior eviction records are indefinitely shut out of housing opportunities. Landlords routinely employ screening policies that deny housing to any renter previously named in an eviction case — regardless of whether the case was dismissed, occurred many years ago, or was filed on unlawful grounds. In doing so, landlords frequently rely on tenant-screening companies, who capitalize on unfettered access to court records to develop tenant blacklists.

As eviction screening policies deprive families of housing, they also perpetuate discrimination against people of color — and in particular, low-income Black women. Fighting the nation’s eviction crisis requires finding data-informed solutions that advance fair housing for all.         

Eviction’s Fallout Across Race and Gender Lines

Eviction has emerged as a national crisis in the face of rising housing costs, stagnant wages, and minimal protections for tenants. An estimated 2.3 million evictions are filed each year — at a rate of four evictions every minute. For many tenants, eviction can have a domino effect of devastating consequences, including job loss, health issues, material hardship, and even homelessness.

Importantly, eviction disproportionately burdens tenants of color and, in particular, Black women. The ACLU’s Data Analytics team analyzed national eviction data from 2012 to 2016, provided by the Eviction Lab1, and found that on average, Black renters had evictions filed against them by landlords at nearly twice the rate of white renters. Other studies across the country have consistently found similar disparities, revealing that eviction and its lasting impact replicate and perpetuate existing social and economic inequities.

Black female renters were filed against for eviction at double the rate of white renters or higher in 17 of 36 states

Data source: The Eviction Lab. Counties without data2 were excluded from the analysis. States where all counties were excluded or where the sum of all counties’ Black populations were less than 1%, are shown in white with a grey border. Five states: Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Vermont filed white tenants for eviction at slightly higher rates than Black women. Ratios were rounded to the nearest tenth. Data source: The Eviction Lab. Counties without data2 were excluded from the analysis. States where all counties were excluded or where the sum of all counties’ Black populations were less than 1%, are shown in white with a grey border. Five states: Delaware, Georgia, South Carolina, and Vermont filed white tenants for eviction at slightly higher rates than Black women. Ratios were rounded to the nearest tenth.

As Ashley experienced, the mere existence of a prior eviction filing is enough to lock tenants out of housing opportunities for years to come — even when the case did not result in a final judgment against the tenant. The lasting stigma of a prior eviction filing often compels poor tenants to avoid court involvement at all costs. Rather than exercising their rights, many tenants endure horrible living conditions or comply with unlawful lease termination notices to avoid sustaining the permanent mark of an eviction filing.     

Eviction in Massachusetts

These stark race and gender disparities in eviction are even more alarming at state and local levels. In Massachusetts3, where state legislators are working to advance legislation to eradicate this issue, Black renters are, on average, 2.4 times more likely to have an eviction filed against them than white renters, even though they make up only 11% of the renting adult population4.

Black renters in Massachusetts had evictions filed against them at 2.4x the rate of white renters

Per 10,000 renters

Data compiled by the Eviction Lab was available for 11 of 14 Massachusetts counties. Data span 2012 through 2016, but not all counties had all 5 years of data available. Data compiled by the Eviction Lab was available for 11 of 14 Massachusetts counties. Data span 2012 through 2016, but not all counties had all 5 years of data available.

Black women face the greatest risk of having an eviction case filed against them in Massachusetts. Just under 500 in every 10,000 Black female renters in Massachusetts have an eviction filing, as compared to just under 420 in every 10,000 Black males, and 200 white women. Women of color, and particularly Black women, are especially vulnerable to eviction for many reasons, including staggering pay disparities and wealth gaps. Moreover, racial discrimination often compounds other forms of discrimination — such as discrimination against families with children and domestic violence survivors — that disproportionately impact women. As a result, eviction and screening policies often exacerbate and reproduce conditions of economic insecurity for low-income women of color.     

Our Data Analytics team also found that Black women were more likely to have a prior eviction filing that ultimately resulted in dismissal. In Massachusetts, nearly 300 in 10,000 Black women had evictions filed against them that were dismissed — as compared to less than 100 in 10,000 white renters. In other words, Black women are more likely to be denied housing due to prior eviction filings, even when they won.

Black women in Massachusetts were most likely to have evictions filed against them that were later dismissed

Per 10,000 renters

Data compiled by the Eviction Lab was available for 11 of 14 Massachusetts counties. Data span 2012 through 2016, but not all counties had all 5 years of data available. Data compiled by the Eviction Lab was available for 11 of 14 Massachusetts counties. Data span 2012 through 2016, but not all counties had all 5 years of data available.

In light of these stark race and gender disparities, blanket policies that categorically deny any applicant with a prior eviction filing disproportionately harm Black tenants, and particularly Black women, in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Such policies unfairly lock tenants out of housing opportunities without providing any chance to explain their circumstances or why they would be good tenants. With over two million evictions filed across the country each year, these policies have devastating consequences for the most vulnerable and marginalized in our communities.       

Dismantling Barriers to Housing by Setting the Record Straight

Fortunately, there is a growing movement across the country — led by tenants, organizers, advocates, and researchers — to tackle the eviction crisis and its many collateral consequences.  Last summer, the ACLU of Massachusetts and ACLU Women’s Rights Project provided joint testimony on a bill promoting Housing Opportunity and Mobility Through Eviction Sealing — otherwise known as the HOMES Act (S.824/H.3566) — and Massachusetts legislators will have the opportunity to pass the bill this session.

The HOMES Act offers a powerful solution to the enduring impact of eviction for Massachusetts residents. The HOMES Act would require courts to automatically seal all eviction filings unless and until there is a final eviction judgment, thereby removing false positives from a tenant’s record. The HOMES Act would also provide for the automatic sealing of all eviction judgments after three years while allowing tenants to move to seal a prior eviction for good cause — ensuring that tenants will not suffer indefinitely from the permanent stigma of an eviction record. The HOMES Act would further prohibit the use of a sealed record to deny housing or otherwise discriminate against tenants, combatting the unjust practice of tenant blacklisting and advancing fair housing principles.

Finally, the HOMES Act strikes an important balance by meeting the public interest in access to public records, while providing adequate protections against unjust barriers to housing for those who face a greater risk of eviction. The HOMES Act provides mechanisms for disclosing sealed records for journalistic, scholarly, educational, or governmental purposes after balancing the interests of the public and the parties in an eviction case. The Act further requires the court to maintain and make public aggregate data on eviction actions on a semi-annual basis, allowing the public to better understand the scope and scale of eviction in Massachusetts.  

The HOMES Act is a critical step in a larger, national movement to eradicate unjust barriers to safe and stable housing for all. In 2020, Massachusetts legislators have the chance to take the lead in that movement and to provide valuable relief for its residents.

[1]Data were drawn from Lexis Nexis eviction court records and compiled by the Eviction Lab. Data consisted of millions of eviction cases in 39 states and spanned 2012 – 2016, but many counties and states had data available only for a selection of these years. 3,667 county-years containing 1,196 unique counties were available, making up, according to the Eviction Lab’s research, 37.5% of the renting population (see Hepburn et al., “Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans”, 2019, in progress). This is a representative sample of all U.S. counties among many key variables (renter-occupied housing units, median rent, Black or Latinx population share) but the sample includes counties with a higher white population and lower eviction rate than out-of-sample counties. Calculations provided are averages across these five years of available data.

Demographic characteristics, like race and sex, were imputed using defendant names and addresses. The gender and genderizeR R packages as well as Gender API were used to predict probabilities for the likelihood a defendant was female or male – the average of the three probabilities was used. Relying on defendants’ last names and address, probabilities for race/ethnicity were imputed using the wru R package (Hepburn et al., “Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans”, 2019, in progress). Ultimately, each defendant was assigned a probability of being “male or female and of being white, Black, Latinx, Asian, or of another race/ethnicity” (Hepburn et al., “Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans”, 2019, in progress). Sex probabilities were multiplied by race/ethnicity probabilities to categorize defendants by race and sex – these probabilities were summed up to the county-year level.

Demographics of the adult renting population in counties with available data were estimated using Integrated Public Use Microdata Series (IPUMS) data because the Census does not report race/ethnicity by sex estimates. The smallest geographic unit available was the “Public Use Microdata Area (PUMA)”, which was aggregated to the county level (Hepburn et al., “Racial and Gender Disparities among Evicted Americans”, 2019, in progress).  

[2]States excluded entirely from analysis due to lack of sufficient data were Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. States additionally excluded from the map were Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wyoming, due to Black populations of < 1% in the counties with data available.

[3]Data was available for all Massachusetts counties except Plymouth, Bristol and Nantucket.

[4]Black renters made up 11% of the adult renting population in the counties with data available.

Pregnant Workers Are Still Fighting for the Right to Work

In 2015, Michelle Durham, an ACLU client, was faced with an impossible choice: continue working and risk the health of her pregnancy or give up her paycheck.

She was working as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) for Rural/Metro Corporation, a company in Alabama that provides emergency medical care to people living in areas that lack basic medical services. Shortly after joining Rural/Metro Corporation in Alabama, Michelle learned she was pregnant with her first child and was advised by her health professional not to lift more than 50 pounds. She was confident the company would grant her a temporary reassignment, given her employer had a policy of giving “light duty” or “modified duty” job assignments to EMTs when they had lifting restrictions, like a back injury, and dispatcher jobs were available.

Instead, her manager told her that the company only provided such accommodations to EMTs injured while working. The company wouldn’t allow Michelle to continue working as an EMT, forcing her to take an unpaid leave of absence. The news was shattering. As Michelle said:

I was stunned. At that point, I was about six months away from my due date. How was I supposed to live for six months without a paycheck? How could I buy what I needed to prepare for my baby’s arrival? How would I support my son after he was born?

As a result, Michelle was unemployed for seven months, moved in with her grandmother, and accrued credit and medical debt. With so few emergency care jobs in her community, Michelle’s nascent EMT career ended the day Rural/Metro put her on leave.

Unfortunately, Michelle’s story isn’t isolated or unique. Too many pregnant workers continue to face insurmountable obstacles in their workplaces, where employers misunderstand their obligations, and in courtrooms, where judges hinder access to needed accommodations. Despite the clear mandates of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the current legal landscape leaves pregnant workers who want to continue working while maintaining a healthy pregnancy exposed and unprotected.

Michelle illustrated this problem in powerful testimony during an October 2019 hearing on the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA), legislation that would ensure pregnant workers are no longer denied reasonable accommodations.

Next Tuesday, the House Committee on Education and Labor will move us one step closer to eliminating this form of pregnancy discrimination by holding, for the very first time, a markup and vote on the bipartisan Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (H.R. 2694). This long overdue legislation would protect the health and economic security of workers who, too often, are penalized because of their pregnancy.

Despite the passage of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act more than 40 years ago, we know that discrimination persists and manifests in myriad ways, including through policies that grant some workers a temporary job modification but deny that same accommodation to a pregnant worker with medical needs. This discriminatory treatment overwhelmingly impacts women in low wage, physically demanding, or male-dominated jobs. When pregnant workers are forced to quit, coerced into taking unpaid leave, or fired because their employer refuses to provide a temporary job modification, the economic impact can be severe; if they are the sole or primary breadwinner for their children, as nearly half of working women are, their entire family will be without an income when it is needed most. 

That is why passing PWFA is a dire necessity. The bill would make clear that employers must provide reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees – like a stool to sit on, a schedule change, or a break from lifting heavy boxes – unless doing so would place an undue burden on the business. This is a framework modeled after the Americans with Disabilities Act and one which employers are very familiar with.

PWFA also promotes women’s health. Accommodations make a difference in physically demanding jobs (requiring long hours, standing, lifting heavy objects, etc.) where the risk of preterm delivery and low birth weight are significant. The failure to provide accommodations can be linked to miscarriages and premature babies who suffer from a variety of ailments. This bill would be an important contribution in the fight to improve maternal and infant health and mortality. 

Providing pregnant workers with temporary and reasonable accommodations is a thoughtful, measured, and necessary approach that has been adopted in 27 states – red, blue and purple – across the country. It’s time for members of Congress to act in the best interests of their constituents and ensure that no pregnant worker will have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and a paycheck that supports their family.

It’s time for Congress to pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. 

“Clemency:” Exposing the Machinery of Death

People on death row are the direct object of a deeply flawed system of state killing that is infected by racial and economic disparities and riddled with fatal errors. We currently know of at least 166 innocent people who were wrongfully condemned to die. 

 “Clemency,”  a new film starring Alfre Woodard as a prison warden, explores the brutalizing effect the death penalty has on everyone else in the system — the wardens, prison guards, chaplains, defense lawyers, and their families, as well as the families of the victims and the condemned. The searing power of “Clemency” is its ability to portray the price paid by everyone involved in the death penalty, including, by extension, our society — you and me.

In 1994, after having consistently voted to uphold capital punishment for almost 25 years, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun declared, “I shall no longer tinker with the machinery of death” because “the death penalty experiment has failed.” “Clemency” looks searchingly at all the broken cogs and wheels in that deadly machinery.

The writer and director of “Clemency,” Chinonye Chukwu, was inspired to make this film the morning after a Black, potentially innocent, man named Troy Davis, was executed in a Georgia state prison in 2011. Leading up to his execution, hundreds of thousands of people protested against it, including a handful of retired wardens. These wardens urged the Georgia governor to grant Troy clemency, not just on the grounds of his potential innocence, but also because of the emotional and psychological consequences they knew killing Troy would have on those sanctioned to do so.

After Troy was executed, Chukwu decided to make a film that explores the emotional and psychological consequences of having one’s livelihood tied to the taking of human life. Informed by the experiences of wardens, corrections officers, death row lawyers, and formerly incarcerated as well as exonerated individuals, “Clemency” is grounded in the experiences of those closest to the system of incarceration and depicts a startlingly realistic look into the soul-killing toll the death penalty is taking on our country.

Late in the film, wracked by fits of sleeplessness and nightmares, her marriage on the rocks, Warden Williams cries out, “I am alone and nobody can fix it.” We don’t know what she will do. But after watching “Clemency,” we are reminded that those who care about justice and the dignity of every human life are not alone. We can fix it. We can abolish the death penalty once and for all. 

Iranian Americans Have Rights, Too — No Matter What’s Happening Abroad

Like most Iranian Americans, my family immigrated to the United States in the aftermath of the 1979 revolution in Iran, hoping to find safety and acceptance in a country that prides itself on diversity and freedom of expression. We learned and embraced the principles of the Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, due process, and equal protection — protections that apply to every person, citizen and non-citizen alike. But what happened at the U.S. border this past weekend was a painful reminder that sometimes, we are still considered outsiders.

In the state of Washington this weekend, U.S. border authorities summarily detained and interrogated Iranian Americans and lawful permanent residents who were on their way home from Canada. Many were returning from holiday trips to visit family in Vancouver, which is also home to a large Iranian community. Many had gone there for a pop concert. Many were simply on vacation. But that’s not the point. The point is that these people — families, young and old, even small children — were singled out because of their Iranian heritage.

The news is highly disturbing, but it isn’t the first time Iranian Americans have faced discrimination based on political tensions outside of our control. Nor is it the first time border and law enforcement officers have conducted unmerited abuses targeting vulnerable communities. We’ve seen the government abuse the rights of Americans of Somali, Afghan, and Pakistani descent following military action as well. But amid the anti-immigrant, Constitution-flouting policies of the current administration, this news was chilling.

The government has the authority to question travelers to verify identity, citizenship, or legal status, and to conduct reasonable searches for contraband. The government cannot, however, question them about their political views, associations with others, and religious beliefs. That raises serious First Amendment concerns. Everyone has basic constitutional protections at the border and ports of entry — and U.S. citizens and lawful residents cannot be denied entry if they refuse to answer such questions.

This administration continuously espouses anti-immigrant rhetoric and follows up with unconscionable abuses — the Muslim ban, family separation, the inhumane detention of children, and many more. It has upended many immigrants’ lives through denaturalization and rescinding Temporary Protected Status, as well. The ACLU has long raised concerns about discriminatory questioning and detention at the border, and our concerns are particularly heightened in the current political climate.

As political tensions continue to flare between the U.S. and Iran, it is important to know our rights — and assert them.

The Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law and protects against discriminatory profiling and violations of First Amendment rights. We cannot allow actions abroad to be exploited as justifications for illegal and unfair discrimination at home.

It Is Time for a New Way Forward

In 1996, at the height of the “tough on crime” era, President Bill Clinton signed two laws that dramatically changed the criminal legal system and radically altered the U.S. immigration system. Just as the 1994 crime bill instituted unjust mandatory minimum sentences and ballooned the prison population, the immigration bills of that same era led to similarly disastrous consequences for immigrants — an explosion in the growth of detention and unfairly harsh punishments for immigrants, including mandatory deportations for minor crimes. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) and Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA) resulted in today’s draconian immigration enforcement system. The system only expanded with the increased criminalization of immigrants, who are then funneled into the detention and deportation pipeline — often with little to no due process. 

Reps. Jesús “Chuy” Garcia, Pramila Jayapal, Karen Bass, and Ayanna Pressley, in December 2019, introduced the New Way Forward Act (H.R. 5383), groundbreaking legislation that reimagines what a fair and just immigration system looks like. The bill restores fundamental due process protections for immigrants by ending the mandatory detention of immigrants without the right to release on bail while a judge reviews their case — sometimes subjecting people to years of incarceration. The legislation also breaks down automatic pipelines to deportation from the criminal legal system. For example, the bill would end the 287(g) program, which allows local police to act as federal immigration agents, exacerbates racial profiling, and empowers sherriffs, as was the case with Joe Arpaio. The bill would also end the automatic deportation of people who have had contact with the criminal legal system. This legislation also decriminalizes migration by ending federal criminal prosecutions for improper entry and reentry to the U.S. Not only is this a waste of government funding, it also misguidedly treats migration as a criminal act. 

Decades after the failures of the 1994 crime bill, Congress is tackling the injustices of our criminal legal system. Yet many of those same injustices are replicated in the immigration system, and should be similarly addressed. Take for example U.S. Army veteran and ACLU of Southern California client Hector Barajas. After being honorably discharged, Hector — like many veterans who return to civilian life with little support from our government — had difficulty adjusting and served three years in prison for a crime involving a firearm. Hector, a legal permanent resident, was immediately subject to the 1996 immigration laws. During his deportation hearing, the law prevented an immigration judge from considering the equities in his case, including his years of military service. Instead, the law mandated his incarceration in immigration jail, and ultimately required the judge to order him deported. In 2017, Hector received a pardon from Governor Jerry Brown and in 2018, he became a U.S. citizen.

Mark Hwang is another example of someone impacted by the 1996 laws. An ACLU client, Mark was stopped by ICE for changing lanes without a signal. He was on his way to meet his wife and newborn twins, and had his one-year-old in the car. After his arrest, Mark, who was a legal permanent resident, was subjected to mandatory detention and detained without a bond hearing for six months — kept from his children and leaving his wife to care for their three infants — because of a decade old marijuana possession conviction for which he had already served his sentence. Just as he was on the brink of  signing deportation papers, Mark got a bond hearing, thanks to a federal court order in an ACLU lawsuit. Mark was finally released on bond, allowing him a real shot at fighting his deportation. He was able to work with an attorney to have his marijuana charge vacated, removing the threat of deportation. 

People like Hector and Mark are in a small minority. Far too many immigrants are locked up and summarily banished from this country without real due process. The ACLU enthusiastically supports the New Way Forward Act, which if passed will change the lives of countless immigrants and communities and restore due process in our immigration system. The bill sets a framework for Congress to recognize and fix our broken immigration system and build a new one that gives everyone their fair day in court. It is past time for Congress to pave a new way forward in our U.S. immigration system.

Tulsa’s Troubling Past is Not Far Removed from Its Present

The Tulsa massacre of 1921 may have become known to many Americans because of a fictional HBO series, but it actually happened. Is the probable discovery of heretofore undiscovered mass graves in Tulsa enough to propel the city to a reckoning — an unambiguous admission of responsibility for horrific acts and a determined mind to make right what was wrong? We are about to find out.

In a recent public oversight committee meeting in Tulsa, it was announced that a team of forensic scientists using ground-penetrating radar at sites around the city found anomalies consistent with mass graves at two locations, suggesting that the scale and scope of the massacre may be even more extensive than previously admitted by authorities. Until the truth is reckoned with, the stench of racism will hover on Tulsa.

The original narrative around the 1921 Tulsa massacre was that Blacks were armed, intoxicated and unjustifiably violent. The local paper described the Greenwood section of the city not as Black Wall Street, but as “Niggertown,” and original official estimates were about 36 people killed. These reports were contradicted by American Red Cross Worker Maurice Willows, who spoke of mass graves and estimated the dead at 300.

The racist narrative around the 1921 massacre was false. The Black community was preventing a lynch mob from killing a young Black man who had been unjustly arrested. The only shot fired by a Black person while confronting the lynch mob came during a struggle with a white man and resulted in no one being injured. During the massacre, people took private airplanes and flew over Greenwood dropping burning balls of turpentine on the buildings and homes, causing many of the structures to burn from their top. Blacks were gunned down in the street when they fled burning buildings.

This was not a riot or a disturbance — it was a massacre. And the findings suggest a deliberate attempt to cover-up what happened — an attempt that was successful for decades.

The mayor of Tulsa has called these possible mass grave sites potential crime scenes. Why? Because nobody was prosecuted for their role in the massacre, despite the existence of photographs showing whites walking down the street carrying guns and the ability to identify whites who had access to planes on the day of the massacre.

Over the last 99 years, prosecutors and law enforcement turned a blind eye to this atrocity committed against the Black community of Tulsa. Even if no one alive can be prosecuted, naming names and placing responsibility where it lies is a critical part of a reckoning. 

The narrative the 2016 killing of Terence Crutcher by Tulsa police reflected the narrative about the 1921 massacre. Both narratives suggest that the deaths of Black people were ultimately their own fault. 

When the findings of the forensic team were announced Monday, Terence Crutcher’s twin sister Dr. Tiffany Crutcher was in the audience. She left her career to establish the Terence Crutcher Foundation, and she has led the way in making sure the false narrative about her brother does not survive. The not-guilty verdict in the criminal trial of Crutcher’s killer simply means the state did not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The verdict does not change the fact that Terence had his hands in the air and was unarmed, was not advancing toward the officers when he was shot, and never made an aggressive move toward the officers. The verdict does not change the fact that the officer who killed Crutcher admitted that she had cleared his car and determined that there were no weapons in it before she killed him. The verdict doesn’t change the fact that the same jury that acquitted the officer appended a note to the verdict questioning her training and her actions, and whether she should be allowed to return to law enforcement. 

A reckoning for the massacre and the murder is required and overdue. Tulsa can reject the false racialized narrative it has clung to for a century and start a new 100 years of progress away from racism. 

Apologies and commemorations are a necessary part of the reckoning process, but they are not enough.  A true reckoning requires action — and leaders of impacted communities in Tulsa should expect action when they speak to the city about making what is wrong right again.  

Across the Country Harsh Sentencing Laws are Tearing Apart Families and Communities

During the holiday season, in the picturesque town of Petoskey, Michigan, Kimiko Uyeda, and her son Marshall celebrate with an annual tradition of selecting a new ornament to add to their tree. Year after year, Kimko and Marshall add to their collection of ornaments as a part of their tradition.

For years, however, they were separated from one another and unable to enjoy this holiday tradition together. It all began in 2013 when Kimko was arrested for filing what the local sheriff believed to be a false police report. Because of broken sentencing laws, the prosecutor in the case was able to add four additional criminal charges that would result in Kimko spending years separated from Marshall.  

Kimko was not only raising her son at the time but the owner of a building trades company with nine employees. She also managed to run a special needs riding program with 26 horses.

What legal experts say should have resulted in probation, ended with Kimko facing 20 years behind bars because of outdated sentencing laws that feed Michigan’s mass incarceration crisis.

Though Michigan is a particularly bad actor, states across the country continue to apply outdated sentencing laws that keep people locked behind bars for excessively long times. These laws are implemented despite large bodies of research that show that longer prison sentences ultimately do not make our communities safer.

Decades of “tough on crime” policies have left this country with criminal systems riddled with mandatory minimum sentences, sentence enhancements, and an overuse of life sentences that keep people in prison for decades, if not the rest of their lives. 

In Michigan, a habitual sentencing penalty can increase a sentence by 50 percent for up to 20 years. The law mandates that judges consider decades old, unrelated convictions. The result is that thousands of people like Uyeda stay in prison for far much longer than they otherwise would.

In Kimko’s case, this meant that filing a single false police report resulted in a multitude of criminal charges, automatically enhancing her sentence to decades behind bars. 

Similar to other unfair sentencing laws across the country, prosecutors in Michigan are able to selectively choose when to seek this additional punishment, meaning that the state’s habitual sentencing penalty is used inconsistently and unequally across the state. In some counties, like Oakland and Saginaw, the penalty is used in 90 percent of cases in which it is eligible, while counties like Washtenaw use the penalty only 10 percent of the time. Across counties, Black people are more likely to be given the penalty than their white counterparts.

“I had no idea how bad the system was until I lived it,” says Kimko, who served six years behind bars, losing time with her son, who was just 7 years old when she was locked up. “Now, I want to prevent others from going through what I experienced.”

Earlier this year, Kimko shared her story at an ACLU of Michigan press conference in Lansing to show that sentencing reform will not only save taxpayers’ dollars but also keeps communities safe and families together.

At that same press conference, along with a group of bipartisan lawmakers, we announced plans to overhaul Michigan’s sentencing laws.

Thanks to Kimko’s help, the Michigan Senate introduced SB 697, SB 698, and SB 699 earlier this month. These bills allow for judicial discretion in cases similar to Kimko’s and limit the use of the punitive habitual sentencing penalty. 

In passing this bill, Michigan will join bipartisan efforts in states across the country, including California and Oklahoma, to dismantle the cruel, expensive, and ineffective sentence enhancements that are used to unjustly and excessively punish people for simply coming into contact with the criminal legal system more than once.

Michigan’s trio of reform bills sets an example for other states, as they would apply to anyone convicted of a crime in Michigan, regardless of what kind of charge they are currently facing.

After losing her home and belongings during the six years that she was incarcerated, Kimiko and Marshall are starting their ornament collection from scratch. This year, they’ll be choosing an ornament together that represents hope. Kimiko is only one of the thousands across this country unjustly locked behind bars due to outdated sentencing laws. Michigan shows us that the fight to reform those deeply entrenched remnants of the tough on crime era can be won.

Four Lawyers. Four Projects. One Non-Stop Year.

It isn’t news that the Trump administration has kept ACLU attorneys working at breakneck speed for the past three years. In 2019 alone, we saw historic moments and victories—from defeating the citizenship question on the 2020 census and bringing the first trans civil rights case to the Supreme Court, to blocking a wave of abortion bans and many of the administration’s attempts to dismantle the asylum system. To name a few.  

Here are some of our attorneys’ takes on 2019 and the year ahead—what’s changed for the better and for the worse, and how the outcome of the 2020 presidential election will affect the fight for civil rights and liberties in years to come. 

Chase Strangio Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, LGBT and HIV Project

What was your favorite moment of 2019?

A lot happened so it’s hard to pick just one moment, but for me one of the most memorable was the October 8 argument for the Aimee Stephens case at the Supreme Court. Obviously the moment itself was historic. Working on the case was pivotal in my life and my work. But even more than the hearing itself, I’ll never forget the feeling of coming out of the Supreme Court and seeing a crowd of trans people and allies chanting to Aimee while we walked across the plaza. It’s a special reminder that it’s not about what happens in court, it’s about how we move forward. 

What was the biggest challenge?

This was a challenging year. Two things stand out: The Supreme Court taking on the Title VII cases and the increasing attacks on trans people in sports. 

When we heard about the Title VII cases in April, it was a devastating blow. Aimee had already won in the lower court, and we didn’t want the Supreme Court to undo her win. It’s difficult existing in this political context with so many attacks on the trans community and going up to the Court knowing that no matter what, something would be lost—whether something rhetorical or in the public discourse or in the legal outcome of the case itself. 

There’s also been a rise in attacks on the idea of trans people participating in sports. It’s disappointing seeing people we’d expect to be allies side with our opponents. It’s just another context that’s being leveraged in public conversations and policy debates to argue that trans people aren’t “real” and that we don’t deserve to participate equally in society. It’s painful and the people who are going to be the most hurt are the trans youth who are being singled out and demeaned by the adult lawmakers who are supposed to protect them. 

How will the outcome of the 2020 election affect trans rights?

There’s a long way to go no matter who’s in the White House. But for trans rights, the shift from Obama to Trump was drastic. If Trump loses, we’ll continue to sue the government because the government will continue to discriminate, and it will take a lot of work to undo the anti-trans agenda of the last three years. But hopefully we will have a president that is less concerned with decimating us and our lives and we can work towards rebuilding some protections. No matter what happens, our resolve to fight and defend our communities will persist. 

How do you unwind after preparing for a big case?

I operate at a constant state of stress, so it’s always a struggle. Maybe I haven’t done a good job of unwinding. I do love theatre, going to shows, engaging in creative processes to get me out of my head.

What got you into this work? 

As a queer, trans person with access to resources I felt that I could serve my community by working within systems of power to disrupt and distribute power. It isn’t always easy and I don’t always do it perfectly but I could never imagine doing any other work.

Brigitte Amiri Deputy Director of the Reproductive Freedom Project

What was the biggest challenge of 2019? 

2019 was the year of the abortion ban, so it’s not so much one challenge in particular but the onslaught—we’re fighting battles at the federal and state level in a rapid succession. The states have been emboldened by the Trump administration and by changes in the judiciary, and it’s been a breathless fight against their attacks on abortion and access to contraception. Some of our most important victories of the year included blocking the abortion bans in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah.

Still, in 2019 there were also some great legislative victories for reproductive rights. A number of states have passed proactive measures that expand access. A perfect example is Maine, where the reproductive rights and justice movement got the state to pass a law expanding who can provide abortions and not just limit provision to doctors but to expand it to advanced practice clinicians. Another new law in Maine ensures that people can access abortion with Medicaid as insurance if they qualify. States like Maine will be a haven for abortion access if Roe v. Wade is ever overturned. 

What will 2020 look like for abortion rights?

The attacks on abortion will continue in 2020, unfortunately. The states restricting access have been doing so for decades. And even if there’s a change in the presidential administration, the federal judiciary has now been changed for generations, so states that want to pass restrictions are still going to do so in an aggressive manner, in hopes that the courts will uphold their restrictions. So I think 2020 will be very busy. 

Most people in this country support reproductive freedom, but anti-abortion politicians have their own agenda and refuse to listen to the majority of their constituents. Restricting abortion has always been used as a political tool that has been wielded by some politicians regardless of what the public wants. 

What got you interested in reproductive freedom?

Ever since I was a little girl, I was always interested in fighting for what was fair. My mom was a feminist and a stay-at-home mom who took me to political rallies, and I used to babysit for a mom who worked at Planned Parenthood. These strong women instilled in me the idea that people should be able to make decisions about their own bodies and everyone should be treated equally in society. Eventually I went to law school because I wanted to use the law to promote social justice.

Is there a particular client from 2019 who stands out?

The staff at the EMW Women’s Surgical Center in Kentucky. Dr. Marshall, who owns it, and staff are amazing people and our heroes. They make sure patients get the care they need with compassion and dignity. They’ve endured so much in addition to the legal onslaught—including anti-abortion people blockading the clinic doors and vandalizing the clinic. They are my heroes. 

Personally, my favorite moment of 2019 was calling the clinic and telling them the good news that the judge blocked the state abortion ban. 

Dale Ho Director of the Voting Rights Project

What was your favorite moment of 2019?

The census win. From the beginning I thought we had the better argument, but there were so many predictions that we would lose. I understand why we got those predictions, because we were the underdog, but it was hard not to let that seep in and affect my outlook. When we won, I felt vindicated. 

What was the most important legal win?

Again I’d say the census case. If we lost, representation would have shifted away from diverse states and areas, and many communities would have lost their fair share of federal funding. It was a massive case of major significance. 

No one believed that the Trump administration wanted to add the citizenship question to support voting rights. The Court’s decision affirmed how much we need honesty from the government on why it’s doing what it’s doing. And the case was a test for the Supreme Court, to see whether it would stand up to the kind of lawlessness that has become standard in this administration. It was nerve-inducing that four justices were willing to go along, but the center held. 

The census case was also litigated at a breakneck pace—from a trial decision to the Supreme Court in only three months. It was maybe the most significant challenge in my professional life. I’m still recovering. 

How do you handle stress when you’re on the road? 

I always, always buy WiFi on planes, and take my noise canceling headphones with me.  Sometimes I’ll get a Bloody Mary (virgin!) so I can work throughout the flight. When I’m flying out of New York, I get the same bad Italian hoagie from the CEBO Express in the airport—something I probably wouldn’t eat anywhere else. 

How will the presidential election affect the Voting Rights Project?

I don’t think the outcome of 2020 will affect our work, because most of our work is in the states. We need to modernize our states’ antiquated registration and voting systems. Those are bad now and they’re going to be bad no matter who wins in 2020. We’re going to have to do that work and also focus on redistricting after the census happens, as local, state, and federal districts get redrawn all around the country. So we have a busy 2020 and a busy 2021 ahead of us, regardless.

What do you look forward to in 2020?

Election season is always an exciting time to be a voting rights lawyer. It can be challenging because you know in advance that it’s going to be very busy. But there’s a lot you don’t know that’s going to pop up—you know things will pop up but you don’t know what. It’s challenging to stay ready for that but I feel like every election I’ve been here, we’ve done some of our best work in that emergency, rapid response posture. I’m looking forward to it. 

Omar Jadwat Director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project

What is one moment from 2019 that stands out to you?

I’ll cheat and tell you two. The first was when we blocked the Remain in Mexico policy (or Forced Return to Mexico, or Migrant Protection Protocols, as it goes by a lot of names). We knew the policy would be a disaster and we were really glad to block it.

The second was when a higher court allowed the policy to be implemented while an appeal is pending. Under this stay roughly 60,000 people have been dumped in Mexico in awful conditions. Cartels are preying on them, waiting for people to get off the buses and kidnapping them immediately. It all goes to show what an awful policy it is and how important it was to challenge it. The fact that we were able to stop it briefly was an important victory. Now the litigation continues.

What was the biggest challenge? 

Protecting the asylum system. The administration has a multi-pronged strategy to attack asylum and basically eradicate the system unilaterally. A major focus of our work in the last year has been taking on these policies—we’ve challenged the standard for asylum, gang violence exceptions, detention of asylum seekers. There’s the first asylum ban, the second asylum ban, Return to Mexico, and more. A whole set of cases. 

How has IRP’s work changed this year? 

Our team has built a new set of muscles as we adapt to new challenges—challenges that would have been extraordinary and unusual in the past, which are now the norm. The administration often announces drastic policy changes with little or no warning, and the pressure is on our team to figure out what they’re doing, to analyze it legally, and put together a lawsuit as quickly as possible if there’s a legal problem. The administration has been so aggressive with its immigration policies and the scale of what they’re trying to do is getting more ambitious. It’s caused us to be more aggressive in terms of taking them to court, and then if we win that causes them to move fast to try to get rid of our victories. Everything is happening much more quickly than usual. 

What got you into immigrants’ rights?

I come from a family of immigrants, including people who struggled with getting and maintaining status. I took a class with Judy Rabinovitz in law school, and she inspired me to follow this professional path. 

What do you look forward to in 2020?

The possibility of a new administration to deal with and a humane, respectful system in the future. It’s refreshing to see so much public disapproval of anti-immigrant policies, and that sentiment has strengthened in the last couple of years. I hope that the sympathy and support we’ve seen for immigrant communities will continue to carry through.

A Fair Chance at Opportunity: The U.S. Government Bans the Box

When Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reintroduced the Fair Chance Act earlier this year, he said: “This bill would give individuals who are reentering society from prison a fair chance at truly achieving the American dream.” The Fair Chance Act would ban the box that employers use to ask about arrest and conviction history on job applications. It also requires that federal agencies and contractors subject a prospective employee to a criminal background check only after a conditional job offer is made. 

As such, qualified workers with arrest or conviction records can now compete fairly for employment with the largest employer in the world, the U.S. government.

This week, Rep. Cumming’s — who until his death in October, was advancing “common sense criminal justice reforms” for Marylanders and the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal histories — dream has been realized with Congress sending the Fair Chance Act to the president’s desk.

In addition to Congressman Cummings, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) led the effort to “ban the box” at the federal level. Our organizations were pleased to rally for this bill’s enactment as part of a bipartisan coalition that included All of Us or None, JustLeadershipUSA, Center for American Progress, and Justice Action Network

Gainful employment is critical to a person’s successful reentry to society after incarceration and the single most important predictor of whether or not a person will return to prison. But 75 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed a year after release because of employer discrimination against people with criminal records. For Black people, a criminal record means not getting a job interview 40 percent more often than white people with similar histories. With 650,000 Americans returning to communities from prison each year, employers must eliminate barriers to jobs. 

Now, the federal government will serve as a model for fair chance hiring, along with 35 states, the District of Columbia, and over 150 cities and counties that have ban the box policies. This cohort includes many private sector entities as well, with over 100 companies joining the Fair Chance Pledge issued by the Obama White House, which coincided with federal ban the box regulations implemented under that administration in 2015. The impetus for the Obama administration’s actions was the Fair Chance Act that had first been introduced months before in the 114th Congress.             

Four years later, the Fair Chance Act is now law, standing to benefit more than 700,000 new job applicants every year. Fair Chance is a laudable accomplishment for congressional leaders, like Congressman Cummings, and criminal justice reform advocates, like our organizations, who understand that a criminal history should not deny anyone an opportunity to succeed in our economy. Though our work will continue to advance additional fair chance hiring practices in local and state government and the private sector, this week’s win on Fair Chance is a critical step in the right direction.

A Fair Chance at Opportunity: The U.S. Government Bans the Box

When Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) reintroduced the Fair Chance Act earlier this year, he said: “This bill would give individuals who are reentering society from prison a fair chance at truly achieving the American dream.” The Fair Chance Act would ban the box that employers use to ask about arrest and conviction history on job applications. It also requires that federal agencies and contractors subject a prospective employee to a criminal background check only after a conditional job offer is made. 

As such, qualified workers with arrest or conviction records can now compete fairly for employment with the largest employer in the world, the U.S. government.

This week, Rep. Cumming’s — who until his death in October, was advancing “common sense criminal justice reforms” for Marylanders and the more than 70 million Americans who have criminal histories — dream has been realized with Congress sending the Fair Chance Act to the president’s desk.

In addition to Congressman Cummings, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) led the effort to “ban the box” at the federal level. Our organizations were pleased to rally for this bill’s enactment as part of a bipartisan coalition that included All of Us or None, JustLeadershipUSA, Center for American Progress, and Justice Action Network

Gainful employment is critical to a person’s successful reentry to society after incarceration and the single most important predictor of whether or not a person will return to prison. But 75 percent of formerly incarcerated people are unemployed a year after release because of employer discrimination against people with criminal records. For Black people, a criminal record means not getting a job interview 40 percent more often than white people with similar histories. With 650,000 Americans returning to communities from prison each year, employers must eliminate barriers to jobs. 

Now, the federal government will serve as a model for fair chance hiring, along with 35 states, the District of Columbia, and over 150 cities and counties that have ban the box policies. This cohort includes many private sector entities as well, with over 100 companies joining the Fair Chance Pledge issued by the Obama White House, which coincided with federal ban the box regulations implemented under that administration in 2015. The impetus for the Obama administration’s actions was the Fair Chance Act that had first been introduced months before in the 114th Congress.             

Four years later, the Fair Chance Act is now law, standing to benefit more than 700,000 new job applicants every year. Fair Chance is a laudable accomplishment for congressional leaders, like Congressman Cummings, and criminal justice reform advocates, like our organizations, who understand that a criminal history should not deny anyone an opportunity to succeed in our economy. Though our work will continue to advance additional fair chance hiring practices in local and state government and the private sector, this week’s win on Fair Chance is a critical step in the right direction.

10 LGBTQ Moments that Defined 2019

1. Aimee Stephens goes to the Supreme Court

In October, the Supreme Court heard its first trans civil rights case ever. The case was brought by our client Aimee Stephens, who was fired from her job at a funeral home solely for being transgender. That’s sex discrimination and it violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

We have yet to see whether the Supreme Court will uphold the civil rights of trans people. But no matter what, history has already been made. 

“I’ll never forget the feeling of coming out of the Supreme Court and seeing a crowd of trans people and allies chanting to Aimee,” said Chase Strangio, Deputy Director of Transgender Justice. “It’s a special reminder that it’s not about what happens in court, it’s about how we move forward.”

Hear Aimee’s story in her own words — from the brave letter she sent to her boss coming out, to the notice of termination she received in response.

At the Emmys this year, actress and LGBTQ activist Laverne Cox used her red carpet moment to raise awareness about Aimee and her historic case.

2. Transgender people’s access to healthcare under attack

This year the Department of Health and Human Services proposed a change to the Affordable Care Act that would restrict healthcare access and insurance coverage for all trans and nonbinary people. It’s part of a coordinated effort to redefine sex discrimination across federal law. Over 20,000 ACLU supporters submitted comments to HHS opposing this rule, and if it goes into effect, we will sue. 

3. Another historic win for Gavin Grimm

Gavin Grimm’s high school denied him access to the boys’ restroom and refused to give him an accurate transcript listing him as a boy. We sued, and in August, a federal court agreed with us and ruled in Gavin’s favor. 

“It is such a relief to achieve this closure and vindication from the court after four years of fighting not just for myself, but for trans youth across America,” said Gavin. “I promise to continue to advocate for as long as it takes for everyone to be able to live their authentic lives freely, in public, and without harassment and discrimination.”

4. The fight against the trans military ban continues

Soon after President Trump came into office, his administration banned transgender people from serving in the military. We sued on behalf of trans service members like Brock Stone, an 11-year Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan. In March this year, the Supreme Court ruled to uphold the ban while litigation continues. We’re still fighting for Brock Stone, because transgender people belong in the military — trans people belong everywhere.

5. The 50th Anniversary of Stonewall

In 1969, trans women of color led riots against police brutality and harassment at the Stonewall Inn, in one of the most important events in the history of LGBTQ activism. Their legacy continues 50 years later as we fight in the Supreme Court to protect transgender people and others from discrimination. Congress can do its part by passing the Equality Act to close the gaps in our civil rights laws and ensure explicit and comprehensive legal protections.

ACLU Trans Justice Campaign Manager LaLa Zannell discussed Stonewall and Pride 2019 on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee. 

6. Trans Day of Remembrance

Trans lives are on the line every day — and in 2019 alone, 25 trans women of color were murdered. Tragically, their lives were taken because they lived in this world that too often fails to value black, brown, and gender non-conforming bodies.

In an interview with Democracy Now, LaLa Zannell explained that Trans Day of Remembrance “is a day for trans people across the country to take a moment to celebrate the living while using that moment to honor the ones we have lost in this movement.” 

7. Trans student athletes fight for the right to participate in sports

Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood are following their dreams as track stars at their Connecticut high school, but anti-trans advocates want to keep them out of sports. That’s discrimination. 

Thousands have pledged their support for Terry and Andraya and for all transgender athletes who have the right to live as their authentic selves, including in sports. Girls who are transgender are girls.

The ACLU also stopped a bill attacking trans student athletes in South Dakota. We’re already seeing bills like this planned for 2020 state legislative sessions.

8. Government greenlights workplace discrimination

Nearly one-quarter of employees in the United States work for an employer that has a contract with the federal government. If the Department of Labor goes through with a new proposed rule, government-contracted employers could soon be able to fire employees for being LGBTQ or belonging to another minority or marginalized group. Over 64,000 ACLU activists submitted comments opposing the proposed rule.

9. California court rules against anti-trans discrimination in healthcare

ACLU SoCal won a landmark case protecting the rights of transgender patients trying to access medical care. The plaintiff, Evan Minton, was denied medical care because he is transgender, in what has become an increasing pattern of healthcare providers using religious freedom to discriminate against trans people. Religion should never be a license to discriminate.

10. We won an Emmy

Our documentary film Trans in America: Texas Strong won an Emmy Award for best documentary. The film is an intimate portrait of Kimberly and Kai Shappley, a mother and daughter navigating life in a religious community where Kai’s rights as a trans girl have been under attack — including her right to use the girls’ bathroom at school.

A Tennessee City Banned Surgical Abortion Within the City Limits. We’re Taking Them to Court.

For 30 years, I have worked in reproductive health care. In my current role as Chief Operating Officer of carafem, a nonprofit with a national network of health centers, I know the difference compassionate and comprehensive reproductive health care makes in the lives of our clients. I have witnessed the personal impact when people who have the legal right to have a child or to have an abortion are denied those rights due to outrageous societal barriers. Abortion providers are used to opposition, but we’ve never experienced the kind of explicit targeting we received from politicians in the city of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. It took the local politicians less than 48 hours after we opened our doors to try and shut us down, but after serving the community for the past nine months with services limited by politics, today, we’re fighting back in court.

At carafem, we strive to expand access to compassionate and convenient abortion care as well as other reproductive health care services. With offices in three different states, we served clients in the Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Chicago communities. Late in 2018 we learned that many people in Tennessee were forced to drive hours to reach an abortion care provider, as we started to see many clients from Tennessee at our health center in Atlanta, Georgia. We decided then that carafem needed to bring services to central Tennessee so we looked for space in the area to open our fourth health center. Soon thereafter, we found an accessible location in the Nashville suburb of Mt. Juliet, where we could provide medical services in a private, secure, and professional environment.

We quickly learned that our presence was not welcomed by city government when we were met with open hostility by local politicians. But, unlike many politicians who seek to restrict access to abortion, Mt. Juliet’s public officials did nothing to even attempt to hide their intent or political agenda. Instead, they promised loud and clear to do whatever they could to prevent individuals from exercising their legal right to abortion.

One city commissioner stated, “The members of the commission I have talked to are 100 percent behind shutting this abomination down.” Another said, “I was disgusted to hear they plan to open in my district and my town. If there is anything we can legally do to keep them from opening in Mt. Juliet, we will do it.”

These politicians immediately followed through on their threats. As soon as Mt. Juliet’s zoning commission got word that we had opened a health center, it convened and amended its zoning code to treat surgical abortion care providers differently from all other medical services. In effect, the new ordinance makes it impossible for us to offer surgical abortion care within city limits.

We are still able to provide medication abortion in Mt. Juliet and have provided care to hundreds of clients in this office — but medication abortion isn’t an option for everyone, and we’ve been forced to turn away many clients who need aspiration, or surgical, abortion care. The provision of aspiration abortion is central to carafem’s mission of ensuring full access to reproductive health care. 

It’s clear that this ordinance is yet another attack by hostile politicians on reproductive rights. If this zoning ordinance remains in place, Mt. Juliet politicians will have prevented us from providing comprehensive care options to our clients and will have denied our clients the right to choose what is medically best for them. Those seeking a procedure will be forced to travel elsewhere to access the kind of abortion care they want or need — care that we could otherwise provide.

This is not just wrong — it’s illegal. We are filing this lawsuit with the ACLU because we will not be intimidated. The people of central Tennessee deserve access to safe, comprehensive abortion care — rather than having their options limited by some political agenda. Mt. Juliet officials have tried their best to stop us, but we have decided to fight.