Ask an Expert: How to Connect With Hesitant Voters

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

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

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

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

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

ACLU: What experiences have informed your activism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A smiling Julia Lundy.

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

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

ACLU: What experiences have informed your activism?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To Fight a Stacked Federal Bench, the ACLU Goes to the States

“Turn to the states.” That has been the battle cry among many who seek to preserve the right to abortion since the Supreme Court’s shameful decision overturning Roe v. Wade. In the immediate aftermath of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, the ACLU, with our affiliates and allies (especially Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights) won preliminary victories under state constitutions allowing abortion services to continue or resume, at least temporarily, in Kentucky and Utah, and are litigating similar claims in a number of state courts including Georgia, Florida, and Ohio.

At the ACLU, we have long been litigating for civil liberties and civil rights in state courts — on abortion and so much else. In “Our New Federalism,” an ACLU report released today, we review a wide range of state constitutional victories over the past several years, a testament to our commitment to using state courts to protect and expand civil rights and civil liberties.

State courts hold promise in the face of a hostile federal judiciary for three reasons. First, although state constitutions cannot be less protective than the federal Constitution, state courts can interpret their own constitutions and laws to be more protective. Second, state supreme courts have the final say on state law, so a civil rights victory under state law generally cannot be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. And third, because so much of the day-to-day regulation of our lives is carried out by the states, the lion’s share of civil rights and civil liberties issues arise in the context of state enforcement; and that means state constitutional limitations apply as well as federal ones. Roughly 90 percent of all criminal laws are state-based, for example, rather than federal.

In 2022 alone, the ACLU has won several important state court civil rights victories. The ACLU and its Ohio affiliate won state supreme court rulings that Ohio’s redistricting maps violate a state constitution provision that bans partisan gerrymandering. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the reach of the federal courts, so this result would not have been possible under federal law.

In January, the New Jersey Supreme Court limited lengthy prison sentences for juvenile offenders in State v. Comer, an ACLU of New Jersey case. This ruling likewised relied on a provision in the New Jersey Constitution that does not appear in the U.S. Constitution.

February, the ACLU of Montana, together with the Center for Reproductive Rights, blocked a state law that prevented qualified clinicians, including nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, from providing early abortion services. In anticipation of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs, we went to state court in Michigan, and together with Planned Parenthood, won a preliminary injunction in May barring the enforcement of Michigan’s 1931 felony abortion law under the Michigan Constitution. Because both of these rulings rest on state law grounds, they are undisturbed by Dobbs

In March and July, the ACLU and its Texas affiliate, together with allies Lambda Legal and PFLAG, turned to state court to challenge Gov. Greg Abbott’s directive that providing gender-affirming care should be investigated as child abuse. In Doe v. Abbott and PFLAG v. Abbott, the state court blocked investigations of our clients under the directive until all issues in the lawsuits are fully resolved.

At the ACLU, this is nothing new. We have defended civil liberties in state courts since our founding over 100 years ago.

In 1925, the ACLU argued in the trial of John T. Scopes (known as the Scopes “Monkey Trial”) that a Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution violated the Tennessee Constitution. Although Scopes was convicted, the media coverage of the case reached millions, and in just the next two years, bills prohibiting the teaching of evolution were defeated in 22 states.

In 1969, we filed an amicus brief supporting the very first challenge to the constitutionality of an anti-abortion statute in the Supreme Court of California. In People v. Belous, the court invalidated California’s abortion restriction on state constitutional grounds. And since then, we sued in various state courts to establish independent state law protections for abortion, to extend Medicaid coverage to abortion, and to protect teens seeking abortions (including in New Jersey and Alaska).

In the first two decades of this century, the ACLU partnered with our allies to argue in state court that the right to marry should extend to same-sex couples. That claim had been summarily rejected in federal court, but marriage equality wins in Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, California, Iowa, New Mexico, and New Jersey laid the groundwork for the U.S. Supreme Court’s recognition of the federal right to marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges.

State laws have also made it possible to challenge racial discrimination in the administration of the death penalty, in circumstances that federal law does not reach. The ACLU and its North Carolina affiliate successfully advocated for passage of a state Racial Justice Act, which allowed individuals facing capital punishment to have their sentence commuted to life imprisonment without parole if they could show that racial bias had affected their trial — a pivotal state law protection, given a prior U.S. Supreme Court ruling that such racial disparities did not violate the federal constitution. We then brought the first case under this law, and showed that racial discrimination tainted the trial of Marcus Robinson, a Black man, the youngest person ever sentenced to death in North Carolina, for a crime committed when he was 18. In 2015, the state court commuted Mr. Robinson’s sentence to life imprisonment.

These are just some of the many victories we have obtained in state courts. In “Our New Federalism,” we detail more more than 125 civil liberties and civil rights cases that we have filed in the last five years or so that advance arguments, most often in state courts, based on state constitutional and statutory civil rights provisions, seeking protections above and beyond what federal law provides. They span 24 states, and the whole range of issues that matter most to our members, including reproductive freedom, voting rights, workers’ rights, educational equity, free speech, privacy, freedom from discrimination, criminal defense, and the rights of incarcerated persons.

There are limits to what can be accomplished on the state level. Some actions, including those of federal officials, often can be challenged only in federal court. The states that are most likely to infringe on our rights often — though not always — have less hospitable state courts as well. And even when we secure a favorable decision, state court decisions directly affect only that state.

Politics can also complicate matters. Some state court judges must run for re-election, and to that extent may be less likely to protect civil rights and civil liberties where those claims are not likely to be popular. Some state legislatures exercise control over state courts. And many states make it fairly easy to amend their state constitutions through ballot measures, which have at times been used to overturn constitutional decisions. (For example, California voters approved Proposition 8 in 2008, which reversed a prior marriage equality victory in the California Supreme Court.)

We still need to pursue litigation in federal courts. But in the face of a U.S. Supreme Court that is increasingly hostile to rights protections, state court litigation has never been more important. As these examples and the many others in our report illustrate, state courts can provide meaningful protection for civil rights and civil liberties when federal courts fail us. We’ve been doing this work for a century. We won’t stop now.

Special thanks to Duncan Hosie, Eva Stevenson, Cal Barnett-Mayotte, and Farzana Ali for their assistance on this blog and accompanying report.




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UN Racial Justice Review Gives Biden Opportunity to Center International Human Rights

Every few years, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination convenes to review the United States’ adherence to the similarly named racial justice treaty ratified by the U.S. in 1994.

Given that the last U.S. review took place under the Obama administration in 2014, this year’s review was a first for the Biden administration. As expected, the Biden administration claimed significant progress on racial justice in its report and presentation to the committee. However, more than a year into his term, few of President Biden’s commitments on racial justice and human rights have been realized.

Where the U.S. Stands on Racial Justice Today

When President Biden took office, he promised to reverse years of Trump-era disengagement on the international stage and center racial justice and equality at home and abroad. One of his first acts as president was to sign an executive order aimed at achieving racial equity in the U.S. In announcing the order, Biden called systemic racism “corrosive,” “destructive,” and “costly.”

We agree — but these remarks do not excuse the meager progress that the U.S. has made toward realizing the promise of the treaty: to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination.

The U.S. has intentionally exempted itself from human rights demands that it has pressed on other countries, while permitting structural racism and xenophobia to operate as pervasive, unbridled forces in American society.

In a joint submission ahead of the review, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch characterized U.S. progress toward compliance to the convention as “elusive — indeed, grossly inadequate” in various areas, including reparative justice, discrimination in the criminal legal system, use of force by law enforcement, discrimination in immigration enforcement, and racial discrimination in public services and social protection. Additionally, the report offers the Biden administration a roadmap to implementing measures to correct stark racial disparities without having to confront the U.S. Congress.

Posturing itself as a moral leader in defending human rights, the U.S. has intentionally exempted itself from human rights demands that it has pressed on other countries while permitting structural racism and xenophobia to operate as pervasive, unbridled forces in American society.

What We Told the Committee

U.S. civil society groups, including the ACLU, our state affiliates, and partners like Human Rights Watch and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights have been on the ground in Geneva to show the committee the substandard progress on human rights and racial justice, and what steps our government can take now to turn the tide.

As international pressure has frequently contributed to domestic victories on racial justice issues throughout history, U.S. civil organizations are maximizing international mechanisms to enrich their advocacy efforts.

Jamil Dakwar, director of ACLU’s Human Rights Program, and Stephanie Amiotte, legal director of the ACLU North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming, testified before the committee to underscore systemic police violence and the lack of U.S. education on Native American history in schools, respectively.

Next Steps for the U.S.

After six hours of failing to provide adequate answers and leaving many questions unanswered to the frustration of the committee, it became abundantly clear that the U.S. has much more to do at the local, tribal, state, and federal levels to claim global leadership on racial justice.

The committee pressed the U.S. delegation on various significant issues previously raised by U.S. civil society: racial disparities in sentencing, health, and reproductive rights; impunity for police violence; anti-Black racism in immigration enforcement; housing segregation; education inequities; discriminatory child welfare system; environmental racism; and the lack of progress on respecting treaty and sovereignty rights of Indigenous Peoples.

President Biden can act today – by establishing a commission to explore the creation of a National Human Rights Institution and a federal body that can implement a national plan to fulfill international human rights obligations.

Echoing the demands of U.S. civil society, the committee also urged the Biden administration to issue an executive order to establish a federal commission to study reparations for slavery.

The U.S. delegation has 48 hours to submit additional information and responses to the committee, which will issue its final report and recommendations on August 30.

This process offers the Biden administration another opportunity to transcend the limits of the U.S. civil rights framework and dismantle structural racism in the U.S. through a robust, universal international human rights lens. It is also an opportunity to uplift the voices of directly impacted communities and address the way in which the legacies of the transatlantic slave trade and colonialism inform our contemporary world, a shortcoming of the U.S. identified by the committee.

The committee held the United States to account with its strong questioning. We urge our leaders to embrace the committee’s recommendations and comprehensively tackle systemic racism in the U.S.

President Biden can act today – including by establishing a federal commission to explore the creation of a National Human Rights Institution and the creation of a federal coordination body with a mandate to implement a national plan of action to fulfill international human rights obligations.

In her closing remarks, committee member Faith Pansy Tlakula quoted Nelson Mandela, “The very fact that racism degrades both the perpetrator and the victim commands that, if we are true to our commitment to protect human dignity, we fight on until victory is achieved. We should lay the scourge of racism to rest.”

It is time for the U.S. to reckon with its racist history.

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Midterm Elections: How These Offices Impact Your Rights

Following a radical Supreme Court term that has had a devastating impact on abortion access, the separation of church and state, immigrants’ rights, privacy, and more, it’s easy to feel powerless. But we can still fight for our rights — starting in our communities, at the ballot box. We have the power to send a message to elected officials about what we value and what we want them to prioritize. Your vote can send a clear message to lawmakers and elected officials that they need to take bold action to stem the tide of attacks on abortion, and protect access to essential care — just as Kansas voters recently did when they defeated a measure that would have stripped the right to abortion from their state constitution.

Trust in American institutions has dramatically decreased in recent years, according to recent polling. Americans are losing confidence in the Supreme Court, politicians, and the media. But people still trust their family, friends, and neighbors.

That’s why your vote is so important this year, and why the ACLU wants to arm you with the knowledge you need to talk to your friends and family about the issues that matter. With just a conversation, you can use your existing networks to mobilize and activate your community.

Here, we break down some of the elected offices you may see on your ballot, so you can better understand how these officials wield the power to protect civil liberties and civil rights. Whether it’s for a district attorney election in your county or a supreme court judge race in your state, you have the power to change this country. This November, let’s remind our elected officials that they don’t have the final say when it comes to our rights — we do.

Attorney General

State attorneys general are the top legal officers of their state. They have the ability to issue legal guidance or formal opinions to state agencies, including opinions on the constitutionality of abortion bans, restrictions on the right to learn, as well as choosing to not enforce education gag orders that restrict teachers and students from being able to learn and discuss issues related to race and gender in the classroom. They can advise their legislature and state agencies on ways to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and ensure equal access to services, and can also join or initiate lawsuits challenging anti-LGBTQ laws or policies.

Secretary of State

In many states, the secretary of state is the state’s chief elections officer with responsibility for oversight and administration of elections. The secretary of state can expand voting access by implementing measures such as automatic voter registration and universal mail-in voting, as well as advocating for a legislative agenda that pushes for greater access.

State Supreme Court Judge

State supreme courts — often elected or retained by the people in statewide elections — can and often do find that state constitutions protect more rights than the U.S. Constitution, making them a powerful backstop protecting our rights against the attacks they face. They decide cases related to abortion, voting rights, the rights of LGBTQ people, free speech, and more. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, state courts will likely be the final arbiters to decide whether reproductive freedoms are protected in the states, making this role especially crucial.

District Attorney

Also referred to as County Attorney, Prosecuting Attorney, or Commonwealth Attorney in some states, elected prosecutors are the most influential actors in the criminal justice system. They have the power to decide who should be charged with a crime, and can decline to press charges — including declining to prosecute a person accused of violating an abortion ban. Prosecutors’ decisions and their influence over local and state criminal justice laws have been one of the primary drivers of incarceration and racial disparities throughout the justice system. District attorneys can exercise prosecutorial discretion to not bring charges against those accused of violating classroom censorship laws and education gag orders that restrict teachers and students from being able to learn about issues related to race and gender in the classroom. They can also decline to prosecute crimes related to HIV status, sex work, and other criminalization that disproportionately affects LGBTQ people; train staff to respectfully manage cases involving hate crimes and domestic violence; and establish data collection to track treatment of LGBTQ victims and defendants.

County Clerk

In many states, county clerks act as the local election administrator and run the day-to-day operations of registration and voting. They may be responsible for recruiting and training election officials, mailing absentee ballots, and counting and canvassing election results. County clerks may be also responsible for issuing permits for LGBTQ parades or events, recruiting or training poll workers to ensure they are LGBTQ-friendly, or ensuring that same-sex couples can access marriage licenses.

School Board

School Board representatives can pass important policies to protect LGBTQ students from harassment, discrimination, and bullying, including ensuring students in their district have the right to access restrooms and play sports in accordance with their gender. They can also either endorse or fight back against attempts to restrict school curriculums limiting how race, sexual orientation, and gender identity may be talked about in school, and push back against attempts to remove books by and about LGBTQ people from school libraries.

Board of Governors / Board of Regents

The Board of Regents or Board of Governors are elected and approve curricula in some states, determining what students are allowed to learn or required to learn. They may be responsible for enforcing classroom censorship policies and education gag orders that restrict teachers and students from being able to learn about issues related to race and gender in the classroom. These officials have the power to protect the right to learn in higher education.

From limiting how and when we vote, to removing books by LGTBQ authors from library shelves, to criminalizing access to basic health care, politicians are attacking our fundamental rights. The midterm elections are a chance for all of us to say enough is enough.

Join us as we talk to our family and friends about why this election matters and pledge to vote our values.

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

Trans Health Care in Florida: What You Need to Know

On Friday, August 5, the Florida Board of Medicine ignored the warnings of medical experts and parents with transgender children and voted to adopt a “standard of care” that opposes gender-affirming care for trans youth — a move that would put the licenses of medical professionals at risk for providing life-saving care. This vote does not immediately impose restrictions on gender-affirming care, but does begin a regulatory process to do just that.

This is the latest in a coordinated attack on the health care needs of transgender youth and adolescents. Below you’ll find an explanation of what is happening Florida, what may happen next, and steps Florida residents can take to protect trans kids, their families, and their medical providers.

What did the Florida State Board of Medicine vote to do?

The Florida state Board of Medicine (BOM) is responsible for setting standards of care for all medical providers in Florida, and for enforcing their compliance with licensing and disciplinary review. Changing the standards of care requires (at a minimum) a formal rulemaking process under the Florida Administrative Procedure Act. On Friday, August 5, the board officially began the formal rulemaking process, which lasts up to 180 days and usually requires at least 90 days to complete, to consider proposed regulations that would restrict medically-necessary care for transgender youth. The proposed changes to state standards of care would do two things:

  1. Threaten medical providers with penalties or fines if they provide gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 18 as treatment for gender dysphoria.
  2. Impose waiting periods on adults seeking gender-affirming care and require adults to sign an informed consent form that includes disinformation about the risks of gender-affirming care.
What is gender-affirming care?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Gender-affirming care is a supportive form of health care. It consists of an array of services that may include medical, surgical, mental health, and non-medical services for transgender and nonbinary people. For transgender and nonbinary children and adolescents, early gender-affirming care is crucial to overall health and well-being as it allows the child or adolescent to focus on social transitions and can increase their confidence while navigating the health care system.”

Gender-affirming care is a very individualized form of health care, and will look different for each person depending on their age, gender, and other physical and mental health needs. For prepubescent transgender youth, this care typically involves a “social transition” (changing clothes, hair, name, etc.) and never involves surgery or other irreversible medical treatments. During or after puberty, many transgender youth may receive reversible puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, or other medical interventions as overseen and prescribed by medical professionals. Some older transgender adolescents can and do access surgical care on a case-by-case basis as recommended by the World Professional Association of Transgender Health.

Gender-affirming care is widely recognized as the only evidence-based approach to addressing the health care needs of transgender youth, including severe mental health risks. For more:

The medical community has already been very critical of Florida’s ongoing effort to ban gender-affirming care. In June, the Agency for Health Care Administration, which oversees Florida’s Medicaid program, published a report claiming the national standards of care for gender dysphoria are at odds with nationally accepted standards for Medicaid coverage. Medical and legal experts quickly condemned the proposed regulations as “thoroughly flawed and lacking scientific weight.” In April, the Florida Department of Health (DOH) issued a memo recommending against gender-affirming care for children and adolescents. Researchers cited in the memo by the surgeon general in an attempt to justify these restrictions accused him of misrepresenting their work, and denounced the proposed restrictions.

Three hundred Floridian health care providers who work with transgender youth then published an open letter in the Tampa Bay Times, condemning the proposed regulations. The guidance from the governor and surgeon general, the experts wrote, “misrepresents the weight of the evidence, does not allow for personalized patient and family-centered care, and would, if followed, lead to higher rates of youth depression and suicidality.”

Similar bans signed into law in Arkansas and Alabama are both blocked by federal courts.

What happens next?

The Florida State Board of Medicine vote was triggered by a “petition to initiate rulemaking” submitted to the board by the DOH at the behest of Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who heads the DOH. The move came at the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, who appoints the BOM’s members and has long pushed a broader extremist and anti-trans political agenda.

Now that the board has initiated rulemaking, they will work internally to draft a proposed regulation, submit it for formal review, comments, and public hearing, and eventually publish a final rule. Once they publish their proposed regulation, they must accept public comments for 21 days, then hold a public hearing. After the hearing, they must wait at least 14 days to publish the final version of the regulation. Once the final regulation is published, it goes into effect 20 days later.

If the board does in fact make a final regulation to ban gender-affirming care for minors (or something even more expansive), it would likely go into effect in October or November of 2022.

What impact would this regulation have on providers of gender-affirming care in Florida?

If a final regulation is adopted and goes into effect (and is not enjoined by a court), that would mean any providers who continue to provide this care to minors would be subject to professional discipline by the BOM. Disciplinary proceedings can be initiated by public complaint and by the surgeon general’s staff directly. That discipline could lead to suspensions or revocations of medical licenses.

Most likely, that would mean all providers would voluntarily stop providing such care, health care insurance plans would proactively stop covering it, and malpractice insurers would impose higher premiums or drop coverage for gender-affirming providers even if they don’t treat minors or the population covered by the ban.

What can I do to stop it and ensure Floridians have access to gender-affirming care?

Once the BOM publishes its proposed rule to change the standard of care to ban gender-affirming care for minors, the board will be required to accept written comments from the public for 21 days starting on the day the proposed rule is published in the Florida Administrative Register. When the 21 days have concluded, a public hearing will be held by the board. Comments submitted by the public by email or written letter will be included in the official record of the BOM proceedings.

Members of the public can also attend the public hearing, although the number of individuals who can speak at the public hearing can be limited and will be controlled by the BOM. During a public hearing in July 2022 concerning the Medicaid rule changes, the Agency for Health Care Administration filled their speaker slots predominately with speakers who were hostile to gender-affirming care. If the BOM takes the same approach, it may be difficult or futile to attempt to make public comments at the hearing.

One of the most important things you can do is register to vote before the October 11 registration deadline and help elect lawmakers who will work to protect the rights of transgender youth, their families, and their health care providers.

In addition to engaging in the rulemaking process, you can make a difference by getting to know your neighbors and being a part of your local community. Gender-affirming care is not well understood by the public, and hostile groups spread disinformation to scare and misinform people about gender-affirming care and the transgender community. Being visible and participating in the local community may help the public recognize that gender-affirming care is not a danger to society and should be allowed like other medical care.

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

Fifty-Seven Years After its Enactment, the Voting Rights Act is in Peril

This week marks 57 years since the signing of the Voting Rights Act (VRA), landmark legislation that ensured the right to vote was protected for all Americans.

In the decades following the Civil War, states in the South enacted discriminatory measures, such as poll taxes and literary tests, in order to stop Black Americans from voting. Not to be deterred, voting rights activists protested and mobilized, but were met with brutal violence and intimidation. These efforts culminated in 1965, as voting rights activists seeking to march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama were severely beaten and bloodied. The nation watched, shocked and outraged, which pushed President Lyndon B. Johnson to call on Congress to pass comprehensive legislation to protect the right to vote. The result was the crown jewel of the civil rights movement: the VRA.

The VRA was designed to enforce voting rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution, and to secure the right to vote for racial minorities throughout the country, especially for Black voters in the South. For decades since its signing, the VRA has stood as a bulwark against racially discriminatory voting practices and paved the way for 45 years of progress on voting rights. But over the last decade, instead of protecting the VRA and expanding access to the ballot box, the Supreme Court and courts across the country have dismantled and gutted crucial parts of the VRA.

For decades, the VRA stood against racially discriminatory voting. Still, the Supreme Court and courts across the U.S. have crippled crucial parts of the VRA.

First, in the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, the Supreme Court eviscerated Section 5, one of the VRA’s most effective guardrails. Prior to this decision, states and counties with the worst histories and recent records of racial discrimination in voting had to obtain federal “preclearance” — that is, approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court — before implementing any changes to voting laws and practices, to ensure they did not curtail the right to vote for minority voters. Shelby County struck down the formula used to identify which states and localities were required to do so, gutting the heart of the VRA and opening the floodgates to wave after wave of anti-voting legislation.

Then last year, the Supreme Court dealt another blow to the critical protections provided in the VRA. In Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court erected significant new barriers to lawsuits brought under Section 2 of the act, the nationwide prohibition on racially discriminatory voting laws. The new standard is completely at odds with the VRA’s purpose — to eradicate racial discrimination in voting, no matter how blunt or subtle.

In 2021 alone, more than 400 anti-voter measures were introduced by states across the country, many of which will disproportionately burden voters of color.

The attacks on the VRA have not abated. Just last month, the Supreme Court reinstated Louisiana’s congressional map, despite a federal court ruling that the map was racially discriminatory and likely violated the VRA. This is a repeat of what occurred earlier this year in Alabama. There, the Supreme Court allowed yet another racially discriminatory congressional map to stand in the face of a federal court ruling that it likely violated the VRA. It’s clear the robust federal safeguards instated by the VRA to protect the right to vote are quickly being rolled back.

At the same time, politicians across the country continue to push the big lie that the 2020 election was stolen. This lie not only led to the attack we saw on the Capitol on January 6, but is fueling even more voter suppression legislation across the country.

In 2021 alone, more than 400 anti-voter measures were introduced by states across the country, many of which will disproportionately burden voters of color. This relentless assault on voting rights shows no signs of receding. These measures run the gamut from restricting access to vote by mail, eliminating Election Day registration, and making it more difficult to vote early in person to criminalizing efforts by local election administrators to assist voters. Additionally, like in Louisiana, several states have enacted new electoral maps that systemically minimize the voting strength of Black voters.

As we reflect on the 57th anniversary of VRA, there should be no question that the right to vote is under siege and that these efforts to interfere with and minimize our right to vote fall heaviest on already marginalized people, especially Black communities. We still have so much work ahead of us to ensure every eligible American has the right to vote. Here at the ACLU we’ve redoubled our efforts to fight for voting rights in courts, in state legislatures, and on the streets. For over 100 years we’ve protected the civil liberties of all Americans, and we’ll continue to be on the frontlines of this fight to protect our rights.

What you can do:Congress: Protect Our Voting RightsSend your message

Despite SCOTUS Ruling, the Biden Administration Can Prevent a Reversion to Trump's Deportation Machine

The Biden administration asked the Supreme Court last month to allow it to proceed with guidelines limiting who can be arrested and deported. The guidelines, outlined in a memo by Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, faced xenophobic and politically charged legal challenges brought by Texas and Louisiana. The states’ challenges blocked the enforcement guidelines nationally, with lower courts split on the issue.

The Mayorkas guidelines memo was intended to move Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) away from Trump’s indiscriminate enforcement approach of deporting as many people as possible, regardless of their family and community ties. Taking up the Obama administration’s approach, Mayorkas directed ICE agents to focus their time and resources on individuals who pose a threat to “national security, public safety, and border security.” He added that agents should exercise “discretionary authority in a way that protects civil rights and civil liberties” and be “guided by the fact that the majority of undocumented noncitizens who could be subject to removal have been contributing members of our communities for years.”

He added that agents should exercise “discretionary authority in a way that protects civil rights and civil liberties.”

Advocates, including the ACLU, were highly critical of the guidelines because they left too much discretion with ICE agents, despite their documented xenophobia. But for all its serious flaws, the memo provided attorneys a powerful tool for advocating to protect their clients from deportation.

Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas listens to questions from reporters.

The Supreme Court, however, declined to restore the deportation guidelines while the case proceeds, and will instead hear the case on the merits in November. For now, Mayorkas’ memo is not in force, leaving ICE agents with what they had under Trump: nearly unfettered discretion to pursue deportations.

For now, Mayorkas’ memo is not in force, leaving ICE agents with what they had under Trump: nearly unfettered discretion to pursue deportations.

While this is a major setback for Mayorkas, he can still dismantle the infrastructure that makes indiscriminate deportations a threat to the millions of people he acknowledged “work on the frontlines in the battle against COVID-19, lead our congregations of faith, teach our children, [and] do back-breaking farm work to help deliver food to our table.”

Here are two actions the Biden Administration can take: Dismantle ICE’s “Force Multiplier” by ending partnerships with local law enforcement

For years, ICE has tapped local law enforcement agencies to help identify immigrants for deportation, enabling ICE to stretch its tentacles into communities across the country and deport more people than it would be able to on its own, under a set of partnerships known as 287(g). These partnerships expanded five-fold under President Trump, and allow sheriffs notorious for racism, xenophobia, and civil rights violations to target and attack immigrants in their communities. ICE calls 287(g) its “force multiplier.”

Recently, the ACLU released a research report that found 59 percent of 287(g) sheriffs have documented records of anti-immigrant rhetoric, and over half have expressly advocated inhumane federal immigration policies, in some cases while vowing to disobey any federal directives they disagree with. Nearly two-thirds of 287(g) partners have records of racial profiling and other civil rights abuses, while more than three-quarters operate detention facilities with documented patterns of abuse and inhumane conditions.

As a candidate, President Biden pledged to eliminate 287(g) contracts initiated under Trump, but over 140 contracts with state and local law enforcement agencies are still in effect to this day.

Now that Secretary Mayorkas’ guidelines have been stalled, it is more important than ever for the Biden administration to end these partnerships, which directly threaten the millions of people Mayrokas has acknowledged as being integral members of our communities by subjecting them to racial profiling, abuse, and separation from their families and loved ones.

Shutdown ICE detention sites

For decades, the U.S. government has overinvested in punishment and detention, and underinvested in community-based support services, even as ICE continues to amass a track record of egregious civil liberties violations. The result of this investment is an immigration detention machine that is fundamentally bloated, cruel, and inhumane.

At present, about 24,000 people are languishing in ICE detention, in sites often run by for-profit, private prison companies. They may be detained for the duration of their removal proceedings — which could last months or even years. Thousands of these people are trapped in inhumane, unsafe living conditions, where they are denied access to lawyers who could help them secure release. Many are separated from their families, including their U.S. citizen-children, even though they could be free — on bond, their own recognizance, or community-based alternatives to detention.

But there is another way. The government can shrink the infrastructure that has been used to arrest, incarcerate, abuse, and traumatize immigrants.

The Biden administration took an important step toward shrinking the infrastructure of civil immigration detention when it requested funding for 9,000 fewer detention beds in its proposed budget for next fiscal year. Secretary Mayorkas also announced plans to close or limit the use of six detention sites, five of which were on a list of 39 detention sites the ACLU asked Mayorkas to shutter in an April 2021 letter, and stopped detaining families at three family detention sites.

But ICE still maintains a sprawling detention network of about 200 detention sites around the country, and has made plans to expand privatized, for-profit immigration detention — despite outcry from dozens of congressional Democrats.

If the Biden administration stops over-investing in the infrastructure for detaining immigrants, then many of the people Secretary Mayorkas rightfully identified as providing important contributions to the country won’t have to live in daily fear of arrest or deportation. The administration should take action now.

What you can do:End ICE's Racist 287(g) ProgramSend your message

In Missouri and Illinois, a Glimpse of Abortion Access in a Post-Roe World

The movement for abortion rights can feel hopeless in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, and indeed, this is a moment of unprecedented adversity. But across the country, advocates are hard at work trying to win back fundamental reproductive freedoms and helping patients navigate the new landscape of abortion access.

We spoke with advocates on the ground in Missouri, where abortion is now banned, and in Illinois, where two abortion clinics near its border are working to accommodate the influx of patients from out of state.

Kawanna Shannon

Director of Patient Access, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

Credit: Emily Geraghty

I’ve been working in women’s health for about 21 years now. I’ve always had an issue with people being blocked from accessing the care they need, so I gravitated toward abortion rights. That’s what led me to Planned Parenthood, where my job is to help people access care.

Normally, patients have to do all the legwork themselves: locate providers, navigate insurance policies, cover costs, figure out how to get there and how to juggle everyday responsibilities like earning a living or caring for children. Our regional logistics center does the work for them. We’re a one-stop shop for patient support. We answer calls 24/7, connect directly with abortion funds across the country, and help secure logistical support for all the planes, trains, and automobiles it may take for a person to obtain an abortion.

There’s no reason people should have to go through all of these hoops to get basic health care.

But this work is not just about getting people to care. It’s about giving people a voice. Patients lay everything bare for us to understand their situation, and they’re just happy that someone cares and is willing to help. They are often literally trusting us with their lives.

That’s what keeps us going, even during these challenging times. I’m grateful to be able to help people seeking care, but it saddens me, too. There’s no reason people should have to go through all of these hoops to get basic health care. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that when patients are calling, we’re there for them. No matter what.

Michele Landeau

Board Member, Missouri Abortion Fund

Credit: Emily Geraghty

My first job out of college was at an abortion clinic in St. Louis. At the time, I was shocked to see all the barriers people had to overcome in order to have an abortion. Now it’s even worse. Back then, there were five clinics operating in the state of Missouri. Now there are none. In those days, people would have to wait 24 hours after an initial counseling appointment to actually have the procedure. Then it became 72 hours. The state would force medical misinformation upon patients to get them to change their minds about having the abortion. Now abortion is banned altogether.

In 2016, I joined the Missouri Abortion Fund, which provides financial assistance to people who cannot afford care. Abortion is not something you should have to put off until your next paycheck. People should be able to access the care they need, when they need it.

Abortion shouldn’t be a political issue — it’s a health care issue that has been deeply politicized to the detriment of so many people across the country.

A lot of times, people don’t know how difficult it is to access abortion until they actually have to do it themselves. I hope we can use this moment to talk about all the barriers and restrictions that have been hindering access for years, and still are — and learn about the grassroots organizations that are helping get people to care on the ground.

Abortion shouldn’t be a political issue — it’s a health care issue that has been deeply politicized to the detriment of so many people across the country. It’s not always a sob story, or even a hard decision to make. Sometimes people are just pregnant and they don’t want to be, or can’t. And it’s their right to make choices about their own body.

Dr. Margaret Baum

Medical Director, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

Credit: Emily Geraghty

As an OB-GYN, abortion is just one of the services I provide, along with hysterectomies, tubal ligations, vasectomies, and other surgeries. Abortion should be treated like any other medical procedure, because that’s what it is. Abortion is health care, period. The fact that politicians — folks without medical training — are making decisions about what care I can provide seems absurd to me, and impinges upon my profession. I cannot fulfill my responsibilities as a doctor without the ability to provide abortion care.

Before Missouri banned abortion, I was providing abortion care in the last remaining free-standing clinic in the entire state. It feels like a betrayal to now make patients travel to another state to get the care they need. We should be able to access abortion in the same place we live and pay taxes and vote. It’s our state, it’s our right.

The fact that politicians — folks without medical training — are making decisions about what procedures I can do seems absurd to me, and really impinges upon my profession.

There is a misconception out there that abortion is just something people do casually. That’s certainly not the case. Having done this work for many years, and having performed thousands of procedures, I can tell you that the vast majority of people that come to terminate a pregnancy have put a lot of thought into their decision. It’s simply cruel to take that decision away from them. Politicians can’t force you to donate a kidney for your child or your grandmother or your mother, or to make a blood donation to save someone else’s life. So why should they be able to force people to continue a pregnancy they don’t want?

I hope more people will be inspired to get involved with reproductive health care in any way they can. The added strain on abortion providers due to the fallout from overturning Roe necessitates more funding, more personnel, more facilities to take in a growing number of patients from states where abortion is banned. We want you to come work with us. We need to do everything we can to ensure everyone, everywhere, can access essential healthcare.

Credit: Emily Geraghty

Amy Redd-Greiner

Front Desk Supervisor and Security Coordinator, Hope Clinic for Women

Credit: Emily Geraghty

Hope Clinic is in the St. Louis region of Southern Illinois, where we have served patients from across the country, especially the Midwest and South, for nearly 50 years. Each time a state bans abortion or further restricts access, we see a new influx of patients. When SB 8 went into effect in Texas last year, we went from seeing maybe one Texan per month to multiple patients each day. We were already serving a lot of Missourians but when their home state banned abortion, we saw a tremendous influx of folks from across the river. With Tennessee, it was the same.

That people will travel hundreds of miles to reach us demonstrates just how essential abortion access is. Our patients all have their own stories and reasons to seek abortion, but share one thing in common: They’ve made a decision about their own bodies and futures, and will go to great lengths to exercise their right to bodily autonomy.

Everyone is doing their absolute best to stay open in states that ban abortion so they continue providing other reproductive health services.

Abortion is health care — there’s no denying that. But it comes with challenges due to politics. On the ground, that often means that abortion patients have to face protesters on their way to the clinic. We do our best to keep protesters off our property, but they work very hard to push the line as much as possible, and frequently cross it. It’s our responsibility to do everything in our power to protect patients while they access care. At Hope Clinic, abortion care is patient-centered from start to finish.

Independent clinics like ours are a critical part of the health care network in the country. Everyone is doing their absolute best to stay open in states that ban abortion so they continue providing other reproductive health services. Many will be forced to close. So it’s incredibly important to support these clinics. We need money, we need energy, we need practical support to get people the care they need.

Yamelsie Rodríguez

President & CEO, Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri

Credit: Emily Geraghty

I’ve been in the abortion rights movement for over 20 years, since I came to the U.S. from Puerto Rico after college. When I witnessed the inequities and health disparities faced by the Latino community — and learned how reproductive rights and care are critical tools for liberation — I joined Planned Parenthood to make a difference. Here, we are educators, we are health care providers, we are advocates. So for me, it’s the perfect trifecta.

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe, a reality many Missourians have known for years set in throughout the country. We already knew what it’s like to live in a post-Roe world. It’s been our reality since 2019. So we saw the writing on the wall. That’s why we strategically opened a Planned Parenthood clinic in Southern Illinois, just a few miles from the border, to make sure Missourians can access care no matter what our state does to ban abortion. Your ability to access health care should not be tied to where you live, how much money you make, or who your insurance provider is.

Your ability to access health care should not be tied to where you live, how much money you make, or who your insurance provider is.

Of course, for all our preparation, there’s no denying the immense challenges we’re facing in this moment. But I have hope that we can win back our rights and build a system to truly establish abortion equity for all. It’s going to be a long game, and it will take a lot of work, but that hope is what’s motivating us to keep fighting. This is a unique opportunity in our history to finally get it right.

One of the things we can all do as individuals is to help reduce the stigma around abortion. Abortion is health care — it’s common, it’s safe. We all know and love someone who’s had an abortion. Another way to help is to support providers. They are in dire need of financial assistance to accommodate the influx of patients from states that ban abortion. And finally, we must hold politicians accountable — and one way to do that is at the ballot box this November.

Chelsea Souder

Owner, Hope Clinic for Women

Credit: Emily Geraghty

At Hope Clinic, we’ve seen quite an increase in patients this year alone, even before Roe was overturned. When SB 8 passed last year in Texas, it caused a ripple effect across the country. Texans were going to Oklahoma, and then Oklahomans were going weeks without care. So it just pushed care further and further out of reach for everyone — not just in Texas.

Due to the landscape of abortion rights in the states bordering us, Southern Illinois is set up to support as many people as possible. We won’t turn folks away. We know it’s a lot of work just to get to a clinic, especially for patients coming from out of state. They need money to travel. They have to take time off work. They have to figure out how to care for loved ones and children while they’re getting care. It can be a really complicated system for people.

I want people to know that abortion providers are the most compassionate providers out there. And it’s not just doctors and nurses. It’s everyone — the people who answer phones, the people who check patients in, the security guards at the front, the medical assistants — it’s all of them. They deal with a lot of stuff that no one else could ever imagine, like having to walk through a gauntlet of 20 people who are screaming at you and saying the most vile, wild, outlandish, rude and disrespectful things. They are also comforting patients as they walk through the door, who are often in a vulnerable and dire state. It’s a lot of secondary trauma that people are absorbing and trying to deal with on their own.

I want people to know that abortion providers are the most compassionate providers out there.

I’m grateful that people are paying attention and are really supportive of clinics and funds and patients right now. But I don’t want people to stop fighting. This isn’t the end. Roe was just the floor. We need to pass better laws that protect people, even in Illinois, where we have a lot of work to do. We need to focus on getting better political candidates at the local level, as has been the case for decades. People need to be in tune with what’s happening in their own state, especially in states that have become safe havens of sorts, because the anti-abortion activists are going to put us in their crosshairs. And it’s just going to get even more volatile and hostile. So we need people to be supportive and ready to take action, whether it’s campaigning, lobbying, or donating to clinics, funds, and pro-abortion candidates.

The other thing that people can do is to just talk about abortion. Getting out and talking about abortion with your friends, with your family, with your providers, is going to further remove the stigma. That’s what we really need as we move forward into this next era.

Learn more about the steadfast work of these abortion providers, clinic employees, abortion funds, and volunteers by watching Help is Here: The Fight for Abortion Access below:

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We Need the PUMP Act to Protect Nursing Workers Like Me

As a woman working on Amtrak, first as a conductor and later as an engineer, my job posed challenges in many areas. At times it wasn’t easy being the only woman on board. But, like most of the female employees that came before me and worked alongside me, we made it work the best we could.

It wasn’t until I became pregnant in the spring of 2019 that I discovered how hard it would be to work for the railroad as a woman and, more importantly as a breastfeeding mother.

When I learned I was pregnant, I was nothing but smiles and happy tears. Making the decision to nurse my second baby was not a hard one for me. I had my first child at the age of 21. Although it was also a time of smiles and happy tears, I was young and struggled, and ultimately, I was not able to successfully nurse my daughter. Determined to not let that happen with my son, I made sure I had the support needed to be successful this time around. With a “Nursing Mothers Policy” in place at Amtrak, I felt confident that I was going to be able to give my son one of the greatest things I believed a mother could provide: my breast milk.

As my due date grew closer, I let my point of contact for HR know that I was planning to breastfeed and would need to pump milk during the workday. She simply responded, “They are not going to let you do that.” Unfortunately, she turned out to be right.

I reached out to HR about having the pumping break time and space I needed to continue breastfeeding. But the company refused to accommodate my health needs.

My son, born at 38 weeks, brought so many emotions to our family. We spent the first 17 days of his life in the NICU. I was told that my son was fighting for his life, and we needed to be prepared for the worst. As he got stronger, I was filled with joy at every breath he took. And I was grateful that breastfeeding was working out this time around.

As the end of my maternity leave approached, I reached out to HR about having the pumping break time and space I needed to continue breastfeeding. But the company refused to accommodate my health needs. The last weeks of my maternity leave were filled with emails, phone calls, and letters FedExed to my home from my employer. I should have been spending that precious time caring for my baby, not worrying day and night how I would continue feeding him after I returned to work.

I tried to find out more about my legal rights and discovered I had none. The federal “Break Time for Nursing Mothers law” gives employees a right to break time and a private space to pump, but it didn’t apply to me at all, because employees who work on railways are not covered. Amtrak was refusing to comply with its own policy, and I had no rights under national law. I felt entirely on my own.

When I returned to work, I was physically uncomfortable and overwhelmed. I was at a loss as to what to do. I resorted to finding my own locations — a dirty storage room, a locker room, empty train cars (hoping no one would walk in). Not having a sanitary place to pump meant that I mostly had to dump the milk I made. The overwhelming stress and lack of breaks affected my breast milk supply, which dropped so much that it risked my ability to breastfeed my son at all. My determination to nurse him had been taken from me, and more importantly, it was taken from him.

It turns out I was less on my own than I thought, although not in a good way. Nine million working moms have no protection for pumping on the job because of the industries they work in — hardworking people who deserve better from our country, like teachers, nurses, and agricultural workers. The PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act, a bill being considered right now by Congress, has support from both political parties. It would help protect workers like myself by making sure that all mothers have a right to break time and private space for pumping.

I should have never been in a position to struggle so much to nurse my son while staying employed. I should not have had to sacrifice my privacy. And I shouldn’t have had to stop nursing my son earlier than I wanted to. No new mother should have to do these things. Tell Congress it’s time to stand by working moms and pass the PUMP Act.

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Home Care Workers Protect the Civil Liberties of People with Disabilities. They Need Protection, Too

At the onset of the pandemic, as most of the country shuttered themselves inside to avoid COVID-19 infection, home health aides remained on the front lines, taking care of our loved ones and risking their lives in the process. These caregivers — the majority of whom are Black and Brown immigrant women — face considerable risks on the job.

Home care workers help people with disabilities and seniors with intimate and vital tasks like bathing, dressing, and eating, making social distancing impossible. Yet, many states’ emergency COVID-19 measures excluded home health aides from their definition of “essential workers,” failing to assure them access to adequate PPE, prompt COVID-19 testing, and vaccines.

And home health aides, like many essential workers, are prone to pandemic-related emotional burnout because they often work alone, isolated from supportive colleagues. Now in the pandemic’s third year, we must urge both federal and state action to ensure that those who care for our loved ones and neighbors are able to stay healthy and safe.

In a survey of home health aides’ experiences during the pandemic, 76% of personal care attendants and 64% of agency-employed home health aides said they could not afford to stay home if they or a family member got sick.

More than 8.6 million older adults and people with disabilities rely on home health aides, and home care remains one of the nation’s fastest growing sectors. But home health aides are among the lowest paid workers, with a median wage of $13.02 per hour, or $27,080 annually for a full time aide. Unsurprisingly, in a survey of home health aides’ experiences during the pandemic, 76 percent of personal care attendants and 64 percent of agency-employed home health aides said they could not afford to stay home if they or a family member got sick, or quarantine if they were exposed to COVID-19. It’s no wonder why 1 in 6 of these workers lives below the federal poverty line.

The safety and dignity of home health aides is inextricably linked with the safety and dignity of those they care for. Assuring higher pay and safer conditions for home health care workers is essential to attracting and retaining high quality caregivers. Government-mandated pay increases can, however, have the unintended consequence of hurting the very communities served by home health aides, because state and federal Medicaid reimbursements are inadequate to cover these higher costs. As a result, an increase in caregivers’ pay can often lead to a decrease in caregivers’ hours — and thus, a decrease in needed support for people with disabilities.

We can and must avoid pitting these communities against one another. Instead, we must consistently couple our advocacy on behalf of home health aides with calls for increased Medicaid funding to ensure in-home care remains affordable.

The physically-strenuous intimate care home care workers provide result in on-the-job injuries at often higher rates than in other industries.

The Build Back Better legislation introduced in Congress last year would have invested $150 billion into the home care workforce and in home and community-based services for people with disabilities. Though far less than the $400 billion originally proposed by President Biden, this funding would have presented a transformative, vital investment in home health aides’ dignity and their clients’ well-being. Now, as the White House and Congress negotiate new legislation, it is crucial that any new budget package expands access to home-based care. The bill should incentivize states to improve coverage under Medicaid, the primary source of funding for such services, and increase funding to allow states to expand home-based services.

If federal legislation is enacted, it will only be a long-overdue first step, and it must not be the last. States can and should take action. Some already are:

  • In March 2021, the New Jersey legislature passed a budget that included a home and community-based service worker rate-setting provision, increasing wages.
  • In September 2021, Colorado passed a measure that will increase pay for home care workers using federal pandemic relief money.
  • In Maine, the governor recently announced that $126 million in MaineCare funds will be allocated as bonuses for home care and community-based workers.
  • In New York, the state budget raised home care workers’ pay $3 an hour, but the Fair Pay for Home Care Act would establish even greater protections: a base pay for home health aides of at least 150 percent of the regional minimum wage.

In addition to the immediate dangers of COVID-19, home health aides’ safety and health concerns are distinct and dire.

The physically-strenuous intimate care these workers provide results in on-the-job injuries at often higher rates than in other industries. Nearly half of home health aides have reported being physically and sexually harassed on the job, and they also must contend with the family members of those they care for. And despite reporting higher rates of violence than people in more traditional work settings, home health aides are less able to vindicate their legal rights when violations occur because they are disproportionately non-unionized.

Workplace laws themselves must be reformed to protect this especially vulnerable group. Federal anti-discrimination laws, for instance, apply only to employers with 15 or more employees, while the Fair Labor Standards Act — which provides minimum wage and overtime protections — has loopholes that exclude some home health aides outright, or are open to misinterpretation and abuse. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, along with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Ben Ray Lujan, sought to correct this injustice by reintroducing the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights Act in July 2021, which would expand paid sick leave and anti-discrimination protections to home health aides. But the legislation has not progressed in this Congress.

It has never been more crucial to invest in the people who care for us and our loved ones. By increasing wages and pushing states to make home care services affordable, Congress would take a significant step forward in improving home health aides’ financial stability while attracting new workers, remedying a critical shortage in this sector. But we must take even more dramatic action to shore up our caregiving infrastructure — during the pandemic and beyond.

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Victims of Discrimination Have No Path to Justice Following Supreme Court Decision

When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, our laws did not provide any recourse against the discrimination she faced. In the decades that followed, organizers and civil rights groups won key battles to expand our laws to protect against discrimination for Black people, women, and people with disabilities. Until recently, thanks to the groundwork laid by people like Parks, people who faced discrimination could seek damages for the emotional distress they endured. But the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that avenue for relief in Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller, P.L.L.C, turning its back on our communities and effectively making such discrimination legal.

In its decision, the court guts key civil rights remedies by revoking the right of victims of race, sex, and disability discrimination to recover emotional distress damages — essentially blocking victims from bringing lawsuits at all.

Until recently, people who faced discrimination could seek damages for the emotional distress they endured. But the U.S. Supreme Court blocked that avenue for relief.

Though often excluded from discussions of the court’s radical shift to the right, the egregious impact of this decision cannot be understated. After Cummings, discrimination cases that cannot show economic harm will never see the light of day. So, providers who turn away people with disabilities because they cannot be bothered to provide accommodations, or doctors who are openly racist to patients, would face no consequence for their obvious discrimination.

In its amicus brief the ACLU, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the National Women’s Law Center highlighted a number of discrimination cases that would be affected by this decision. In each of these cases, emotional distress damages are the primary tool used to seek justice for victims. In Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools, for example, in which a young girl was sexually harassed by her teacher, the injuries required damages only for emotional, not economic, harm. Similarly, in Zeno v. Pine Plains Central School District, in which a Black student suffered racial harassment and assault for more than three years, damages that addressed the psychological harm on the student were the only way to hold the school accountable.

After Cummings, cases like these will be nearly impossible to bring. Here’s what you need to know about this shameful decision.

What happened in this case?

Jane Cummings, who is deaf and legally blind, was denied services from a physical therapist’s office — Premier Rehab Keller — because of her disability. The office refused to provide Cummings with an American Sign Language interpreter at her sessions, although they were required to under federal anti-discrimination laws.

Cummings was forced to find a different physical therapist, but filed a lawsuit against Premier Rehab for violating the anti-discrimination rules in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

In her case, as is the case for many Americans who experience discrimination due to their identity, the lawsuit sought damages for emotional distress. Emotional distress damages are often critical to discrimination cases, compensating victims for lasting harms like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

What did the court say?

The issue, in this case, was not whether Cummings was discriminated against, but rather what to do in response to the discrimination she faced. The Supreme Court’s answer? Nothing could be done.

For the first time, the court held that emotional distress damages were not recoverable in a private action to enforce anti-discrimination laws. In its argument, the court applied contract law to hold that damages cannot include compensation for emotional suffering since emotional distress damages are not traditionally available in suits of breach of contract.

Despite studies routinely showing that discrimination can cause significant emotional damage, potentially affecting a person’s stress levels, self-esteem, blood pressure, and overall mental health, the court claimed these harms do not warrant a remedy.

What does this mean for victims of discrimination?

The impact of this decision is far reaching. Practically, this decision means that while emotional injury is often the primary, and at times the only, harm caused by discrimination, victims will not be able seek justice.Without emotional distress remedies, many discrimination cases in progress will be thrown out, and future cases will not be taken up by lawyers at all.

While the facts of this case concerned disability discrimination under the Rehabilitation Act and the ACA, its ruling also applies to Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (prohibiting race discrimination) and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (prohibiting sex discrimination). This means the decision will affect kids in schools, people who experience sexual harassment and abuse, and many other victims of race and sex discrimination.

Cummings not only prevents these individuals from seeking justice, but also leaves them at greater risk under the weakened anti-discrimination laws. In the past, the strength of these laws has relied on the deterrent effect of lawsuits brought by private actors. Now, many victims will be unable to bring a case, making it all the more difficult to hold violators of these laws accountable.

With this decision, key wins fought for by civil rights activists like Rosa Parks are stripped away. Rosa Parks suffered no economic harm from sitting in the back of the bus. She lost no job. The bus still took her where she needed to go. But the injury she suffered — the indignity and stigma of being segregated and relegated to the back — was real. Now, the court has effectively told Rosa Parks, “So what?”

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Federal Judge Finds Arizona’s Prison Health Care Is "Plainly Grossly Inadequate" and Unconstitutional

A prison sentence should not mean people lose fundamental human rights such as access to health care or humane conditions of confinement. Yet in Arizona prisons, despite a settlement promising to improve conditions, this problem persisted for years. Finally, after almost a decade of broken promises by Arizona state prison officials, U.S. District Judge Roslyn O. Silver ruled on June 30 that the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) systematically violates the constitutional rights of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons by failing to provide them minimally adequate medical and mental health care, and by subjecting them to harsh and degrading conditions in solitary confinement units.

The lawsuit, Jensen v. Shinn, is part of a decade-long struggle to ensure that the nearly 30,000 adults and children in Arizona’s prisons receive the basic health care and minimally adequate conditions to which they are entitled under the Constitution and the law. Plaintiffs in the case are represented by the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of Arizona, Prison Law Office, Arizona Center for Disability Law, and the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP.

The ACLU repeatedly detailed in court filings that preventable suffering and deaths, including deaths by suicide in solitary confinement, were occurring in Arizona’s prisons.

Our lawsuit was originally filed in 2012, and in 2014, prison officials settled the case, promising to improve health care and conditions in isolation. But in the seven years between settling the case and going to trial, we repeatedly detailed in court filings that preventable suffering and deaths, including deaths by suicide in solitary confinement, were occurring in Arizona’s prisons.

Judge Silver’s ruling came after 15 days of trial held in November and December 2021, where we showed that incarcerated people suffer excruciating pain, gruesome permanent injuries, and preventable deaths due to the state’s failure to provide basic health care. The evidence we presented at trial included expert testimony regarding unconstitutional medical and mental health care, the psychological effects of isolation and conditions in isolation units, and inadequate health care staffing.

Judge Silver’s 200-page order finding Arizona prison officials in violation of the Eighth Amendment cited evidence showing that ADCRR has abdicated its responsibility to deliver health care through its merry-go-round of for-profit correctional health care vendors. Judge Silver also described the gratuitous cruelty of isolation units, including the indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement of seriously mentally ill persons and children who were convicted as adults.

Judge Silver’s order finding Arizona prison officials in violation of the Eighth Amendment cited evidence showing that ADCRR has abdicated its responsibility to deliver health care through for-profit correctional health care vendors.

Former prison employees and incarcerated people bravely stepped forward to describe to the court the inadequate health care, the inhumane treatment of people in isolation units, and the falsification of documents and information that prison officials previously provided to the court and attorneys for incarcerated people.

For example, one of our plaintiffs, Kendall Johnson, testified by video with great difficulty from her hospital bed in the women’s prison’s medical unit. Only 37 years old, Ms. Johnson described how she is unable to move her legs and arms, care for herself, read, or barely talk, and passes her time “counting the ceiling tiles” because she is never allowed outside. Although she entered prison as a healthy young woman who was a basketball player, in 2017 she began having numbness in her legs, problems walking, and falling.

Rather than investigate, prison health care staff wrote in Ms. Johnson’s medical records that she was delusional and faking her symptoms. When she finally saw a specialist after several years of notifying prison health care staff, the specialist’s recommendations were ignored. Judge Silver called Ms. Johnson’s testimony “profoundly disturbing” and her lack of medical care “a paradigmatic example of the most callous and inhumane indifference” that caused “unspeakable hardship” to her. Judge Silver described the incompetent medical care provided to another incarcerated person as a “seven-year odyssey of incompetence, cruelty, and eventual death.”

Judge Silver also found that ADCRR overuses isolation, with approximately 9.5 percent of its population in isolation — more than double the national average.

Judge Silver also characterized the trial testimony of an incarcerated person with schizophrenia, and videos shown in court of repeated uses of chemical agents against him while on suicide watch or housed in solitary confinement, as “appalling evidence” that was “nothing short of shocking.”

Judge Silver found that ADCRR overuses isolation, with approximately 9.5 percent of its population in isolation — more than double the national average. She noted that some 200 people who ADCRR did not believe require isolation were, nonetheless, in isolation. Further, Judge Silver found that the conditions in ADCRR detention units were “alarming,” with ADCRR failing to offer people showers, recreation, or even food.

Finally, Judge Silver wrote that ADCRR Director David Shinn’s testimony “made clear that he has adopted a strategy of pretending the problems he knows about do not exist.” When Mr. Shinn testified that the quality of health care for incarcerated people exceeded the health care he and his family received, and that he thought that the health care vendor had done an exceptional job because “only” 1 percent of prisoners infected with COVID-19 had died, there were audible gasps from the courtroom audience. Judge Silver described this testimony as “shocking” and “completely detached from reality,” noting Mr. Shinn’s “strange nonchalance” about the “undisputed failures” in the prison system he directed, and criticizing his “flagrant dereliction” of duty.

Judge Silver has asked both sides to provide her with names of neutral experts she can consult with before issuing a final order to prison officials on how to overhaul their health care and isolation units. Whether the department will finally do its duty under the Constitution is unclear. But just as we have for the last decade, we’ll be watching to make sure department officials follow through, for now, and for good.

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Three Ways We're Fighting for Disability Rights in Courtrooms Across the Country

People with disabilities have a right to equal access under the law, including equal access to voting, education, and protections in the criminal legal system. But too often, policies and practices at the polls, and in schools, jails, and prisons violate our fundamental rights. These violations hinder access to the ballot, risk students’ health and safety, and trap people with disabilities in the carceral system.

At the ACLU, we’re fighting back in the courts and in legislatures to help people with disabilities access their rights. In honor of Disability Pride Month this July, we’re highlighting a few of our recent battles and wins for disability rights across the country.


More than 250 bills restricting access to voting have been introduced in 43 states since the 2020 election. While most of these laws are intended to suppress the votes of people of color, the effect of these laws falls most heavily on low-income people with disabilities — who are very often in communities of color. People with disabilities have faced years of barriers to voting, including inaccessible polling sites, inaccessible online voter registration, and inaccessible voting machines that polling staff can’t operate. Now, people with disabilities are also facing additional barriers at the polls and with voting by mail. While in some states, the pandemic has made voting by mail more accessible, in others, politicians have passed voter suppression bills that make casting a ballot more difficult or even impossible for voters with disabilities — especially for those who are Black.

The ACLU has active litigation tackling this issue in many states. In Georgia and in Texas, we’re challenging voter suppression laws that make it harder for all residents to vote — especially for people with disabilities in low-income communities of color. We argue that these restrictions not only violate the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution, but also violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. We won’t stop fighting until every eligible voter has equal access to the ballot.


Students with disabilities have a right to a public education, with their peers, and without risking their health and safety. This includes students whose disability makes them more vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19. However, in the highly charged political climate we are living in, some states chose to prohibit schools from being able to require face masks — even at the height of the pandemic. This forced students with disabilities and their families to make an impossible decision: go to school and risk contracting COVID-19? Or stay home and lose out on their education?

The ACLU — along with our grassroots partners and affiliates — sued on behalf of these students with disabilities. We successfully argued that the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act require public schools to provide equal access for students with disabilities. They cannot segregate students with disabilities by making them go to school remotely. And, they must provide reasonable modifications — even to state laws — if this is necessary to give a student with a disability equal access to their education.

In South Carolina, we challenged one such state ban last year in federal court alongside our allies — and won an order blocking its enforcement. The district court made it clear that the state’s ban on school mask mandates violates federal disability rights law because it discriminates against students with disabilities in violation of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act.

In Iowa, we also filed suit challenging the state’s ban on mask mandates in schools and won in the district and appeals court. While the Eighth Circuit has since ruled that the injunction is moot — because students can now get vaccinations and treatment — our lawsuit helped instill important protections for students with disabilities at the height of the pandemic.

As the pandemic continues to evolve, states continue to challenge these rulings — but the ACLU will keep fighting to ensure all children with disabilities have equal access to their education.


Prisons and jails are the lands that forgot the ADA. People with disabilities have a right to reasonable accommodations for their disability while incarcerated, on probation, or on parole — but prisons and jails operate as if these laws don’t apply to them.

For example, for people who are deaf or hard of hearing, prisons and jails are required to provide access to American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, real time captioning, pocket talkers, and other auxiliary aids and services. But they seldom do. When prisons fail to provide these accommodations, incarcerated deaf people may never be able to learn the rules of the prison, defend themselves in disciplinary hearings, or even hear meal call.

Without these services, incarcerated people with hearing disabilities also cannot communicate with guards, medical staff, counselors, and family. The lack of communication access can also leave those on probation or parole with an inaccurate or incomplete understanding of conditions and requirements, putting them at constant risk of being returned to prison as well as hindering their ability to re-integrate into society through access to employment, health, and housing. As a result, people who are deaf or hard of hearing tend to be imprisoned more often, incarcerated longer, and returned to prison more quickly than others.

In Georgia, we have filed suits against the state’s Department of Corrections and the Department of Community Supervision. These state institutions have repeatedly failed to provide appropriate communication access to deaf and hard of hearing people, in violation of the ADA, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Constitution.

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Two Generations of Reproductive Rights Advocates on Life After Roe

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court turned back the clock nearly 50 years in the fight for abortion rights. In overturning Roe v. Wade, the court’s ruling dismantles federal constitutional protections and relegates women and all people who can become pregnant to second-class status. It’s a shameful step backward for civil rights and liberties, and a devastating blow to activists who have been fighting for decades to protect this right.

In light of this ruling, Louise Melling, the ACLU’s deputy legal director and director of the Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty, talked to Chelsea Tejada, a staff attorney in the Reproductive Freedom Project, about how the abortion fight has evolved over the years and the path forward. Here’s what they had to say about this unprecedented ruling and what comes next.

Chelsea: This is a horrible moment, how are you holding up, Louise?

Louise: I’m full of rage and tears. I’m gutted for all those now and in the years to come who will not get the abortions they need for their lives, their families, their health, and their futures. For all those now and in the years to come whose lives and families will be upended by being forced to have a child. I’m in a rage over a court that looks to the status of our rights in 1868 to determine if the Constitution provides protection today, over its disdain for the lives of Black women given this country’s high maternal mortality rate, and over the idea that the state can force people to give birth. I may not live to see the change I want to see, but I will be all in with you and my colleagues at the ACLU in the push to get there.

C: Agreed. It is infuriating to see the court say that our rights today depend on what the ruling white, male class thought more than 150 years ago. It is an absolutely heartbreaking decision that will have a devastating impact on the health, lives, and dignity of millions of people across the country. It must be particularly hard for you to see this happen after you worked for decades in the fight to protect the constitutional right to abortion. Can you share what initially brought you to this work?

The court may have abandoned you, but we see you. You are not alone.

L: I came to the ACLU to work on reproductive rights. At the time, I was motivated by women’s rights. I’m 60. I grew of age in a different time. My mother was born when women couldn’t vote. She spoke of the challenges of unplanned pregnancies. I saw her frustration at what wasn’t possible for her and what wasn’t possible for other women. I saw fighting for abortion access as essential to a broader fight for equality. I didn’t understand in 1989 the importance of this work for transgender men and nonbinary people. I do now.

Now I’m here for gender justice, fighting for the right for women and all people who can become pregnant to access abortion, as well as for people to have children, to raise the children they have, to access gender affirming care, to live our authentic lives, and more. How did you come to this work, Chelsea?

C: I am so grateful for all the work you and others have done to advance gender justice. I pursued a career in reproductive rights litigation because I believe access to abortion is fundamental to an individual’s ability to control one’s body, life, and future. I understood that even when there was a constitutional right to abortion, it still existed for many only on paper: I had seen gerrymandered conservative state legislatures chip away at the right to abortion, making it impossible for many to access this essential health care and forcing them into parenthood all the while not providing any social safety network to help them raise those children. I wanted to stop those attacks and work to expand access, so that the right was a reality for every person. And that’s still what I want — even more so now that the Supreme Court has made abortion even more inaccessible and stigmatized. It is scary to hear the Supreme Court say that if you get pregnant, the government can control your body and force you to give birth. What keeps you fighting after a setback like this?

L: I have a new mantra that keeps me going, even at times like this: The only thing harder than continuing is stopping.

We don’t have to win — in the sense of a court victory or the signing of a new law — in order to do right. We do right by shining a light on harm. We do right by trying to hold the government accountable. We do right when we call out the oppressive structures that keep pushing against us, trying to hold us back, trying to crush us.

We do right by fighting for our own liberation. We are speaking our own truths — about pain, our pride and joy in who we are, our vision of something more beautiful and just. We do right by giving voice to our pain and our vision, to guide the journey that lays ahead. We do right when we enable dissenters to speak the truth about injustice, to provide some solace, to demand change. We do right when we don’t let silence sit. We do right by saying to people who need an abortion: The court may have abandoned you, but we see you. You are not alone.

There’s no shame in struggling. I think we all are. But it’s the vision of what happens if we stop that gets me going every time.

C: Do you have any advice for someone who is just getting started advocating for reproductive rights?

L: In general, I’m less interested in offering advice and more interested in listening and learning from those at the start of their journey, who are bringing a fresh perspective to these unprecedented times. There’s already so much wisdom in the generations that follow mine — about gender and intersectionality and organizing, for example. At a recent ACLU gathering, after hearing a younger colleague from Kentucky speak, and today, talking to you, Chelsea, I think, “You are the future, and I can’t wait to see what you do.”

The struggle for our freedom is long term.

All that said, I do have a couple of things to add. I know a lot of folks — like me — are angry. And given the current climate — particularly with the threats to voting rights — I’ve seen folks get angry about calls to vote and some of the usual tactics for change, thinking them too ineffectual. I get it, I really do. But I think about the 2024 election, and what could happen if more elected officials hellbent on further eroding our civil rights and liberties wind up in office. But no one should stop at the ballot box. The struggle for our freedom is long term. The moment is extraordinary, with more to come. We need a vision and an array of tactics, creative and traditional. And we need staying power. What advice would you give to people who want to help?

C: There are so many ways and places to get involved in the fight: Tell your abortion story; speak to your loved ones about why abortion is important; write a letter to the editor in your local or school paper in support of reproductive autonomy; get involved in local, state, and federal elections; and push for better abortion policies — including in blue states — to improve access. Remember there is essential movement work outside litigation, such as through organizing and practical support networks. You could even become a health care worker who supports people during pregnancy, like a doula or midwife or nurse or doctor or pharmacist. Those who can should donate to abortion funds, show up for protests, call your representatives, sign petitions, and spread the word. There is something for everyone to do no matter where you are.

L: Chelsea, what do you want people to know about this decision?

C: First and foremost, I want everyone to know the real world impacts that this decision is having, and will continue to have, on individuals and families across the country. When the opinion came out, there were people in waiting rooms ready to get taken back for their appointments who then had to be turned away. We’ve heard that many of these patients were in tears, despondent that they would not be able to end their pregnancies that day as expected. And since then, many others have been, and will continue to be, denied access to this essential health care. The Supreme Court said it is fine for states to force these individuals to remain pregnant against their will and suffer the health risks and life-altering consequences of continued pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting.

A court that is willing to take away a constitutional right that has been in place for nearly 50 years, and around which people have ordered their lives, is a court that will not hesitate to erode other rights.

I also think its important for folks to know that despite the court framing this as a decision that leaves it up to each state to decide whether abortion is allowed, the opinion also busts the door open for Congress to ban abortion nationwide the moment anti-abortion politicians wrangle a majority. We may have a patchwork landscape now, but without a federal constitutional right to abortion, its possible that this essential health care could get banned everywhere. It’s also good for people to know what might be next: A court that is willing to take away a constitutional right that has been in place for nearly 50 years, and around which people have ordered their lives, is a court that will not hesitate to erode other rights. The decision is horrible in and of itself for its outright attack on abortion, but I’m also afraid of what it means for our right and ability to access birth control and gender-affirming care, and to marry who we love.

L: A lot of advocates have talked about how Roe was “the floor, not the ceiling,” reflecting the fact that Roe has never been enough to ensure abortion access reaches everyone who needs it. What is the ceiling to you?

C: There is no ceiling when it comes to bodily autonomy and self-determination! The Supreme Court might think that it should be up to states to decide whether and when abortion is permitted, but I think it should be left to the individual who is pregnant to decide. Pregnant people are experts in their own lives. They always deserve to be trusted to make the decisions that are right for them, their health, their families, and their futures. While this is far from our recent or current reality, even in this difficult moment I am trying to focus on the potential future we could create together, where everyone has the ability to control their body and make important life decisions for themselves — whether it be terminating a pregnancy, accessing contraceptives, or accessing gender-affirming care. Louise, what message do you have for people on this long road ahead?

L: I will quote from remarks made recently by Deborah Archer, the president of the ACLU: “Every day, we have to wake up and fight and move forward, because if we’re not pushing forward, not fighting to move forward, we’re going to be pushed back — and that really just isn’t an option.”

What you can do:Be a Defender of Abortion RightsJoin People Power

Your Abortions. Your Voices. Your Stories. | American Civil Liberties Union

Everyone deserves the right to decide when and whether to start a family, no matter where they live. But across half the states, 36 million people are in danger of losing that right after the Supreme Court’s shameful decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

To demonstrate what’s at stake, we called for stories from people who have had abortions — people of all genders, ages, faiths, and socioeconomic backgrounds — to tell us why abortion should be a fundamental right.

Abortion is Essential

Forcing women and other people to carry a pregnancy against their will has life-altering consequences, including enduring serious health risks from continued pregnancy and childbirth, making it harder to escape poverty, and derailing their education and career plans. These are just some of the factors that may impact a person’s decision to seek an abortion, and why abortion access is essential.

Abortion is Liberating

Abortion access allows us to make decisions about our own health, decide if and when to have a child, and pursue the education and career of our dreams. For many, abortion is liberation, allowing for bodily autonomy and the ability to determine our own futures.

Abortion is Healthcare

Pregnancy and childbirth can pose serious health risks that can last a lifetime. For many, abortion access is a matter of life or death. Abortion is essential health care.

Abortion is Our Right

The ability to decide when and whether to have a child is a fundamental right. No matter where we live, how much money we make, or who we are, we should all be able to control our own bodies, and make the best medical decisions for our lives and families.

What you can do:Be a Defender of Abortion RightsJoin People Power

A Radical Supreme Court Term in Review

The recently completed U.S. Supreme Court term was the most conservative in a century, as President Trump’s three nominees exercised their newfound power to turn the law radically to the right. The ACLU was involved in many of the court’s most consequential cases, including on abortion, religious liberty, criminal defendants’ rights, voting rights, and free speech. Here is a brief summary of the court’s major civil liberties and civil rights decisions.


Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

The Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — the landmark decision recognizing the federal constitutional right to abortion nearly 50 years ago. The decision marks the first time the court has eliminated a right so central to the equality and autonomy of half the nation. It will allow anti-abortion politicians in states across the country to ban abortion and force countless people to remain pregnant and have children against their will. As we continue to fight in court, often employing state constitutional arguments, the ACLU will mobilize supporters across the country to take to the streets, lobby their representatives, and head to the polls in defense of the right to abortion.

Whole Women’s Health v. Jackson

The ACLU, along with Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenged a novel Texas law that banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a blatantly unconstitutional law at the time, but assigned the power to enforce the law to private citizens rather than state officials in an attempt to evade federal court review. Ordinarily, one would challenge such a law by suing the state officials charged with enforcing it. But the Supreme Court ruled that because no state officials were authorized to enforce it, no suit could be brought to block the law in advance. Because the law imposed draconian financial penalties, it had the effect of shutting down all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy in Texas.

Kennedy v. Bremerton School District

The Supreme Court sided with a public-school football coach who demanded the right to pray after games at the 50-yard-line. The decision significantly erodes the separation of church and state in public schools. The ACLU and the ACLU of Washington filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the school had a right under the Establishment Clause to stop Kennedy’s prayers, out of concern that they would be seen as carrying the school’s imprimatur, and risked coercing students to pray to play.

Carson v. Makin

The court ruled that the state of Maine was constitutionally compelled to use taxpayer funds to support private religious schools, even where they engage in indoctrination, as long as the state supported private secular schools. Maine offers residents who live in rural areas that do not have a public school subsidies to send their children to private schools, but excluded those that engaged in religious indoctrination. The ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting the practice, on the ground that using government money to support religious schools raised serious Establishment Clause concerns. The case turns the religion clauses on their head, compelling what was once prohibited: official support of religious indoctrination.

New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen

The Supreme Court struck down New York’s restriction on concealed carry and eroded the legal basis for gun regulations, ruling that states can regulate guns today only if they can point to similar laws in the 18th and 19th centuries — even though the threat of gun violence today differs markedly from those eras. Justices Kavanaugh and Roberts made clear, however, that in their view, states could impose various prerequisites before granting a public carry permit, including background checks and training requirements, as long as they restrain licensing officials’ discretion. The New York Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU submitted an amicus brief in the case, arguing that the unregulated carrying of weapons in public undermines the sense of safety required for an open, healthy democracy, and that state and local governments have long imposed strict regulations on the public carrying of guns.

Vega v. Tekoh

The Supreme Court ruled in Vega v. Tekoh that a person cannot sue a police officer under federal civil rights laws for violating their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by failing to provide a Miranda warning. The ACLU, which represented Ernesto Arturo Miranda in the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona case, filed an amicus brief in the case in support of Terence Tekoh, who was illegally interrogated without Miranda warnings. With this decision, the court further widens the gap between our constitutional guarantees and our ability to hold government officials accountable for violating them.

Egbert v. Boule

The Supreme Court dealt a blow to federal police accountability in Egbert v. Boule, when it ruled that Border Patrol officers cannot be sued for damages when they violate constitutional rights. The case, in which the ACLU filed an amicus brief, involved Robert Boule, who runs a bed-and-breakfast on the U.S.-Canada border. Boule sued Border Patrol agent Erik Egbert for damages for violating his rights under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The court ruled in a 6-3 decision that Boule is not entitled to seek financial damages for the harm caused by Egbert’s excessive force and retaliation, even assuming Egbert violated the Constitution. The ruling further limits people’s ability to hold Border Patrol agents accountable in court, and undercuts an important deterrent to misconduct.

United States of America v. Vaello-Madero

The Supreme Court ruled that the Equal Protection Clause does not require Congress to extend Supplemental Security Income benefits to residents of Puerto Rico on the same terms as all other U.S. citizens. The ACLU and our partners filed an amicus brief urging the court to rule that residents of Puerto Rico, and residents of all federal U.S. territories, are entitled to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution, and that this law violated equal protection.

FBI v. Fazaga

The Supreme Court ruled that the government may assert the state secrets privilege in defending a case alleging unlawful surveillance targeted at Muslims based on their religion. Decades ago, in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Congress established protections for people challenging abusive spying in court, and the ACLU argued that that statute superceded the state secrets privilege. The court rejected that argument, making it much harder for those who have had their rights and privacy violated by discriminatory surveillance to prove their claims in court.

Garland v. Gonzalez

This case addresses whether the Immigration and Nationality Act requires the government to provide a bond hearing to demonstrate the need for detention before detaining immigrants for more than six months during immigration proceedings. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal immigration statute does not require such hearings, regardless of how long proceedings take. But it left open, to be decided by the courts below, whether the Due Process Clause requires such hearings. There is no more fundamental due process principle than that the government cannot lock someone up for months or years without a hearing.

Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center

The Supreme Court allowed the Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron to intervene on appeal in this case in order to continue his eleventh-hour attempt to revive an abortion ban that two courts had held unconstitutional. While continuing to defend our prior victory in federal court, last week the ACLU, ACLU of Kentucky, and Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaiʻi, Alaska, Indiana, and Kentucky filed a state court challenge seeking to block two abortion bans, asserting the Kentucky Constitution protects the right to privacy and bodily autonomy.


Shurtleff v. City of Boston

In Shurtleff v. Boston, in which the ACLU filed an amicus brief supporting Camp Constitution, a fundamentalist Christian group, the court ruled that Boston violated the First Amendment when it selectively refused to allow a Christian group access to temporarily fly the group’s flag in front of City Hall. For more than a decade, Boston approved nearly 300 applications to fly private flags on its flagpole without denying a single applicant — until Camp Constitution sought to fly its Christian flag. While recognizing that the display of a religious flag on government property typically would violate the Establishment Clause, our brief argued, and the court agreed, that where a city turns its flagpole into a public forum for all comers, it can’t turn away a flag simply because it is religious.

Biden v. Texas

The Supreme Court rejected Texas and Missouri’s claims that immigration law requires the Biden administration to maintain the cruel “Remain in Mexico” policy instituted by the Trump administration. The Supreme Court rejected the argument that this policy is statutorily required, opening the door to the Biden administration to end it once and for all.

Ramirez v. Collier

Does the Constitution require an individual facing the death penalty the right to have his minister present, praying and laying on hands, in the execution chamber? The Supreme Court ruled that it does. The ACLU filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of ministers who had done precisely that during executions, and former prison wardens, who had overseen dozens of executions and argued that the individual’s religious freedom could be honored consistent with security concerns.

Migliori v. Lehigh County Board of Elections

Rejecting an effort to block an ACLU voting rights victory, the Supreme Court denied a request to stop the counting of 257 timely received mail ballots in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania. The ballots had been held up and not counted because they lacked a handwritten date on an outer return envelope. But that date made no difference to the validity of the ballots, which under law were valid if received by election day. Every vote matters, and every valid vote should be counted. As a result, these voters finally had their ballots counted, as required by federal law.

Nance v. Ward

Georgia death-row prisoner Michael Nance learned that, due to his unique medical conditions, which had developed over many years of living on death row, his execution by lethal injection would likely be torturous, in violation of the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The ACLU and our partners filed an amicus brief in support of Mr. Nance, arguing that, contrary to the Eleventh Circuit’s reasoning, individuals facing execution should be allowed to challenge the method of their execution under 42 USC 1983, and are not restricted to habeas review (which imposes strict limits on such claims in most cases). The Supreme Court in a 5-4 ruling sided with Michael Nance and the ACLU.

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The Supreme Court Benches the Separation of Church and State

In two cases this term, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court made it abundantly clear that there’s little room for the separation of church and state in its regressive constitutional framework. For nearly 75 years, the court has recognized that both of the First Amendment’s religion clauses are vital to protecting religious freedom: The Establishment Clause protects against governmental endorsement and imposition of religion, and the Free Exercise Clause ensures the right to practice your faith without harming others. No more. The court has increasingly treated the Establishment Clause as a historical footnote, threatening both the independence of religion and the religious neutrality of the state.

In Carson v. Makin, the court held for the first time that a state must fund religious activity as part of an educational aid program. Maine’s tuition assistance program pays for students in rural areas with no public high school to attend another public or private school. Concerned with maintaining a strong separation between religion and government, Maine has long prohibited the use of public funds to finance religious instruction and indoctrination. Many other states have adopted similar provisions, in some instances dating back two centuries. And with good reason: Avoiding compulsory taxpayer support for religion lies at the heart of the Constitution’s religious liberty protections. In fact, James Madison, the principal author of the First Amendment, explicitly warned against taxpayer funding of religion, including religious education, because it would be the first step in allowing the government to force citizens to conform to the preferred faith of those in power.

The Supreme Court’s rulings in Carson and Kennedy lead “us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”

For these reasons, the Supreme Court has previously respected states’ ability to restrict taxpayer support for religious educational activities. Indeed, for decades, the court rejected efforts to direct government funds to religious uses. In Carson, however, six justices disregarded these longstanding, historical church-state concerns. According to the court, state funding of religious indoctrination is not only permissible, but now required in some circumstances. The Carson majority thus firmly placed the free-exercise rights of the Christian plaintiffs over the Establishment Clause rights of the broader populace.

One week later, it did the same in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the court ruled in favor of a Christian public-school football coach who prayed with his players while on duty. Ignoring well-established precedent that prohibits school officials from participating in prayer with students, the majority embraced what one lower court judge called a “deceitful narrative” spun by Kennedy and his lawyers. The court characterized the coach’s prayers as “quiet” and “personal,” but they were nothing of the sort; Coach Kennedy delivered his prayers audibly, at the 50-yard line, immediately after games, often surrounded by students.

The court said that Kennedy had abandoned any intent to pray with students, but in fact he repeatedly demanded that he be able to continue praying with his students, declaring that he was “helping these kids be better people.” The court also claimed that no students were coerced into prayer, but the record shows that at least some players joined Kennedy in prayer solely to avoid separating themselves from their team. And in any event, that misses the broader point: As the court had recognized for over a half-century, merely forcing students to choose between participating in teacher-led prayer, protesting, or avoiding certain school activities where official prayer occurs is inherently coercive and therefore unconstitutional.

Taken together, the court’s rulings in Carson and Kennedy lead “us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation,” as Justice Sonia Sotomayor recognized in her Carson dissent. These rulings suggest that enforcement of the Establishment Clause is somehow hostile to religion. But the opposite is true: Many people of faith, including Christians and adherents of minority faiths, strongly support the separation of church and state as a core component of religious liberty. They recognize, as did James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other of our nation’s founders, that religious freedom thrives best when government officials don’t tip the scales toward their favored religious beliefs.

Nevertheless, in recent years, the court has adopted an approach that would see the lines between church and state hopelessly blurred, if not eliminated altogether. The court has permitted official, nearly exclusively Christian prayer at government meetings and has allowed the government to display giant religious symbols, like a 40-foot Latin cross. The Supreme Court has also sided with those who, in the name of religion, discriminate against customers, employees, and recipients of government-funded social services. With this month’s decisions, the court has now required that government funds be diverted from a secular education program to support religious education and indoctrination and has allowed school officials to impose religion on public-school students. The ruling in Kennedy is particularly disturbing because, until now, the court has repeatedly recognized that students are impressionable, much more vulnerable to religious coercion, and, thus, deserving of the highest levels of constitutional protection. Instead, the court subverted students’ religious liberty to the religious demands of school staff.

The Carson decision could also open the door to broader government funding of religious activities more generally, and Kennedy will likely embolden government employees in other contexts to claim a similar right to promote religion while on duty, even if it infringes on the religious freedom of others. This attack on the Establishment Clause is as unwise as it is infuriating. As Justice O’Connor shrewdly observed 17 years ago, “[a]t a time when we see around the world the violent consequences of the assumption of religious authority by government … [o]ur regard for constitutional boundaries has protected us from similar travails, while allowing private religious exercise to flourish.”

She warned that “[t]hose who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” It’s a question this Supreme Court majority has not deigned to answer, perhaps because there’s no good reason to abandon the separation of church and state, and every reason to ensure that it remains strong.

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