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ACLU: Proposed Beavers, Womick Abortion Legislation ‘Tries to Coerce, Shame Women’

Press release from the Tennessee Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union; January 9, 2015:

NASHVILLE –This week state legislators introduced a second bill to regulate abortion in Tennessee.  SB 13, introduced by Senator Mae Beavers this week, mandates what physicians must tell patients who are considering an abortion.

HB 2, filed by Rick Womick in November, would mandate an ultrasound for a woman seeking an abortion, and require her to either view the ultrasound or listen to a verbal description of it, to listen to a fetal heartbeat, and to wait at least twenty-four hours after the ultrasound before having an abortion.

Legislators have indicated that they plan to file a number of other bills regulating abortion this session.

The following can be attributed to Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee:

“No matter what you call them, the abortion bills introduced so far are not about providing evenhanded information to patients so that they can make the best decisions for themselves possible.  These bills amount to nothing more than political interference intended to bias a woman’s personal health care decisions.  A woman needs to be informed about the risks involved with any medical procedure, but the information should not be provided in a way intended to coerce, shame or make her change her mind.  Doctors, not politicians, should decide what is said to a patient, based on a woman’s unique circumstances. ACLU is committed to protecting Tennessee women’s ability to make personal, private health care decisions without government interference.”

Information about the ACLU of Tennessee is available at: www.aclu-tn.org.

TNGOP to Schools: Ignore ACLU on Prayer Suit

Press release from the Tennessee Republican Party; October 10, 2013:

Dear Superintendent:

One week ago, you likely received a letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN). The message is the latest yearly missive sent out by the far-left organization meant to intimidate Tennessee students and high school athletes from exercising their First Amendment rights.

The group behind the letter misses a very basic principle about the First Amendment: It was written—not to protect government from religion—but to ensure religious freedoms are not violated by the government.

Moreover, the ACLU-TN willfully misrepresents a point highlighted by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case it cites. The Court has found:

“(N)othing in the Constitution…prohibits any public school student from voluntarily praying at any time before, during, or after the schoolday.” Santa Fe Independent School District v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290, 313 (2000).

When it comes to this issue, we stand with families across Tennessee who want to protect expressions of faith in the public forum and the precious freedoms we all hold dear.

It should be noted this is a Tennessee issue, not a partisan one. My colleague who leads the Tennessee Democratic Party, Roy Herron, was actually the first individual to lay out this position. In an opinion piece he authored as a State Senator about this very issue for the Memphis Commercial Appeal, Herron wrote, “The Constitution does not require government hostility to religion.”

He wrote this to give a public explanation for the Tennessee Student Religious Liberty Act. The law was meant to “prevent government discrimination against religion, and to see that students’ existing constitutional rights are honored.” Essentially, the law enshrines the Court’s finding in Santa Fe here in Tennessee.

The Tennessee Legislature further clarified what is permissible in Tennessee schools recently with the passage of a law that ensures “school administrators may not prohibit personnel from participating in religious activities on school grounds that are initiated by students.”

Obviously, the ACLU-TN is using scare tactics and the implied threat of litigation to stamp out the First Amendment rights of students. Not only is this a transparent political stunt, it is a misreading of the law and misunderstanding of Tennessee’s unique spiritual heritage.

With a new week of football games set to kick off, we write today to tell you we stand with you and the millions of Tennesseans who want to express their rights and not cower to the liberal self-interests of a leftwing organization.

Respectfully,

Chris Devaney
Chairman
Tennessee Republican Party

ACLU: Victory for Free Speech in Occupy Lawsuit Ruling

Press release from American Civil Liberties Union-TN; June 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE – In a ruling underscoring Tennesseans’ right to political speech, a federal judge ruled late yesterday that the state of Tennessee’s arrest of Occupy Nashville protesters was an unconstitutional violation of their First Amendment rights.

“The Court’s ruling is a resounding victory for the principles of free speech and protest championed by Occupy Nashville and the ACLU,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney David Briley, of Bone McAllester Norton PLLC. “This decision reinforces that the state cannot just arbitrarily limit free speech in any manner it wants to.”

In the ruling, Judge Aleta A. Trauger wrote, “The First Amendment cannot yield to the enforcement of state regulations that have no legal effect…In choosing to adopt and implement new regulations by fiat without seeking necessary approval from the Attorney General, they made an unreasonable choice that violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights in multiple respects.”

“The right to free speech and political protest is crucial to a healthy democracy, perhaps today more than ever,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg. “We applaud the Court for safeguarding the essential guarantees of the First Amendment.”

ACLU-TN filed the lawsuit, Occupy Nashville et. al., v. Haslam et. al., in October 2011 after the State of Tennessee met in secret and revised the rules controlling Legislative Plaza to implement a curfew and require use and security fees and $1,000,000 in liability insurance prior to community members engaging in assembly activity. The state then arrested the Occupy Nashville demonstrators under the new rules. Prior to their arrests, the demonstrators had been gathered at Legislative Plaza in downtown Nashville to peacefully express their frustration with the government for a couple of weeks.

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, Nashville Division.

In addition to Briley, the plaintiffs are represented by ACLU-TN Legal Director Tom Castelli; ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Patrick Frogge of Bell Tennent & Frogge PLLC; and ACLU-TN Cooperating Attorney Tricia Herzfeld of Ozment Law.

The decision for this case can be found here.

The order for this case can be found here.

ACLU Report Documents ‘Devastating Impact’ of 287(g) Jail Program

Press release from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; December 12, 2012: 

NASHVILLE – The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today released a report, “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program,” documenting the serious problems with the Davidson County Sheriff’s recently-ended 287(g) jail program. The purpose of the report, which is being sent to the Knox and Rutherford County sheriffs, both of whom have submitted 287(g) applications, is to explain the devastating impact of the program and to urge them to withdraw their applications.

“We hope that the Rutherford and Knox County sheriffs will read our report and recognize that it is in the best interest of their communities to withdraw their pending 287(g) applications. These programs only damage community trust in law enforcement, increase the potential for racial profiling and waste precious law enforcement resources,” said ACLU-TN Executive Director Hedy Weinberg.

The 287(g) program run by the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency deputizes state and local police and sheriffs to enforce federal immigration law. DHS will meet on December 17 to make decisions on applications for new 287(g) agreements, including the applications submitted by the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and the Rutherford County Sheriff’s Office. DHS is also currently reviewing its existing 287(g) agreements with 57 law enforcement agencies in 21 states whose agreements were temporarily extended, most until the end of December 2012 (1).

Weinberg noted, “We are especially concerned about Rutherford County’s application given the area’s history of hostility toward local Muslims and immigrants, including a Sheriff’s Office training led by a known anti-Islam speaker (2) and local legislators’ sponsorship of numerous harsh, anti-immigrant bills.”

Key findings from the report, based on original quantitative data analysis led by Professor Katharine Donato of Vanderbilt University’s Sociology Department as well as interviews with community members, include the following:

  • While the 287(g) program was developed with the stated goal of responding to “immigration violators who pose a threat to national security or public safety (3), ”the vast majority of the time, deportations through Davidson County’s 287(g) program were triggered by minor, often traffic-related offenses. 

    In 2012, misdemeanors accounted for nearly 79 percent of arrestsport on Impact of Davdof foreign-born people (4) and for those ultimately put into removal proceedings, a staggering 67 percent of their arrests were for Level 2 offenses, which was the level that included traffic violations in the data analyzed. Simultaneously, after implementation of 287(g), among the foreign-born population, arrests for the most severe Level 1 offenses actually decreased 21 percent, moving the program far from its stated goal of targeting threats to public safety.

  • Davidson County’s 287(g) program encouraged racial profiling and disparate treatment from stop to detention, based on characteristics such as appearance, ethnicity or language skills.Though under a jail model 287(g) agreement, the agency with immigration authority is not the same agency responsible for arresting people on the street, evidence from Davidson County illustrates how the program’s presence impacted the perceptions and actions of others involved in the criminal justice system, from police on patrol to other public officials, whose statements regarding the influence of language and immigration status on their decisions are included in the report.In addition, data shows that implementation of the 287(g) program in Davidson County corresponds with foreign-born people being arrested at an increasing rate for the single charge of “No Driver’s License,” which was not only the most common gateway charge for deportation in Davidson County, but also something that cannot be determined until after the individual is pulled over. If no other charge is brought, then the reason for pulling that person over is questionable at best and quite possibly a case of racial profiling. Of single charge arrests, the percentage that were for “No Driver’s License” increased 9.4 percent for the foreign-born after implementation of 287(g). The percentage of single-charge arrests for “No Driver’s License” that led to removal increased from 18 percent of arrests before implementation of 287(g) to 43 percent after, an increase of 136 percent.
  • The 287(g) program led to immigrants living in fear and distrust of law enforcement. Numerous examples in the report illustrate how, by introducing the threat of immigration enforcement into community policing, Davidson County’s 287(g) program deterred immigrants, including domestic violence survivors, from reporting crimes they experienced or witnessed, ultimately undermining public safety as a whole.

Lindsay Kee, Communications Director and author of the report, explained that “this program has been sold as an effective mechanism to deport dangerous criminals and make Nashville safer. Yet, our data indicates that of the nearly 10,000 individuals deported under 287(g), most had been arrested for minor violations. When you look at arrests of foreign-born people during 287(g)’s implementation, the percentage of arrests for the most dangerous crimes actually decreased.”

Yesterday the ACLU, along with 161 other organizations from across the country, also sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Security calling for termination of the 287(g) program.

Read the full report: “Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program.

(1) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, http://www.ice.gov/news/library/factsheets/287g.htm (last visited December 6, 2012).

(2) Bob Smietana & Tony Gonzalez, Sheriff Hires Mosque Foe to Lead Terrorism Training, The Tennessean (Feb. 15, 2012), available at http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/nation/story/2012-02-15/terrorism-training-tennessee/53102430/1.

(3) Fact Sheet: Delegation of Immigration Authority Section 287(g) Immigration and Nationality Act, supra.

(4) Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, 287(g) Five-Year Report 8 (2012).

Ramsey on Occupy Nashville: Move’em Out

Hours before the Haslam administration announced it would ask District Attorney Torry Johnson to dismiss charges against the Occupy Nashville protesters at War Memorial Plaza, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey expressed a get-tough stand.

“I think they ought to be removed,” Ramsey said. “I do.

“I’ll bet you that if I took a Boy Scout troop up there and camped out over the weekend, they wouldn’t allow them to do it. That’s just my opinion. I think they’ve gone way too far.”

But David Smith, press secretary for Gov. Bill Haslam, said Thursday afternoon that because of the temporary restraining order issued against the state in taking protesters away from the plaza, the state is seeking to drop the charges against those who were arrested.

State troopers arrested 29 protesters the night after curfew rules were put into effect at the site on Oct. 27, and 26 people were arrested the next night. The administration said it made the decision to arrest protesters in the interest of safety and because of unsanitary conditions involving the protesters, many of whom have set up tents at the plaza, which sits downhill from the front steps of the Capitol.

“As part of the effort to resolve issues surrounding the use of War Memorial Plaza, we’re beginning the process of establishing rules for use of the area by all citizens,” Smith said in a statement Thursday.

The administration had declared a curfew would go into effect at the site forbidding people from being there from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. each day, after it began to hear complaints related to the protesters. After the arrests, for two nights in a row, a magistrate refused to put the protesters in jail. U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger issued a temporary restraining order on the arrests, and the state did not contest the order.

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, the protesters filed suit against the state, claiming an infringement on their First Amendment rights of free speech.

Smith said the process for establishing new rules will involve the pursuit of a “variety of perspectives to honor the plaza as a public space for all to enjoy. We look forward to having ground rules in place to ensure that it is a safe and clean environment.”

Smith said the state will work under the assumption that the temporary restraining order would be extended. He noted, however, that the state is not blocked from enforcing existing laws regarding public safety and health.

Ramsey said Thursday he never talked at all to Haslam about the protesters.

“The allegations that have been there that have gone on, with sexual misconduct, things of that nature, there is a limit to this, and I do think this is a public place, and everybody has their First Amendment rights, but I think they’ve overstepped their bounds, I do,” Ramsey said of the protesters.

ACLU: Bill Enables Creationist Teachers To Create Doubt About Evolution

Statement from the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee; Feb. 28, 2011:

Eighty-six years after the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Dayton, Tennessee, anti-evolution forces continue their attempt to entrench creationism in our state’s science classrooms. Let’s let our lawmakers know that it’s not 1925 anymore.

HB 0368, the anti-evolution bill that was supposed to be up last week, was rolled to the House General Subcommittee of Education meeting on Wednesday, 3/2/11. The bill promotes creationism in the science classroom under the guise of encouraging critical thinking, stating that teachers will not be disciplined for encouraging students to examine the “weaknesses” of proven scientific theories such as evolution.

While at first glance this may not appear to promote creationism, the bill’s intent is actually to enable creationist teachers to create doubts in their students regarding evolution, doubts which are not scientifically justified. These alleged weaknesses come not from the scientific community but from creationist advocacy organizations. The National Academies of Science and the National Science Teachers Association unanimously agree that evolution needs to be taught straightforwardly and without compromise.

Thanks to those of you who have already taken action on this bill– please continue to contact your legislators and to pass this email on to others.

There appears to be a lot of support for this bill in the House General Subcommittee, so it will help to contact your representatives even if they do not sit on the committee and ask them to oppose the bill if and when it is up for a vote on the floor of the House.

Tennessee lawmakers need to know that we want Tennessee to move forward, not backward.

Thank you for standing with us,

Hedy

Executive Director

ACLU of Tennessee

GOP’s Illegal Immigration Bills Filed Separately

State lawmakers announced Wednesday they’ll push several different proposals aimed at curbing illegal immigration. That’s instead of packaging the measures together as a single unified or “omnibus” bill – a move many had suggested, including Governor Bill Haslam.

Sponsors say the piecemeal approach will let legislators take their time and study each of three proposals in depth.

Senator Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, is carrying an Arizona-style measure that would have local and state police check the legal status of suspected undocumented immigrants during stops for traffic violations, and hand over those deemed unlawful to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

Another proposal, by Senator Jim Tracy, R-Shelbyville, would require all employers to check the immigration status of new hires through the federal E-Verify system.

And Senator Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, has a bill to let state agencies check for lawful status and thereby keep illegal immigrants from receiving state benefits.

The three bills all share the same House sponsor: Representative Joe Carr, R-Lascassas.

“What we believe we have is model legislation for the other states in the country; we feel that strongly about it,” Carr said.

Not everyone was so upbeat Wednesday; Hedy Weinberg, who runs Tennessee’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said Ketron’s Arizona-style measure could get Tennessee sued. She says it invites racial profiling because police will consider suspects’ skin color and accent when judging who may be here illegally.

“It becomes a ‘papers, please’ law because it requires everyone to carry a federal or state-issued ID in order to prove that they are here legally,” Weinberg said. “There’s a presumption that you are here illegally if you don’t have those documents on you.”

For his part, Ketron argued profiling is “not acceptable” and is prohibited under the Arizona law, which is currently facing a federal challenge. The sponsors wouldn’t say exactly how Ketron’s bill differs from Arizona’s.

Ketron had been looking to push another proposal to require drivers’ license tests be in English only, with a few exemptions, but the fate of that bill is now uncertain.

Johnson’s measure to keep illegal immigrants off state benefits does contain a key exception, he noted, in letting children attend public school here no matter their immigration status. “That is dictated by federal law,” Johnson said. “You shall not deny a free public education to a child, regardless of their legality in the country.”

As to the bill requiring employers make sure of new hires’ legality, Tracy says he’s confident it won’t burden small business in Tennessee; the E-Verify system doesn’t cost them anything and is relatively quick, he said. A business would face fines for violating Tracy’s rule the first two times, and lose its license the third.

When asked, Tracy said there’s no specific gauge by which he’d judge his legislation’s efficacy at curbing illegal employment, saying “I just think it’s going to work.”

Carr, however, cited decreases in crime in states like Missourri and South Carolina as evidence of “demagnetization” — that is, a state becoming less welcoming to undocumented immigrants.

Tennessee must act in kind, said Carr.

Sen. Johnson said the push to crack down on employers who hire illegal immigrants is motivated at least in part by the belief that they may be snatching up scarce jobs from legal residents who are capable and willing to work.

“Tennessee has an unemployment rate that is bordering on 10 percent,” said Johnson. “We have people that need the jobs that are out there. And if these jobs are being taken by folks that are in the country illegally, we wish them no ill will, but we would rather those jobs be had by lawful Tennesseans.”

Photo Voter Bill En Route to Senate Floor

Tennessee lawmakers are trying for a fourth year to require voters to bring a photo ID with them to the ballot box.

“When a dead person votes, when a convicted felon votes, it disenfranchises someone who did it legally,” Senate sponsor Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told members of the Senate State and Local Government Committee Tuesday on Capitol Hill.

Opponents, including committee Democrats, Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union, told committee members they’re concerned that the elderly or poor who don’t have the means to get a state ID would be turned off from voting.

The bill excludes those voting from hospitals and nursing homes, instead requiring them to vote absentee. For those who don’t bring photo IDs to the polls, the measure allows for voting by provisional ballot or after filing an affidavit, according to the bill and bill summary:

Under this bill, except as described below, if a voter is unable to present the proper evidence of identification, then the voter will be entitled to vote by provisional ballot in the manner detailed in the bill. The provisional ballot will only be counted if the voter provides the proper evidence of identification to the administrator of elections or the administrator’s designee by the close of business on the second business day after the election. The board would have until the close of business on the fourth business day after the election to count any provisional ballot cast under this bill.

Under this bill, a voter who is indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without payment of a fee or who has a religious objection to being photographed must execute an affidavit of identity on a form provided by the county election commission in order to vote. The affidavit must state that the person executing the affidavit is the same individual who is casting the ballot and that the affiant is indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without paying a fee or has a religious objection to being photographed.

Eight states now require that voters bring a photo ID with them to the polls in order to vote under most circumstances, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Under the Tennessee bill, a driver’s license, state ID, passport or military identification would be accepted.

The Republican measure passed along party lines with a 6-3 vote and heads to a scheduling committee then to the Senate floor. The proposal has always passed in the Senate since it was first introduced in 2007, but consistently died in the House of Representatives. Ketron says he’s confident the bill will pass both chambers this year now that the GOP has solid legislative majorities.

Ketron, who has previously tied the measure to efforts to stiffen penalties against illegal immigrants, says this bill would hamper their ability to vote, but says he’s specifically targeting convicted felons who lost their right to vote and others committing voter fraud.

Several hundred felons who lost their right to vote ended up casting ballots in the 2008 election, according to Coordinator of Elections Mark Goins, who said the state is approaching 100 convictions for the voting offense.

The House version is scheduled to go before a subcommittee later this month.