News

ACLU-MS Responds to Marriage Equality Ruling

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 769-447-6678; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – Today, United States District Court Judge Carlton Reeves overturned Mississippi’s ban on same-sex marriage by granting a preliminary injunction pending a two week stay. The ruling comes after hearing oral arguments inCampaign for Southern Equality v. Phil Bryanton November 12. The following can be attributed to ACLU of Mississippi Executive Director, Jennifer Riley-Collins:

“We are thrilled that the freedom to marry has finally come to Mississippi! This is a beautiful day for all the loving and committed same-sex couples who have long waited to get married, or for their marriages to be recognized in Mississippi, and for their loved ones and supporters. We applaud Judge Reeves for concluding "that Mississippi’s same-sex marriage ban deprives same-sex couples and their children of equal dignity under the law. Gay and lesbian citizens cannot be subjected to second class citizenship.” We have fought long and hard to ensure everyone receives equal treatment under the law and are proud to be a part of this movement.

The ACLU will remain committed to this fight until there is marriage in every state. The harm to same-sex couples seeking the freedom to marry is real, and the freedom to marry should be available to everyone.

We also must make sure to protect this important victory by being vigilant in opposition to any discriminatory measures put forth to chip away at equal treatment for same-sex couples.”

Read the ruling.

ACLU of Mississippi Responds to "No True Bill"

November 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – The following is a statement from American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi Executive Director, Jennifer Riley-Collins, about the grand jury decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“The decision is part of a national pattern of police using excessive, and sometimes fatal, force against people of color, often during routine encounters. Understandably, many people in our community are angry and frustrated about the grand jury’s failure to indict Officer Wilson. Some will take to the streets as part of peaceful protests to express their grievances. The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy. As an organization dedicated to protecting people’s First Amendment rights, the ACLU of Mississippi is here to serve as a resource for protestors who need to know their rights.

People should continue to peacefully protest the frequency with which police officers, and the departments they work for, are not held accountable for their actions. While many law enforcement officers carry out their jobs admirably and with great respect for the communities they serve, we cannot ignore the systematic use of excessive force employed by some police officers.

There is an erosion of the protect and serve role expected from law enforcement allowed by the total lack of police transparency and accountability; militarization of departments so they appear and operate more like an occupying military force; and the failure of police departments to eliminate racial profiling.

The ACLU of Mississippi will not let up in its tireless pursuit of defending the rights of citizens to protest and preventing future tragedies like the one in Ferguson from happening again. Through our litigation and public policy advocacy, we will remain in the forefront of working for meaningful and long-lasting systemic reforms of police departments.” 

Learn about our work to ensure police accountability.

 

ACLU of Mississippi Receives $350,000 from W.K. Kellogg Foundation

November 24, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – The American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi Foundation (ACLU-MS) received a two-year $350,000 grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support a school safety project. The project seeks to improve outcomes for Mississippi’s students with disabilities and students of color by restricting the use of restraints and seclusion on children in schools. 

“This generous grant will allow us to empower families and communities thereby increasing opportunities for Mississippi’s vulnerable children to have a fair chance at success in school and life,” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

The project will engage of civic, community, corporate, and congregational leaders, promote public awareness, monitor use of restraint and seclusion in school districts and advocate for the implementation of positive behavior interventions and supports that are safe, effective, and evidence-based.

Mississippi is one of five states that lack a statute, regulation, or even nonbinding guidelines. The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness. Data also has revealed the disproportionate use of exclusionary discipline with students with disabilities and students of color who also experience disabilities. “The lack of regulation has resulted in the use of seclusion and restraint on disabled children becoming common place among Mississippi schools despite the potential dangers and lack of evidence of their effectiveness,” stated Charles Irvin, Legal Director for the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU-MS has been a champion of children’s rights. ACLU-MS has produced a number of reports including Missing the Mark and Handcuffs on Success which have illuminated extreme and destructive approaches to school discipline which not only have directly harmed students and families, but also have caused teachers, law enforcement officials, and community members to have their lives and careers made more difficult by these ineffective and counter-productive school discipline policies and practices. As a result of these efforts, reforms have been implemented which have improved outcomes for children across the state.

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About the ACLU of Mississippi

The ACLU of Mississippi is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization founded in 1969 that defends and expands the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Mississippians guaranteed under the United States and Mississippi Constitutions, through its litigation, legislative and public education programs. It is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

About the W.K. Kellogg Foundation

The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal pioneer, Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life.

The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. Special emphasis is paid to priority places where there are high concentrations of poverty and where children face significant barriers to success. WKKF priority places in the U.S. are in Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and New Orleans; and internationally, are in Mexico and Haiti. For more information, visit www.wkkf.org.

Stand With Us Against Proposed Initiative 46

November 06, 2014

A group in Mississippi is proposing a ballot initiative that could discriminate against Mississippians with different religious beliefs as well as racial and ethnic minorities.

The proposed initiative calls for Christianity as the official religion of Mississippi, English as the official language, requires the Confederate Flag to fly over the State Capitol, and establishes a Confederate Heritage Month and Confederate Memorial Day.

In order for this initiative to make it on the ballot for the General Election in November 2016, the Magnolia Heritage State Heritage Campaign must collect over 100,000 signatures by October 2015 and we cannot let that happen.

We must draw a line in the sand and stand in defense of freedom for ALL Mississippians!

  • No one religion should be promoted by the government over another. The initiative’s promotion of Christianity undermines our rich traditions of peaceful pluralism and religious diversity.
  • Discrimination against language minorities and restrictions on communication in languages other than English implicate our most basic rights of equal protection, free speech, and due process. A declaration of English as the official language is inconsistent with the spirit of tolerance and diversity embodied in the federal Constitution, and in particular the Equal Protection Clause.
  • Ballot Initiative 46 wants to assert “heritage, culture and traditions” that are steeped in historical discrimination based on race. 

If we allow discrimination in one situation, it will be allowed in other situations where it may cause serious harm. We stand ready to defend freedom in Mississippi and will adamantly oppose Initiative 46!

We are ready to ensure that all individuals are protected from discrimination. Stand with us! 

Read more about Ballot Initiative 46 in the Clarion Ledger.

To stand with us: Become a member of the ACLU of Mississippi, sign up for action alertsfollow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook

ACLU of Mississippi Releases Tool to Hold Police Accountable

November 06, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Morgan Miller, 601-354-3408, mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi launched a smart phone application (app) called Mobile Justice Mississippi—an empowerment tool for those who feel their civil rights are being violated by law enforcement officers.

The Android app, which can be downloaded for free through the ACLU of Mississippi website, has three main functions and Know Your Rights information.Recordallows citizens to capture exchanges between police officers and themselves or other community members in audio and video files that are automatically sent to the ACLU of Mississippi.Witnesssends out an alert when someone is stopped by police so that community members can move toward the location and document the interaction.Reportgives the app user the option to complete an incident report and send it directly to the ACLU of Mississippi for review.Know Your Rightsprovides an overview of what rights protect you when you are stopped by law enforcement officers.

“Knowledge, accountability and transparency are key to the strength of a system that ensures everyone is treated fairly. On a daily basis across Mississippi, citizens, especially young men of color, have close encounters with law enforcement officers in which their rights are trampled on. This app will equip and enable Mississippians with knowledge and the power to demand justice.” said Jennifer Riley-Collins, Executive Director of the ACLU of Mississippi.

ACLU affiliates in Missouri, Oregon and Nebraska are joining the ACLU of Mississippi in releasing the Mobile Justice app today. Funded by a grant from the National ACLU, the Mobile Justice app was developed by Quadrant 2 – the same developer that created the Stop and Frisk Watch app for the New York Civil Liberties Union to address racial profiling. An iPhone version of Mobile Justice will be released at a later time.

“This app will empower young people to protect their own rights and advocate for others when they are stopped by police,” said Rebecca Curry, ACLU of Mississippi Director of Advocacy and Policy. 

Learn more about Mobile Justice Mississippi and download the app here. For those who do not have smart phones or have limited capacity to utilize them because of limited cellular coverage in more rural areas, the ACLU of Mississippi is conducting Know Your Rights trainings.

ACLU-MS Responds to Diamondhead Ruling

October 27, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT:
Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org 

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi issued a statement in response to the ruling of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Mississippi in Fletcher v. Diamondhead Property Owners Association (POA) that the POA was not a state actor therefore not subject to the federal civil rights provisions under section 1983.

The statement from Charles Irvin, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi, is as follows: 

“Although we disagree with the Court’s decision, we were here to stand in defense of the ultimate right of citizens to voice free political speech in the form of yard signs or the ability of a property owners association to regulate free speech.

While we are disappointed in the ruling of the court today, we are pleased that the citizens of Diamondhead were able to demonstrate that free speech is paramount. The manner in which one citizen communicates to another is vital to the political process. Prior to this ruling a Temporary Restraining Order was in place which allowed the citizens to place yard signs. As a result, several of the original plaintiffs won positions on the POA board. The process worked.

We will always monitor for infringement upon individual constitutional rights; when we find those infringements we will act. The plaintiffs in Diamondhead stand for that principle of free speech.”

View the Fletcher v. Diamondhead POA ruling.

Learn more about Constitutional Rights.

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Questioning the "No-Refusal" Checkpoint

October 06, 2014

By Andres Wallace, Staff Attorney, ACLU of Mississippi

Imagine for one second—driving down the street, when suddenly (or not so suddenly) you happen upon a police roadblock. You know that you have not had any alcohol. You approach the roadblock—confident that the roadblock will be brief. However, this is no ordinary roadblock. This is a No Refusal roadblock—one wherein motorists who are suspected of driving impaired and subsequently refuses sobriety tests could, upon issuance of a warrant by a judge, be ordered to submit to a blood test

According to the Clarion-Ledger, on September 5 and 6, eight Mississippi counties participated in the “No Refusal” weekend campaign. The Clarion Ledger also reported that there were 152 DUI arrests and 31 blood samples taken.

Now, if you are anything like me, you are asking yourself—can they do that? Are we sure this happened in the United States? The answer to both of those questions is, unfortunately, yes.  Naturally, you hear that the “No Refusal” weekend campaign is legal and you then ask yourself—how can that be legal?

Recently, the United States Supreme Court has ruled on a case that essentially establishes the proper procedures that an officer must follow in order to be able to draw a driver’s blood.

Before, I discuss the legality of the “No Refusal” weekend campaign, I would like to say that I understand that driving under the influence is a problem in the state of Mississippi. I also realize that DUI related accidents have been rising in the state over the past few years. However, although drivers driving under the influence continue to be a problem—we as a society must be careful of the liberties that we sacrifice in order to solve a problem, such a DUI.   

In order to fully understand the “No Refusal” campaign, let’s discuss the legality of sobriety check points. The United States Supreme Court has established that a police checkpoint set for the purpose of identifying intoxicated driver was consistent with the Fourth-Amendment. In essence, the Supreme Court established that a checkpoint established for identifying drunk drivers is constitutional if properly conducted. 

So, now that we have established that a sobriety checkpoint is legal, one question comes to mind— what gives an officer the right to draw an individual’s blood? Well, in 2013 the United States Supreme Court, in Missouri v. McNeely, established that a warrantless blood draw is a violation of one’s Fourth Amendment rights; however, the Court also noted that “other factors present in an ordinary traffic stop, such as procedures in place for obtaining a warrant or the availability of a magistrate judge, may affect whether the police can obtain a warrant in an expeditious way.” At a No Refusal checkpoint, judges are available to sign warrant at the request of the officer.

The Mississippi Supreme Court has held that the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure applies when an intrusion into the body—such as a blood test—is undertaken without a warrant, absent an emergency situation. In ruling on McNeely, the Court has indirectly given justification for the drawing of blood at a traffic stop—if a warrant is properly obtained. 

At the No Refusal checkpoints, the police are supposed to rely on their suspicion of drunkenness as the probable cause for a search warrant. If a citizen is stopped at a No Refusal Checkpoint but shows no sign of intoxication, there would be no probable cause for the issuance of a warrant. Without probable cause, no warrant should be issued. In essence, the Judge will then have the final say as to whether there is probable cause to conduct a blood draw. If however, a warrant is issued where no probable cause exists, there would be a clear Fourth Amendment violation.

As much as it pains me to say this, if conducted pursuant to a valid warrant, the drawing of an individual’s blood at a “No Refusal” checkpoint would be constitutional.

Although No Refusal campaigns are constitutional, I am still very concerned about an individual’s inability to refuse. If I refuse to take a breathalyzer test, my license should be suspended—that should be the price that I pay for refusing to take the test. Why am I being forced to submit to a bloodtest?  There seems to be other means of achieving the goal of deterring drivers from driving intoxicated. Drawing blood seems like an extraordinary measure—where other less intrusive methods are available.

Additionally, I am critical of the use of a refusal to submit to a breathalyzer as the basis for probable cause. I also wonder what the cost would be to the taxpayer for these tests, and how many of them would come back positive. I believe that these issues will become more contentious as more states adopt their own versions of the No-Refusal campaign.

If you come upon a checkpoint, exhibit no signs which would trigger the officer's assertion of probable cause and are still forced to submit to the invasion of a blood draw please contact us at office@aclu-ms.org or 601-354-3408.  

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New Alabama Law Puts Teens Who Need Abortions on Trial. That's Dangerous and Cruel.

October 02, 2014

By Jennifer Dalven, Reproductive Freedom Project

Picture this: You are 17 years old, in your senior year of high school, and you've just learned you're pregnant. You'd like to be able to turn to your parents for support but you know you can't. After all, they kicked your older sister out of the house when she got pregnant. But you have discussed your options with your aunt and a trusted counselor and decided to have an abortion.

You call a women's health center to make an appointment and are told that unless you get your parent's consent, you will have to go to court and essentially be put on trial in order to get the care you need.

That's right. Instead of a doctor, you get a trial.

Thanks to a new Alabama law, a teen who can't get a parent's consent has to undergo a gauntlet of questioning to get the abortion she needs. Because of this law, a prosecutor and a representative for the fetus, both of whom are charged with protecting the "state's interest in fetal life," (a.k.a. making sure the teen doesn't get an abortion), will cross-examine her.

That isn't even the half of it. In their quest to ensure that the teen can't get an abortion, the new law allows the prosecutor and fetus's representative to tell other people in the young woman's life -- including her teachers, pastor, employer, relatives, and friends – that she is pregnant. And to haul them in to court to testify against her.

No, I am not kidding.

Now, we all want our daughters to come to us if they get pregnant, and thankfully most do. But we all know that, unfortunately, some just can't. Some teens don't come from good families, and some teens don't come from safe homes. Putting these teens on trial is not the answer. The cruel irony of this law is that it means teens from troubled families, those who need our help and support the most, will struggle the most to get it.

I have been working for almost two decades to ensure that teens like these are able to get the medical care they need. In all that time, I don't think I have ever seen a law aimed at young people as misguided and mean spirited as this one. That's why I am proud to say that this week the ACLU went to court to challenge it. We did it because not only is it wrongheaded and dangerous, the new law is also flat-out unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court has made clear that if a state decides to require teens to get a parent's consent to get an abortion, it must also have a confidential and expeditious alternative for those teens who can't turn to a parent. In passing this law – which allows the prosecutor and a representative for the fetus to tell anyone they want about the minor's pregnancy – Alabama politicians snubbed their nose at this long-standing constitutional requirement and thoroughly eliminated any expectation of privacy.

And worse than that, they have put young women in harm's way, creating a situation that might force them to take matters into their own hands. Given what we have seen the last few years, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. In state after state, from Texas to Ohio to Wisconsin and so many others , we have seen extremist politicians who are willing put women's health in jeopardy all to score political points. This is one more example of that.

We all want teens to be safe, but this law is cruel, dangerous, and unnecessary. To protect the young women of Alabama, we can't let it stand.

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ACLU-MS to Law Enforcement: Protect Citizens' Right to Record Actions of Public Officials

September 29, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Jennifer Riley-Collins, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; jriley-collins@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Highlighting recent events in Ferguson, Missouri and following the model set by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in an unprecedented legal statement on citizens’ rights to record police actions, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Mississippi is contacting local law enforcement agencies throughout Mississippi, urging them to establish clear policies and training to ensure that officers conform to the Constitution they are sworn to protect. The ACLU of Mississippi hopes that by sharing information with Mississippi law enforcement officials about best practices the organization can assist police in heading off problems and protecting the rights of citizens as well as public safety.

“Taking photographs and videos of things that are plainly visible from public spaces is your constitutional right. That includes police and other government officials carrying out their duties,” said ACLU of Mississippi Legal Director, Charles Irvin. “Unfortunately, law enforcement officers often order people to stop taking photographs or video in public places, and sometimes harass, detain or even arrest people who use their cameras or cell phone recording devices in public. We urge Mississippi’s law enforcement agencies to join with us and to conduct embrace policies in line with DOJ guidance which protect this right.”

Given the conflicts over recording that continue to arise despite the enormous attention this issue is receiving across the country, the ACLU of Mississippi urges that now is the time for Mississippi police departments to review and modify their internal policies and training programs to ensure protection of the rights of citizen journalists.

The Department of Justice specifically recommends that police policies do the following:

  • Affirmatively set forth the First Amendment right to record police activity;
  • Describe the range of prohibited police responses to individuals observing or recording the police;
  • Clearly describe when an individual’s actions amount to interference with police duties;
  • Provide clear guidance on the necessity of supervisory review of any proposed action to be taken by officers against an individual who is recording police;
  • Describe the narrow circumstances under which it is permissible for officers to seize recordings and recording devices; and
  • Indicate that no higher burden be placed on individuals exercising their right to record police activity than that placed on members of the press.


Read the letter
to law enforcement agencies.

Learn more about the right to record.

ACLU Files Brief in Same-Sex Divorce Case

September 25, 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Morgan Miller, ACLU of Mississippi, 601-354-3408; mmiller@aclu-ms.org

JACKSON, Miss – Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi (ACLU-MS) filed a “friend of the court” brief with the Mississippi Supreme Court in Chatham v. State of Mississippi, a case that would allow a same-sex couple to be legally divorced. The organizations assert that denying a couple the right to a divorce infringes upon their constitutional right to due process and equal protection.

“Mississippi’s failure to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples performed in other jurisdictions is forcing people to stay in harmful relationships,” said Charles Irvin, Legal Director of the ACLU of Mississippi. “That’s why we filed today and why the ACLU is fighting to see the day when all Americans’ marriages are recognized in all 50 states.”

Lauren Czekala-Chatham was legally and lawfully married to Dana Ann Melancon in 2008 in California and the women separated in 2010. In 2013, a DeSoto County Chancery judge ruled that Mississippi’s Constitution and other provisions prohibit granting a divorce. After the ruling, Ms. Chatham filed for an appeal challenging the constitutionality of the state’s failure to recognize legally valid marriages performed in other states and exclude same-sex couples from any legal status that provides rights, benefits, or duties that are similar to heterosexual couples’ marriages. The Mississippi Supreme Court has taken up her case.

“The unfair patchwork of state marriage laws presents unique legal challenges across the country as some states recognize marriages from other jurisdictions and some don’t,” said Joshua Block, Staff Attorney for the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project. “This case again shows the real and concrete harm caused by treating same-sex couples differently state by state and why we are supporting the right of all Mississippians to make important decisions about their relationships.”

In addition to the nineteen states that have legalized same-sex marriage, a number of states with a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage similar to Mississippi’s have granted divorce for same-sex couples. There is pending litigation by ACLU affiliates and other organizations in thirty four states. 


The brief is available here.

Learn more about the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual & Transgender Project.