Something to Celebrate: 2014's Civil Liberties Wins

December 29, 2014

While we’re certainly not shy at the ACLU of Michigan about making our voice heard, there are still many instances in which our work doesn’t always get widespread public recognition we hope for.

Often, our legal cases and legislative battles go on for years under the radar as we work every day to chip away at threats to our rights and liberties. That’s why we like to take the occasional opportunity to share some of our most significant wins with the members and supporters who make our work possible.

And so, with the sincerest hope that you’ll continue to help us score the victories essential to protecting our civil liberties in Michigan, we present some of our key triumphs from 2014.

ACLU Lauds Michigan Supreme Court Decision Striking Down Local Medical Marijuana Bans

February 7, 2014

For decades now, we’ve watched our country steadily lose a costly War on Drugs that erodes personal liberties but does nothing to curb drug sales or use. Rather than back this failed approach, the ACLU of Michigan’s works to end punitive drug policies that cause the widespread violation of constitutional and human rights, and have led to unprecedented levels of incarceration.

This year, we won a major victory after the state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that local ordinances banning medical marijuana are a violation of the state’s Medical Marihuana Act.

Because of this ruling — and because of your supportive work on behalf of the ACLU of Michigan — thousands of sick patients will now continue to have access to the pain management they need. And we can continue the march toward creating a drug policy that is rational, effective, and respectful of our Constitutional rights.

Shedding Light on Surveillance in Michigan

May 13, 2014

The ACLU of Michigan has been working against an encroaching surveillance society for years, using the courts as well as tools such as Freedom of Information Act requests to challenge law-enforcement policies that violate Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches.

The Oakland County Sheriff’s Office recently became the first in Michigan to purchase a Hailstorm device, an incredibly powerful surveillance tool routinely used by the NSA and CIA to spy on thousands of people without their knowledge. They have refused to answer basic questions, actively preventing the public from learning about how they are using these tools.

Transparency and government accountability are the bedrocks of our democracy. Unfortunately, police departments are increasingly attempting to keep documents and facts concerning their spying programs inaccessible and away from public debate.

A few months ago, however, we helped Michigan become the first state in the country to hold a public hearing specifically to gather intelligence about Hailstorm technology. The hearing is a huge step, sending a message that these programs are too great a threat to our civil liberties to be kept in the dark.

Judge Strikes Down Petitioning Restriction, Paving Way for Conyers to Get Back on the Primary Ballot

May 23, 2014

The vote and our ability to participate in the political process are crucial to our expression of our democratic will. Since our founding, the ACLU of Michigan has challenged policies and decisions that would prevent communities from electing candidates of their choice.

This year, Ederl Edna Moore was horrified to discover that her representative was being dropped from the primary ballot. U.S. Rep. John Conyers submitted a sufficient number of valid signatures to be placed on the primary ballot, yet the Wayne County Clerk disqualified 700 signatures because the folks collecting petition signatures were not properly registered to vote.

Ms. Moore and two other Conyers supporters teamed up with the ACLU of Michigan to defend the fundamental right of citizens to engage in political speech through petitions, regardless of eligibility to vote.

In a victory for all who wish to engage in political speech without unnecessary government restrictions, a federal judge struck down the law and ordered that Congressman Conyers be placed back on the primary ballot.

State Agrees to Stop Enforcing Unconstitutional Law After Judge Rules Michigan Vanity Plates Protected by First Amendment

September 3, 2014

Even a vanity license plate enjoys free speech protections. To allow some expressions of identity, religion, sense of humor or politics while censoring others? That’s unfair and unconstitutional.

Michigan’s Secretary of State rejected two license plates — one reading “INFIDEL” and the other “WAR SUX” — for being “offensive to good taste and decency.” But what does that phrase even mean? We pointed out that the government shouldn’t be making decisions about what’s offensive, censoring some people while allowing other to express themselves.

This year, a judge agreed, determining that the law was an overly vague violation of the First Amendment and ordering the State of Michigan to stop enforcing the unconstitutional law.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Michigan Domestic Partner Health Care Ban

November 12, 2014

For more than 70 years, the ACLU has advocated for LGBT rights. Here at the ACLU of Michigan, our LGBT Project works in the courts, the legislature and through advocacy to foster a society in which LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS enjoy their essential rights of equality, privacy and freedom of expression and association.

When a state law threatened to take health-care coverage away from the lesbian and gay domestic partners of public employees, we knew that without a legal challenge families would face unfair financial burdens for simply trying to take care of one another. We saw in the case not just an opportunity to defend the principles of fairness and equality but also a chance to make a real difference in people’s lives.

The judge’s ruling in our favor meant that we not only set legal precedent, but we also ensured that real people with chronic health conditions would be able to get the ongoing medical care they need.

Bill Encouraging Discrimination Dies on Senate Floor After Public Outcry

December 18, 2014

At the ACLU of Michigan, we track hundreds of bills that impact the lives of men and women in our state. Sometimes, one comes along that’s even more dangerous than usual. We rely on our members and supporters to help us speak out and stop these threats to civil liberties in their tracks.

This year, tens of thousands of Michiganders spoke out against the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act, flooding Lansing with letters and voicemails.

The bill would have allowed a man to argue that domestic and child abuse laws don’t apply to him because his religion teaches that a husband has the right to discipline his family as he sees fit. It also would have allowed social workers to argue that they could refuse to counsel clients based on the social workers’ religious beliefs, or let pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for daily birth control pills or life-saving HIV drugs because of their religious beliefs.

We’re grateful to see the passion of the everyday Michiganders who stood with us against this legislation and let their legislators know that harmful, discriminatory legislation like this is wrong for our state.

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