Volunteerism is Alive and Well at the ACLU

August 27, 2015

by Brad Pierce, board president of the ACLU of Missouri

Helen Keller, one of the ACLU’s founders, said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

I know this to be true and I credit much of the success of the ACLU of Missouri to our volunteers.

We deeply appreciate all of the support we get from volunteers, from spreading the word through social media or letters to legislators, to tabling at community events, to serving on the ACLU board of trustees, and everything in between. Volunteers are an integral part in our fight for civil liberties.

It’s been almost two years since the ACLU re-aligned to speak with one voice for all Missourians. This transition was facilitated in part by volunteers from across the state who worked tirelessly behind the scenes. Now opportunities for volunteers to get involved are available throughout the state.

Do you have a passion for protecting and expanding civil liberties in Missouri? Please consider signing up on our website to be a volunteer.

It doesn’t matter whether you have two free hours a month or 40, if you are a teenager or an octogenarian, or if you are still in high school or hold a law degree. We can find use for your time, interests and skills to fight for freedom.

Just this past weekend, 17-year-old Kate and her father Tom drove an hour to staff our booth at the Mid-MO Pridefest Celebration in Columbia and stayed for the entire day. Kate baked some tasty cookies to share with the other volunteers. Now that’s dedication!

With the many protest events this past year, we are always in need of legal observers to ensure protesters’ First Amendment rights are respected. You don’t have to be an attorney, but you do need to attend a legal observer training and have a passion for free speech.

As a longtime ACLU volunteer, I can attest that volunteering is much more than a deeply rewarding experience—it also is a whole lot of fun. Don’t take my word for it; find out for yourself.

On behalf of our entire membership and the board of trustees, I want to personally thank the many ACLU volunteers who keep the wheels of justice turning. We truly could not do this important work without your support.


Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to get real-time updates of our work.

Volunteers at the Mid-MO Pridefest Celebration

ACLU and Partners Issue Statement on Charges Issued by St. Louis County Against Individuals Arrested Last Year

August 18, 2015

St. Louis County is marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown by charging hundreds of people arrested by the St. Louis County Police in protest actions that occurred since August of 2014.  The State Prosecuting Attorney has refused to pursue these charges.  The City of Ferguson, where most incidents occurred, has not pursued charges.  

Nonetheless, the newly-appointed County Counselor has stepped in to file ordinance violations.  This is the same entity that currently defends St. Louis County Police Department Chief Jon Belmar against numerous civil rights lawsuits stemming from these protests. 

It is unclear why the St. Louis County Counselor has reached a different conclusion from other local prosecutors who have rightly decided not to pursue charges. But, it is clear that many individuals will not receive notice of these delayed charges and will ultimately be issued arrest warrants.

We condemn this action as a blatant violation of constitutional rights and an appalling misuse of our already overburdened court system. 

We urge the St. Louis County Counselor's office to do the right thing and help heal the region by dismissing all of these cases immediately.  

Those who have been charged and need legal representation should complete an online form at:  http://bit.ly/1JWkTnZ

ACLU of Missouri                               

Arch City Defenders                           

Advancement Project                         

American Civil Liberties Union         

Black Movement Law Project            

Center for Constitutional Rights       

Missouri NAACP                                 

Mound City Bar Association 

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund    

National Association for Public Defense       

National Lawyers Guild      

National Lawyers Guild – St. Louis Chapter

National Press Photographers Association

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

St. Louis University Civil Litigation Clinic


Justice for Two, But Not All

August 04, 2015

by Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri

We know that if you are poor or black, the justice system treats you differently. That difference often has long-term consequences and in many cases, destroys lives.

St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and County Counselor Peter Krane have the chance to be an example of justice. They can make clear that they will not prosecute those swept up in mass arrests while protesting after Michael Brown was killed.

Last week the ACLU of Missouri settled two lawsuits on behalf of journalists arrested for recording the police during Ferguson protests. We are pleased that our clients will not face charges, but what about the thousands of protesters without legal representation? They were exercising their First Amendment rights, too, when they were ensnared by the police.

Instead of placing them into a broken municipal courts system, St. Louis Prosecuting Attorney Bob McCulloch and County Counselor Peter Krane can do the right thing. All that is required is an agreement to not file charges on the mass arrests of protesters. That move would be heralded as a show of good faith toward rebuilding community trust.

It's time we tried something different.

Two Journalists Recording Ferguson Protests Will Not Face Charges

August 03, 2015

Journalists Bilgin Şaşmaz and Trey Yingst,  who were both arrested for recording police during two separate protests in Ferguson, will not be charged and St. Louis County will aid their efforts to have information about their arrests removed from their records. The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed lawsuits on their behalf and announced today that both cases have settled.

On the evening of Aug. 19, Şaşmaz had been photographing Ray Albers, a former St. Ann police officer, who was pointing his weapon at protesters and yelling that he was going to kill them. A St. Louis County Police officer threw Şaşmaz violently to the pavement, handcuffed and arrested him, even though Şaşmaz repeatedly identified himself as a member of the media. Şaşmaz, of Middle Eastern descent, was working alongside many Caucasian reporters and photographers, who were not arrested but documented the interaction. The ACLU of Missouri filed a civil rights lawsuit last November. 

Yingst was arrested on Nov. 22 while standing on a sidewalk and recording police efforts to clear the street. His arrest occurred one day after the ACLU of Missouri had, in another case, secured consent judgments against the Missouri State Highway Patrol, the County of St. Louis and the City of Ferguson requiring that the police respect the First Amendment rights of journalists. 

“Bilgin and Trey are relieved to put these incidents behind them and to no longer have the possibility of criminal charges hanging over their heads. We are gratified that St. Louis County acknowledges that they should never have been arrested,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“We hope these settlements indicate that St. Louis County realizes mistakes were made in the arrest of people, including journalists, who were committing no crimes in Ferguson,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The First Amendment protects our right to protest and allows the press to document unfolding events so we can draw our own conclusions about the appropriateness of police conduct.”

Copies of the Yingst settlement and the Şaşmaz settlement can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

Court Upholds Public's Right to Know About Death Penalty Procedures

July 16, 2015

Today, the Circuit Court of Cole County agreed that the Missouri Department of Corrections broke the law by failing to honor a Sunshine Law request to disclose the name of the pharmacy that supplied the drugs it uses to administer the death penalty.

On May 15, 2014, the ACLU of Missouri, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and Chris McDaniel, a reporter, filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Corrections for violating the Sunshine Law by withholding public information regarding the state’s recent executions, including the name of the pharmacy that supplied its lethal injection drugs. The court ruled that the Missouri law, which requires individual execution team members’ identities be kept confidential, does not permit the Department of Corrections to “define the execution team as it wishes, without limitation.”

“After today’s decision, the Missouri Department of Corrections can no longer hide behind Missouri statutes and refuse the public’s right to know where it obtains execution drugs,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The public has a right to know the source of the illegal drugs the State uses to kill people in the public’s name.”

“When it comes to an issue of public policy as important as the death penalty, it’s disappointing when our government breaks the law. Fortunately the courts stand ready to protect the rights of the people of Missouri,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri.

A copy of the decision  and related documents can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

Category: Open Government

U.S. Supreme Court Declares State Marriage Bans for Same-Sex Couples Unconstitutional

June 26, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a sweeping and historic decision that affords gay and lesbian couples the same legal right to marry and recognition of their marriages as different-sex couples. The ruling invalidates discriminatory laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and as a practical matter, requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.”

The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that “marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,” the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

"Today's decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws.  The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country."

The case is captioned Obergefell v. Hodges and is made up of cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  The American Civil Liberties Union represented plaintiffs in Kentucky cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear and in Ohio case Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges with private firms.

“We’re very excited for our clients, and for other families all over the country, who no longer have to have their relationships relegated to second-tier status,” said Dan Canon, attorney at Clay, Daniel, Walton and Adams representing Kentucky plaintiffs. “This is the right decision – one that puts the U.S. on the right side of both history and humanity.”

More than fifty courts ruled in favor of marriage equality following the Supreme Court’s watershed 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In January 2015, the high court granted review of an aberrant Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld marriage bans in the four states – the first appeals court to do so after Windsor.

“We started this case with a dying married man – John Arthur – and a death certificate. Without recognition of his marriage, this last document recording his life on earth would be forever wrong.  Now the Supreme Court has ruled that Ohio must recognize his marriage and Jim Obergefell will be properly recorded as his surviving spouse,” said Alphonse Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein & Branch representing Ohio plaintiffs. “This ruling will protect LGBT families from cradle to grave in medical and all other respects.  May John Arthur rest in peace.  We are thrilled and honored to help make this ruling a reality.”

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a sweeping and historic decision that affords gay and lesbian couples the same legal right to marry and recognition of their marriages as different-sex couples. The ruling invalidates discriminatory laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and as a practical matter, requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.”

The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that “marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,” the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

"Today's decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws.  The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country."

The case is captioned Obergefell v. Hodges and is made up of cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  The American Civil Liberties Union represented plaintiffs in Kentucky cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear and in Ohio case Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges with private firms.

“We’re very excited for our clients, and for other families all over the country, who no longer have to have their relationships relegated to second-tier status,” said Dan Canon, attorney at Clay, Daniel, Walton and Adams representing Kentucky plaintiffs. “This is the right decision – one that puts the U.S. on the right side of both history and humanity.”

More than fifty courts ruled in favor of marriage equality following the Supreme Court’s watershed 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In January 2015, the high court granted review of an aberrant Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld marriage bans in the four states – the first appeals court to do so after Windsor.

“We started this case with a dying married man – John Arthur – and a death certificate. Without recognition of his marriage, this last document recording his life on earth would be forever wrong.  Now the Supreme Court has ruled that Ohio must recognize his marriage and Jim Obergefell will be properly recorded as his surviving spouse,” said Alphonse Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein & Branch representing Ohio plaintiffs. “This ruling will protect LGBT families from cradle to grave in medical and all other respects.  May John Arthur rest in peace.  We are thrilled and honored to help make this ruling a reality.”

The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a sweeping and historic decision that affords gay and lesbian couples the same legal right to marry and recognition of their marriages as different-sex couples. The ruling invalidates discriminatory laws in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee upheld by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, and as a practical matter, requires all 50 states to allow same-sex couples to marry.

“The Supreme Court today welcomed same-sex couples fully into the American family. Gay and lesbian couples and our families may be at peace knowing that our simple request to be treated like everyone else – that is, to be able to participate in the dignity of marriage – has finally been granted,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and HIV Project. “Today’s historic victory comes on the backs of same-sex couples and advocates who have worked for decades to dismantle harmful stereotypes and unjust laws in the quest for equal treatment.”

The court’s 5-4 opinion holds that state marriage bans violate the due process and equal protection provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Recognizing that “marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death,” the Court held that the Constitution grants to same-sex couples the right to “equal dignity in the eyes of the law.”

"Today's decision has been 50 years in the making and will stand with Brown vs. Board of Education as one of the landmark civil rights moments of our time," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "Now we take the battle for full legal equality to the states, where 31 states have yet to pass any statewide LGBT non-discrimination laws.  The wind is at our backs, and we are now on the cusp of achieving full legal equality for LGBT Americans across the country."

The case is captioned Obergefell v. Hodges and is made up of cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.  The American Civil Liberties Union represented plaintiffs in Kentucky cases Bourke v. Beshear and Love v. Beshear and in Ohio case Obergefell, et al. v. Hodges with private firms.

“We’re very excited for our clients, and for other families all over the country, who no longer have to have their relationships relegated to second-tier status,” said Dan Canon, attorney at Clay, Daniel, Walton and Adams representing Kentucky plaintiffs. “This is the right decision – one that puts the U.S. on the right side of both history and humanity.”

More than fifty courts ruled in favor of marriage equality following the Supreme Court’s watershed 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor that struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. In January 2015, the high court granted review of an aberrant Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld marriage bans in the four states – the first appeals court to do so after Windsor.

“We started this case with a dying married man – John Arthur – and a death certificate. Without recognition of his marriage, this last document recording his life on earth would be forever wrong.  Now the Supreme Court has ruled that Ohio must recognize his marriage and Jim Obergefell will be properly recorded as his surviving spouse,” said Alphonse Gerhardstein of Gerhardstein & Branch representing Ohio plaintiffs. “This ruling will protect LGBT families from cradle to grave in medical and all other respects.  May John Arthur rest in peace.  We are thrilled and honored to help make this ruling a reality.”

“The overwhelming change in public opinion regarding marriage equality is astonishing, even to those of us who have worked on LGBT rights for decades,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Today’s decision makes marriage equality the law of the land. This is a day that will be noted in history books for Missouri’s same-sex couples, and all Americans, who had to wait to obtain a marriage license so they can marry in their home state.” 

“Given the clarity of the Supreme Court’s mandate, couples should have no trouble whatsoever obtaining a marriage license in any Missouri county, beginning today,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.  “Keep in mind that the ACLU is available to resolve any problems that might arise.”

“It is gratifying that now other same-sex couples will be able to enjoy the emotional, legal and financial security that marriage has given our family and, in particular, our young daughter.  The laws of our country are now in sync with the general public’s acceptance of marriage equality,” said Jim MacDonald and Andy Schuerman, one of the 10 married plaintiff couples in the ACLU’s lawsuit  Barrier v. Vasterling. 

“We are ecstatic, not only for ourselves, but for all Missouri couples who will no longer have to wait to marry in their home state,” said Angela Curtis and Shannon McGinty, plaintiffs in the ACLU of Missouri’s lawsuit,Lawson v. Jackson County Recorder of Deeds. “We are no longer in limbo and can set a date and complete our wedding plans.” 

  

ACLU Asks State Court to Release Grand Juror Doe From Secrecy Requirement

May 29, 2015

Once again, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri is seeking to release Grand Juror Doe from the oath of secrecy—this time through the state court instead of federal court. The change is because on May 5, U.S. District Judge Rodney W. Sippel ruled that the Missouri courts should be given the opportunity to resolve this issue before Juror Doe pursues a federal constitutional challenge.

Grand Juror Doe, who served on the grand jury which investigated the killing of Michael Brown by Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson, is suing Robert McCulloch, prosecuting attorney for St. Louis County. Doe would like to talk about the experience of serving on a grand jury, the evidence presented and the investigation in a way that could contribute to the public dialogue concerning race relations.

“We were encouraged that the federal court clearly understood our claim that this is a unique situation and Juror Doe deserves to be able to speak freely,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Without permission from a court, grand jurors would be committing a crime to discuss their service.”

“We know that racial injustices permeate multiple levels of government, and it is the job of the ACLU to seek transparency, accountability and reforms for effective change,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The public, and our legislators, deserve a complete picture of how the grand jury process operated in the Darren Wilson investigation and we are fighting so Juror Doe can add to the conversation.”

Cooperating attorneys on this case are Eric Sowers, Ferne Wolf and Joshua Pierson, from Sowers & Wolf Attorneys at Law. A copy of the petition and other court documents can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

ACLU of Missouri Holds Annual Meeting and Reception June 20

May 19, 2015

You are invited to the ACLU of Missouri's Annual Meeting from 3-4 p.m., followed by a reception, on Saturday, June 20, at our Kansas City and St. Louis offices.

The meeting is open to the public, but members of the ACLU have the power to elect our board leadership and lay the foundation for future civil liberties victories in Missouri! Attendees will also receive an update on the work of the ACLU of Missouri.

Attendance at the 2015 Annual Meeting is free, but we ask that you RSVP to dread@aclu-mo.org if you plan to attend.

2015 ACLU of Missouri Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 20 from 3 to 4 p.m.
Immediately followed by a reception.

ACLU of Missouri's Kansas City Office
3601 Main Street
Kansas City, MO 64111

ACLU of Missouri's St. Louis Office
454 Whittier Street
St. Louis, MO 63108

We hope to see you on Saturday, June 20!

2015 Legislative Session Comes to a Close

May 15, 2015

by Sarah Rossi, Director of Advocacy and Policy for the ACLU of Missouri

IT’S OVER.

So what do we have to show for it?

HB 187: Immigrant Rights

A bill that would have forced immigrant students who live in, work in, and contribute to the economy of Missouri to pay international tuition at Missouri colleges and universities is dead. The ACLU lobbied hard against this bill, particularly the international tuition provision. Legislators listened, and those who care deeply about an educated workforce and making Missouri schools appealing to students from all backgrounds refrained from pushing this bill to passage. While another, less detrimental, anti-immigrant student bill is on the Governor’s desk; we will be asking him for a VETO and will continue to advocate for greater educational access for immigrant students.

HB 104: LGBT Equality

The Student Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bill, which would have given religious student groups special rights on campuses —  namely to discriminate against religious minorities and LGBT students, died while waiting to be discussed on the Senate floor. The ACLU led the charge against this bill. Campus non-discrimination policies exist for a reason. Public schools and the student groups that receive public funds should be open to all students. Religious organizations should not receive exemptions from rules that every other group must follow. Not only is that unequal treatment, it is a violation of the separation of church and state put forth in the First Amendment.

HB 762: Police Accountability

A former law enforcement officer’s bill, to restrict the state from mandating body cameras and to make closed records of all body camera and dashboard camera footage, died one step before it hit the Senate floor. The ACLU, along with various press associations, lobbied against HB 762 every step of the way. The ACLU argued that the bill was too broad, too fast, and did not serve the interests of the public, the press, or those who may be the target of violent police action. An offer was made to work with the Representative who sponsored this bill during the interim in order to find a compromise that will address the concerns of all parties. We sincerely hope he takes advantage of that offer.  

SB 93: Free Speech on Public Campuses

This bill creates the Campus Free Expression Act to protect free expression on the campuses of public institutions of higher education. We had great advocacy support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Alliance Defending Freedom. This bill passed with almost unanimous bipartisan support. Student groups will no longer have to worry about being cordoned off on in a remote part of campus and will be able to proclaim their messages widely.

HB 120: Privacy

Of the two bills that the ACLU helped draft and advocate for, HB 120 made it the furthest. This bill would have protected students and employees from schools and employers snooping around personal social media accounts. The ACLU worked with legislators to include extensive privacy protections for students, alongside the provisions protecting employees. After two successful hearings in the House, nearly unanimous bipartisan support on the House floor, and another successful hearing in the Senate, the bill stalled on the Senate floor and was not brought up for debate. We will try to pass this legislation again next year, building on this session’s momentum.

A more extensive legislative report is coming soon, but rest assured that the ACLU worked hard for our members and supporters from the first gaveling in of the legislature, to the moment of sine die. This was a very successful legislative session for civil libertarians, with very few bad bills hitting the Governor’s desk, while gaining forward momentum on some key ACLU legislation. 

Mustafa Abdullah to Receive ADC's Excellence in Advocacy Award

May 13, 2015

The  American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) announced today that they will present the "Excellence in Advocacy Award" to Mustafa Abdullah, program associate at the ACLU of Missouri. The award will be given at the annual Civil Rights Luncheon on Friday, June 12, as part of the 35th Anniversary ADC National Convention in Washington, DC. 

The ADC stated that Mustafa Abdullah has demonstrated a strong commitment to civil engagement through advocacy, interfaith work, and community organizing. He is a co-founder of Muslims for Ferguson, an organization of American Muslims who are committed to seeking justice for Michael Brown and supporting relevant important campaigns in Ferguson. 

When the law enforcement cracked down on protesters in Ferguson last summer following the death of Michael Brown, Mustafa organized the Muslim community to act in solidarity with the issues facing the African-American community in Ferguson.

“In seeking justice in Ferguson, I was motivated by the verses in the Qur’an that say if one part of the body is in pain, then the whole body wakes up in a fevered state,"  said Mustafa Abdullah. "Muslims for Ferguson rallied to acknowledge the pain of the Brown family and the entire community to support them in their grief and frustration.”

Past recipients of the Excellence in Advocacy Award include Hilary Shelton of the NAACP, Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and advocates from the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), and the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC).

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