Southeast Missouri City Agrees to Stop Harassing Homeless

October 15, 2014

On Oct. 14, U.S. District Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh, Jr. entered a consent judgment in the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri’s challenge to the City of Miner’s unconstitutional ordinances banning loitering, vagrancy and begging. The ACLU filed the lawsuit last December on behalf of a homeless couple who was threatened with arrest by Miner police officers for nothing more than peaceably standing on public property and holding a sign that read “Traveling. Anything helps. God bless.” 

In late September of 2013, Brandalyn Orchard and Edward Gillespie, who are Missouri residents, were approached by a police officer and told they must leave town. They respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws. The officer left and returned with highlighted copies of three purported ordinances against vagrancy, begging and loitering. He was later joined by another policeman who told the couple they would be arrested for violating the ordinances if they didn’t leave town in five minutes, so they complied and haven’t returned. 

“Without the ACLU’s help, nothing in Miner would have changed,” said Orchard. “Our lawyers deserve all the credit.”

“This suit is a textbook case on how to react when your rights are being violated,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “The couple respectfully asked if they were breaking any laws, requested copies of the ordinances they were violating, obeyed the officer’s demands to leave town, and then filed a complaint with the ACLU.” The ACLU learned that Miner does not have the ordinances the police cited.

“Bullying is never good, but it is especially bad when done by our government and directed at those who might lack the resources to defend their rights,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, the ACLU of Missouri’s executive director. “Being homeless or poor doesn’t strip you of your constitutional rights and it is the role of the ACLU to step in and be a voice for those who may feel powerless to challenge the government.” 

The consent judgment, the complaint and a photo of the couple can be found on the legal dockets section of the ACLU of Missouri’s website.

Judge Grants Preliminary Injunction in ACLU’s Five-Second Rule Lawsuit

October 06, 2014

Law enforcement officials can no longer force peaceful protesters in Ferguson to keep moving on sidewalks when they are breaking no law. Federal Judge Catherine Perry granted a preliminary injunction this afternoon in the lawsuit Mustafa Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al.,  regarding the “five-second rule.”

In August, law enforcement officers began enforcing a new rule in the area where demonstrators had gathered in Ferguson after the shooting death of Michael Brown. The ACLU of Missouri called it the “five-second rule” because protesters were told they could not remain still for more than five seconds, but law enforcement invoked the rule for many things including standing still for more than five seconds, just standing still, and walking back and forth over hundreds of yards in the protest area. The rule has no statutory or regulatory reference number and has not been released to the public in print.

“The rule of law is essential to our constitutional system of government, and it applies equally to law enforcement officers and to other citizens,” wrote Judge Perry in her ruling.

“Vague rules that are applied in a haphazard fashion tend to increase community tension,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Judge Perry’s injunction is a huge win for peaceful protesters and those who believe in the rule of law.

The law firm Munger, Tolles, & Olson, LLP, is serving as cooperating counsel with the ACLU of Missouri. The original complaint for Abdullah v. Saint Louis County et al. can be found on the ACLU of Missouri website.

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

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Supreme Court Decision Paves Way for the Freedom to Marry Nationwide

October 06, 2014

Supreme Court Lets Stand Four Appeals Court Decisions Requiring States to Allow Same-Sex Couples to Marry

NEW YORK – The Supreme Court of the United States today denied review in all of the marriage equality cases pending before it. As a result of the Court’s action, same-sex couples in Virginia, Wisconsin, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah will now be able to marry the partners they love. Today’s orders also mean that same-sex marriage will soon become lawful in at least 30 states.

"This is a watershed moment for the entire country. We are one big step closer to the day when all same-sex couples will have the freedom to marry regardless of where they live. The time has come and the country is ready," said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "This is life-saving news for same-sex couples all across the country. Marriage helps families deal with times of crisis, and the Supreme Court’s action today means more loving and committed couples will have access to the protections that marriage provides."

The ACLU was co-counsel in five of the seven petitions that were denied today, in cases from Indiana, Virginia, and Wisconsin. 

The ACLU has been working for the rights of LGBT people since 1936, when it brought its first gay rights case. The organization filed the first freedom-to-marry lawsuit for same-sex couples in 1970, represented Edie Windsor in her successful challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act in June 2013, and has filed thirteen federal marriage lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples since then.

More information on the ACLU’s work to secure marriage equality across the country is available at:
https://www.aclu.org/out-freedom

 

Category: LGBT Rights

Missouri Must Recognize Marriages of 10 Same-Sex Couples Married Outside the State

October 03, 2014

Missouri Circuit Judge J. Dale Youngs ordered that the marriages of 10 couples must be recognized by the state of Missouri. His decision came eight days after hearing the oral arguments in Barrier v. Vasterling, Missouri’s landmark case filed in February by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri on behalf of 10 same-sex Missouri couples.

The ruling can be found on our website at: http://www.aclu-mo.org/download_file/1316 

“Missouri has finally recognized our couples’ marriages as being no different from any other marriage,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. 

Married plaintiffs Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild said “Our hearts are filled with jubilation. We believe the judge made a fair and just decision recognizing marriage for same-sex couples.”

“This is a personal win for our 10 courageous couples who stepped up to represent the LGBT community,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Even better ― this is a win for the whole state because a discriminatory law has been struck down.”   

Category: LGBT Rights

ACLU Receives FBI Report in Mueth Embezzlement

September 30, 2014

On Sept. 29, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri (ACLU of Missouri) received a copy of the FBI audit regarding the embezzlement of county funds by Edward Mueth. This report was released as a result of Judge David Lee Vincent II’s judgment in the ACLU’s Sunshine Law suit filed July 16. The FBI audit can be found on the ACLU’s website in two parts: file one and file two.

"We brought this suit to promote transparency when St. Louis County claimed that the documents were not public records subject to the Sunshine Law," said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.  "The Court rightly rejected the County’s interpretation of Missouri law, found the records to be public and has ordered their production." 

“We are pleased that citizens will have the opportunity to review the FBI audit," said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Once again, Missouri’s Sunshine Law has succeeded in shedding light on information that our government wanted to keep hidden."

ACLU Marriage Recognition Plaintiffs Have Their Day in Court

September 25, 2014

Today was a monumental day for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri. Seven of their 10 courageous plaintiff couples were present at the Jackson County Courthouse when legal director Tony Rothert presented oral arguments in Barrier v. Vasterling, a suit fighting for the recognition of same-sex marriages performed outside of the state of Missouri.

For 30 minutes, Rothert clearly laid out why couples, like Janice Barrier and Sherie Schild, deserve all of the benefits that opposite-sex married couples enjoy. The entire hearing lasted less than an hour and a half.

"It was an honor to give our plaintiffs their day in court," said Rothert. "We were able to highlight the many ways that discrimination against loving, committed couples ends up harming families."

"Missouri has traditionally recognized lawful marriages performed in other states. It is simply wrong to treat same-sex families differently," said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. "Thanks to the hard work of the ACLU and our many LGBT partners, we are nearing the day when discrimination against LGBT families will end. The ACLU's historic 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Edie Windsor case paved the way as state after state removed barriers to marriage. Today, Missouri took a giant step down that path."

Judge J. Dale Youngs said he will make a decision as quickly as possible.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU of Missouri Welcomes New Director of Advocacy and Policy in Kansas City Office

September 24, 2014

KANSAS CITY, MO – Sarah Rossi assumed her new role as the director of advocacy and policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri last week and works out of the Kansas City office. She oversees the organization’s legislative, public education and advocacy efforts.

For the past three years, Sarah was the legal and public policy director for the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence where she lobbied, trained and presented on behalf of multiple state-wide coalitions in support of LGBT equality, women’s rights and immigrants’ rights. Previously, she provided pro-bono family law services to LGBT Montanans. “Without organizations like the ACLU of Missouri, our freedom, privacy and equal rights would often be left defenseless. I am honored to be a part of an organization that fights tirelessly to protect the civil liberties of all Missourians.”

Rossi earned her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Colorado in Denver and her Juris Doctorate from the University of Montana School of Law.

"Sarah’s demonstrated passion for and commitment to constitutional rights and social justice, along with her legal training and legislative advocacy experience made her a natural fit for the ACLU family.  Just as important, her strategic vision for long-term change in Missouri made her the ideal candidate for the position,” says Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. 

To learn more about Sarah and the wealth of experience she brings to her new role, visit http://www.aclu-mo.org/about/staff/sarah-rossi.

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization dedicated to defending and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed by the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions, and is an affiliate of the national ACLU.

ACLU of Missouri Mourns the Loss of Former Board President Fred Epstein

September 15, 2014

The ACLU of Missouri mourns the loss of our former Board President, national board member and dear friend, Fred Epstein. A second-generation ACLU member and a long-time supporter, Fred ushered in one of the most productive periods in our affiliate’s history when he was named Board President in 1970. During his tenure, he secured our first full-time Executive Director, Joyce Armstrong, and oversaw the expansion of our legal work, which grew to include litigation with local and national impact. He continued to shepherd the organization through its many years of continued growth until 2006, when he retired from the board, though not from his position as elder statesman and resource for the affiliate.

Join us in celebrating Fred's life and the tremendous legacy he leaves behind. 

Read more ...

Category: Uncategorized

ACLU of Missouri Expresses Disappointment in Legislature’s Misguided Override of 72-Hour Abortion Veto

September 10, 2014

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri said a vote by Missouri lawmakers to override Governor Nixon’s veto of HB 1307, which triples the forced delay period for a woman needing an abortion, will harm the health of Missouri women.
 
Tonight’s vote represents the latest intrusion of politicians into a woman’s private medical decisions,” said ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman. “This legislation was never about helping women, but instead is a way for some politicians in Jefferson City to pursue their own political agendas. It’s shameful and it risks women’s health.  Despite today’s events, be assured that ACLU of Missouri will stay vigilant in protecting women’s rights to make their own private medical decisions.”
 
Mittman also made the point that this vote goes against the will of Missourians.  In July the organization released a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling showing that only 43 percent of Missourians supported this legislation to triple the forced delay period. The survey also found that 71 percent of Missouri voters want their legislators to focus on jobs and the economy rather than spend more time debating legislation that would force a 72-hour delay on a woman seeking an abortion.

Racialized Law Enforcement Practices May Be Found in Capital Punishment Process

September 09, 2014

By Jeffrey A. Mittman, ACLU of Missouri Executive Director, and Mary Ratliff, MO State NAACP President

 

Missouri is at an important crossroads. The events that have unfolded in Ferguson recently highlight significant concerns that many Missourians and Americans across the country have regarding race and the criminal justice system. State leaders like Governor Jay Nixon must acknowledge that deep, harmful perceptions of racial bias exist in many communities in our State and that the events in Ferguson illustrate to many the dramatic disparities in how Black and white communities are treated by law enforcement in Missouri.  

Another example of the challenges we face as a State concerning the treatment of people of color by those in positions of power, is the operation of our capital punishment system.  Earl Ringo is set to be executed this week – Mr. Ringo is a Black man convicted of the murder of a white man and woman during a robbery and sentenced to die by an all-white jury in Cape Girardeau.

Of course, we do not condone the crimes committed by Mr. Ringo and we extend our heartfelt condolences for the tremendous loss of Dennis Poyser and JoAnna Baysinger.

The role of racial bias in Mr. Ringo’s case, however, has never been properly reviewed by a court, nor has other evidence of racial bias in Missouri’s overall capital punishment system been properly investigated. The Governor alone has the power to halt Mr. Ringo’s execution this week and order an independent Board of Inquiry to review Mr. Ringo’s claims that bias and prejudice unconstitutionally contributed to his death sentence.   

Our Governor is faced with a choice: he can take this critical moment as an opportunity to listen and reflect on the concerns that we and others have raised, and consider how best to instill greater confidence in all of our state’s citizens that justice is being fairly served.  Or, Governor Nixon can choose the path that will further inflame the tensions we see in Missouri.  Executing Mr. Ringo at this time, while so much remains unresolved concerning the fairness of the death sentence in his case, would stand in stark contrast to recent efforts by Governor Nixon to work with and convince communities of color that their voices are heard by our elected leaders.

The entire nation is watching Missouri right now to see how our state and federal leaders act following Ferguson.  The nation is also watching the death penalty closely – as state after state is repealing it and there are seemingly endless stories about innocent individuals being exonerated from death row after decades of incarceration for crimes they did not commit.  Further, just last week, allegations that Missouri Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi lied about the fact that Missouri has used the same controversial drug in executions that resulted in several horribly botched executions in other states this year.  The execution of Mr. Ringo would be Missouri’s tenth in as many months, a rapid and troubling increase that is out-of-step with most of the country and instead places our state in company with the “capital” of capital punishment, Texas. 

For all of these reasons, we encourage Governor Nixon to immediately stay Mr. Ringo’s execution and appoint an independent Board of Inquiry to review the role of race in his case.  In so doing, the Governor will demonstrate that his recent statements to Missourians were not merely lip service, and that he is genuinely concerned with improving our state’s system of justice  – especially when the punishment is final and irreversible.  

We also call on Governor Nixon and the Supreme Court of Missouri to refrain from setting in new executions dates until the ongoing St. Louis University School of Law study of death penalty sentencing overall in the state is finished.  This independent academic study will help us all better understand to what extent race or any other illegal or irrelevant factor has led to death sentences in the state.  The SLU study, along with the experts’ findings in the 2012 American Bar Association's Missouri Death Penalty Assessment Report, will surely provide guidance to Missouri leaders and lawmakers in implementing reforms that could give Missourians and the nation greater confidence in our system of justice. 

Turning a blind eye and continuing to execute prisoners despite legitimate concerns being raised about our capital punishment system smacks of the same “fear of too much justice” Justice Brennan condemned in the Supreme Court McCleskey decision almost 30 years ago. 

Missouri should seize this unique moment in history to move forward and create real change in the way citizens in Ferguson – and communities like it all over the state – are treated by those in power.  Now is the time to truly examine institutionalized racism and disparate treatment in Missouri, and that examination can never be more important than when a man’s life is at stake.