Court Finds Ferguson-Florissant School Board Elections in Violation of Voting Rights Act

August 22, 2016

ST. LOUIS – A federal judge ruled today that the Ferguson-Florissant School District’s process for electing school board members violates the Voting Rights Act and can no longer continue until the process is changed. The decision today came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri.

In December, the ACLU of Missouri filed a federal lawsuit against the Ferguson-Florissant School District, on behalf of the Missouri NAACP and African-American residents, charging that the district's electoral system locked African-Americans out of the political process through the at-large system that dilutes African-American voting strength.

“The ongoing effects of racial discrimination have long plagued the region, and the District in particular, have affected the ability of African Americans to participate equally in the political process,” wrote U.S. District Judge Rodney Sippel in the decision.

African-Americans constitute a minority of the district’s voting age population, and under the at-large system they were systematically unable to elect candidates of their choice. Today’s decision demonstrates that the at-large arrangement has a discriminatory effect on African-American voters.

"This case is about African-American communities being able to hold their government accountable,” said Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Today’s decision will lead to future school boards that are responsive to the needs of the community.”

“The importance of ensuring fair elections for all Americans cannot be overstated.  The NAACP, in conjunction with the ACLU, has worked tirelessly to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected,” said Missouri State Conference of the NAACP President Nimrod Chapel. “We are proud of the result in this case.”

The Ferguson-Florissant School District has a history fraught with discrimination against African-American citizens. The district, which spans several municipalities, was created by a 1975 desegregation order intended to remedy the effects of discrimination against African-American students. Yet, 40 years later, there was just one African-American member on the seven-member board in a district where African-Americans constitute 77 percent of the student body. Since the filing of this case, another African-American school board member was elected. There are currently two African-Americans serving on the board.
 
The decision can be viewed here
 

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Religious Doctrine Must Not Override Medical Standards at Walgreens’ In-Store Clinics in Missouri and Illinois

August 18, 2016

ACLU, MergerWatch and National Health Law Program Say Walgreens and SSM Health Must Provide Assurances to Those Seeking Health Care Services

ST. LOUIS- Walgreens must assure its customers seeking health care services that its in-store clinic provider, Catholic-sponsored SSM Health Medical Group, which adheres to religious directives, will not limit access to reproductive health services, information and referrals, say four public interest groups.

In letters to Walgreens’ chief medical officer and SSM Health’s regional president, the ACLU of Illinois, ACLU of Missouri, MergerWatch, and the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) ask for more information about the partnership between the companies and assurance that religious  directives (or restrictions) will not override medical standard of care, curtail access to reproductive health care services, or allow for discrimination against LGBTQ persons.

The letters note that SSM Health (formerly known as the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother) is a Catholic health care system that adheres to Ethical and Religious Directives (ERDs) issued and enforced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. These directives expressly forbid contraceptive counseling and prescriptions, which are the kinds of primary care services women often seek at clinics, including those located within drug stores.

The Bishops’ directives also forbid staff of Catholic-affiliated health care institutions to provide patients with information about or referrals for other types of reproductive health care, such as abortions, fertility treatments, vasectomies and tubal ligations. LGBTQ individuals and their families could also face discrimination at institutions following the ERDs, depending on interpretation of the directives.

The groups ask Walgreens and SSM Health to explain how they will ensure that all “customers receive the reproductive health services, information, and referrals they have both come to expect from Walgreens, and that meet medical standards of care.” In addition the groups seek “assurances that all customers will be treated equally regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.”

Both letters contain specific questions about whether the clinics, their staff and the care they give will be restricted by Catholic ethical directives: Will outpatient reproductive health services be available in all the in-store clinics? Will the medical information, counseling and referrals patients receive be limited because of religious directives? Will LGBTQ persons be treated with dignity at all clinics? Will counseling about HIV “safer sex” prevention practices be provided to at-risk patients?, Will access to PrEP, a medication to prevent HIV infection, be available

The Walgreens letter is available here. The SSM Health letter is available here. For more information or comment from any of the groups, please contact Jeremy Leaming at leaming@healthlaw.org or 202-552-5176. 

 

ACLU of Missouri Files Suit Against City of Walnut Grove, Mayor

August 15, 2016

SPRINGFIELD, Mo.  — The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed a lawsuit today against the mayor and city of Walnut Grove, Mo., on behalf of a resident who expressed displeasure with the mayor’s decision to shoot and kill a stray border collie that was caring for her puppies in September 2014.

After the incident, Walnut Grove resident Linda O’Toole spoke at a city meeting and started an online petition encouraging community members to contact Walnut Grove City Hall to demand that Walnut Grove Mayor Jim Cole resign and that public officials become more educated on modern methods of animal rescue.

In April 2015, Cole sued O’Toole in an attempt to silence her criticism. O’Toole has been forced to endure the burdens of the lawsuit, including the cost of litigation. She is now afraid to exercise her First Amendment right to speak out against a public official’s actions.

“The right to criticize public officials is at the core of the freedoms we have in our democracy,” said ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert. “Individuals in public office cannot use the courts or the police to silence public criticism.”

“Government officials abuse their power to the detriment of the individual rights of citizens throughout Missouri,” ACLU of Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman said. “We protect the civil liberties of all Missourians, everywhere.”

The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri. Read the full complaint here


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A letter to Department of Social Services, MO HealthNet Division Against Proposed Suspension of Federally-Funded Section 1115 Family Planning Demonstration

July 28, 2016

The ACLU of Missouri is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with the mission of protecting and expanding the constitutional rights and civil liberties of all Missourians guaranteed under the United States and Missouri Constitutions, with a particular focus on the Bill of Rights. 

On behalf of our thousands of members across the state of Missouri,we submit these comments against the proposed suspension of the Women’s Health Services Program, or the establishment of a new state-funded program – unless every patient can be guaranteed at least the same level of health care they receive under the Women’s Health Services Program. 

At a minimum, the Department of Social Services must:

  • Ensure that all people currently enrolled in the Women’s Health Services Program areautomatically transferredto the new state-funded program. No one should have to re-apply for a new program or wait for a new insurance card to come in the mail before they can access care;
  • Guarantee that the state-funded program will provide at least the same benefits and services currently provided through the Women’s Health Services Program, including free well-woman exams, life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, and STI services;
  • Make sure enough licensed and trained women’s health care providers participate in the new state-funded program so that patients are able to access timely and quality care from providers who they trust; and
  • Provide people enrolled in the new state-funded program a provider directory with accurate contact information so that they can make appointments and receive critical health services without delay. 

Additionally, the Department should make sure to reinstate the federal-funded Missouri Women’s Health Program as soon as it can. The Missouri General Assembly forced Missouri to leave $8 million in federal funding on the table when it pushed through legislation to end the program. Missourians should not have to pick up the tab for bad legislation that will harm their health.

Missourians deserve access to quality health care and should be able to access medical care from trusted providers, including from Planned Parenthood.  Missourians ability to access needed medical care should never be subject to partisan politics or anti-civil liberties ideology.

Thank you for the opportunity to share our comments on the proposed Women's Health Services Program suspension.  The ACLU of Missouri is available at any time to discuss or expand upon these comments.

Sincerely, 

Jeffrey Mittman

Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri

Make your voice heard on Election Day

July 28, 2016

At ACLU of Missouri, we work every day to protect our constitutional freedoms. And no civil right is more important in our democracy than the right to vote.  That's why we want to make sure you know what you need to participate in Missouri's Primary Election on Tuesday, August 2nd. Here are a few reminders:

BE REGISTERED

In order to be eligible to vote in the primary, an individual must be a citizen of the United States, a resident of the State of Missouri, 18 years old by Election Day, and have registered to vote.  Not sure if you are registered? Check in advance through the Missouri Secretary of State’s voting center website at www.GoVoteMissouri.com. The deadline to register for the August primary has passed, but make sure to register for the November election today if you are not yet registered.

BRING IDENTIFICATION (IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE A PHOTO ID)

In Missouri, there are specific requirements for acceptable forms of voter ID that eligible voters must present when casting their ballot. Registered voters need to present ONLY ONE of the following types of identification*:

  • Identification issued by the state of Missouri, an agency of the state, or a local election authority of the state; or
  • Identification issued by the United States government or agency thereof; or
  • Identification issued by an institution of higher education, including a university, college, vocational and technical school, located within the state of Missouri; or
  • A copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, paycheck, government check or other government document that contains the name and address of the voter; or
  • Driver's license or state identification card issued by another state.

*If you do not possess any of these forms of identification, you may still cast a ballot if two supervising election judges, one from each major political party, attest they know you.

KNOW WHERE TO GO

Find your polling place in advance by visiting your local election authority's website or at www.GoVoteMissouri.com.  Polls open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

YOUR VOTE MATTERS

Elections should be free, fair, and accessible to all eligible Missouri voters. If you have problems voting on Election Day, please call the Secretary of State’s office at (800) 669-8683 to report the issue.  You may also contact us ACLU of Missouri at webmaster@aclu-mo.org.

 It is crucial that all eligible voters be able to exercise their Constitutional right to participate in the democratic process of electing local, state, and federal officials.  On Tuesday, August 2nd, make your voice heard!

By Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director, ACLU of Missouri 

 

University City Violates Resident’s Free Speech and Due Process Rights

July 25, 2016

ACLU of Missouri sues University City on behalf of a citizen who was removed from a city council meeting by order of the mayor when he attempted to speak on an issue under discussion
 

St. Louis, MO -- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri filed suit against the city of University City, Missouri, on behalf of city resident Andrew Roberts. The mayor of University City ordered police to remove Roberts from a city council meeting after he attempted to state his opposition to a proposed resolution during the public comment period of the meeting. The mayor also barred Roberts from speaking at future meetings.

On January 11, 2016, Roberts attempted to deliver a prepared statement on Resolution 2016-2, a controversial, formal resolution to censure Councilmember Terry Crow. Through his statement, Roberts planned to call for the censure of Mayor Shelley Welsch, who he believes mistreated city firefighters and disregarded decency and justice when she proposed outsourcing emergency medical services. Roberts’s prepared statement was relevant because Roberts, and many others, believe Mayor Welsch introduced Resolution 2016-2 to punish Councilmember Crow for opposing her outsourcing decision.

However, before Roberts could complete his statement, Mayor Welsch interrupted him and accused him of making personal attacks. Instead of allowing him to finish speaking, she ordered law enforcement to remove him from the building. 

“It was a misuse of Mayor Welsch’s power to intimidate and remove an individual exercising his right to free speech as protected by the First Amendment,” explains Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“The Constitution protects free speech and due process for all citizens, even when those in positions of power do not like the content of what is being said or the viewpoints expressed,” says Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “It is unacceptable that Mayor Welsch abused her power and violated Mr. Roberts’ constitutional rights to share his concerns about what’s happening in his community.”


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St. Louis police department continues to make it difficult for taxpayers to obtain public records

July 19, 2016

ACLU of Missouri files petition challenging policy related to accessing arrest reports

St. Louis, MO -- Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed a petition against the Metropolitan Police Department, City of St. Louis (SLMPD) for creating artificial barriers intended to make it more difficult for the public to access open records in accordance with the Missouri Sunshine Law. 

Mustafa Abdullah, lead organizer at the ACLU of Missouri, requested all arrest reports from June 1, 2016, and June 2, 2016, to investigate ACLU of Missouri’s concerns regarding the SLMPD’s new mobile app that may be wrongfully targeting and causing discrimination against the homeless. Despite the fact that arrest reports are open records and Missouri law limits governmental bodies to a charge of 10 cents per page, Abdullah was told he would need to pay a flat fee of $6.50 for each arrest report. In addition, although arrest reports are not subject to redaction, SLMPD told Abdullah he would need to pay city legal staff to redact the reports. To gain access to the 138 arrest records from a two-day period, SLMPD demanded $1,377.00.  

“It is disappointing that the ACLU of Missouri must take repeated legal action for taxpayers in St. Louis to access public information. By illegally demanding exorbitant flat fee payments for arrest reports, the SLMPD is making it harder for taxpaying citizens to access open public records,” explained Tony Rothert, legal director of the ACLU of Missouri.

“Good policing includes good community relationships and transparency,” said Jeffrey A. Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “Now, more than ever, the SLMPD should be following Missouri’s laws requiring transparency to build community support and trust instead of creating artificial barriers that reduce transparency and accountability.”

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ACLU of Missouri Sues City of Belton for Panhandling Ordinance that Infringes on Individual’s First Amendment Rights

June 29, 2016

Kansas City, MO -- Today, the ACLU of Missouri filed suit against the City of Belton, Missouri, on behalf of Missouri resident Roger Walker, challenging a Belton ordinance that restricts panhandling. Panhandling is protected under the First Amendment.

Walker, a 67-year-old amputee with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure, is confined to a motorized wheelchair and panhandles to secure donations of food and money. Despite the fact that Walker’s requests are protected by the First Amendment, he has been forced to stop panhandling because the Belton police have repeatedly threatened to arrest him and impound his motorized wheelchair for violating a city ordinance that prohibits soliciting on roadways.

“The ACLU believes that Missourians deserve the freedom to exercise their First Amendment rights,” said Jeffrey Mittman, executive director of the ACLU of Missouri. “With its city code, the City of Belton is excluding people like Mr. Walker from those protections, and that’s wrong.”

In 2014, a Belton police officer told Mr. Walker he would be arrested and fined and his wheelchair impounded if he did not stop soliciting and leave Belton immediately. Walker did not return for almost two years because he was afraid he would be arrested and prosecuted. However, on April 16, 2016, Mr. Walker returned when he needed to purchase a $500 battery for his wheelchair. He was again told to leave or be arrested.

The challenged ordinance, Section 13-361 of the Belton City Code, exempts “organizations, social clubs, civic groups, school groups, etc.” that are soliciting donations for “legitimate fundraising events.” The ordinance does not elaborate on “etc.” or define “legitimate.” The lack of clarity leaves people like Mr. Walker subject to arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.

The ACLU of Missouri is challenging the city code because it violates Mr. Walker’s free speech and due process rights. 

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ACLU of Missouri Statement on US Supreme Court Abortion Ruling

June 27, 2016

STATEMENT FROM ACLU OF MISSOURI
 
St. Louis, MO — Jeffrey Mittman, Executive Director of ACLU of Missouri, issued the following statement in response to the US Supreme Court Issuing a Victory for Women in Abortion Access Case:

The Missouri legislature has repeatedly enacted abortion regulations that have no medical benefit for patients—all under the guise of purporting to protect women’s health. Today’s Supreme Court decision means that courts will no longer play along with the legislature’s disingenuous game of pretending to help women by erecting unnecessary barriers to abortion care. It should mark the end of Missouri’s campaign to impose unnecessary and burdensome regulations on abortion providers for the purpose of making abortion care more difficult to obtain.

 

2016 Annual Meeting

June 13, 2016

Don't miss our 2016 Annual Meeting in Kansas City and St. Louis at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 18. Nationally recognized Supreme Court expert and Washington University professor Lee Epstein will be the guest speaker. 

At this meeting, we will discuss updates on ACLU of Missouri's work and vote to elect board members to lead our organization. All ACLU members are entitled to vote.

2016 ACLU of Missouri Annual Meeting
Saturday, June 18, 2-3 p.m.
Immediately followed by a reception. 

ACLU of Missouri's Kansas City Office
406 West 34th Street, Suite 420
Kansas City, MO 64111

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

The 2016 Annual Meeting is free and open to the public, but we ask that you RSVP to jeffrey@aclu-mo.org if you plan to attend. Please let us know if you will be joining us in Kansas City or St. Louis.

We hope to see you on Saturday, June 18 at the Annual Meeting!

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