The American Civil Liberties Union

A Quarter Million Americans Demand Torture Prosecutions

[Editor's note: The following is a press release from the ACLU.]>

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Obama DOJ Releases Bush-Era CIA Torture Memos

NEW YORK - In response to litigation filed by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Justice Department today released four secret memos used by the Bush administration to justify torture. The memos, produced by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), provided the legal framework for the CIA's use of waterboarding and other illegal interrogation methods that violate domestic and international law.

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ACLU Sues to Reverse Alabama Ex-Felon Disenfranchisement

MONTGOMERY, AL -- The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Alabama filed a lawsuit today challenging the state's voter disenfranchisement laws and practices as unconstitutional. According to its state constitution, Alabama may deny voting rights to individuals who have been convicted of felonies involving "moral turpitude." Although this term is not defined, the constitution clearly states that only the legislature can decide which felonies qualify under this category. In its lawsuit today, the ACLU charges that the state is disfranchising thousands of Alabamians under a much broader category of convictions than is permissible under the constitution, relying in part on an unlawful opinion issued by Alabama's attorney general.

"Alabama's disenfranchisement laws do not pass constitutional muster. It is immoral that election officials are wrongly disfranchising thousands of eligible voters through a subjective interpretation of the law that ignores the state constitution and the legislature's will," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "When it comes to something as fundamental as the right to vote, arbitrariness has no place in the law."

The Alabama legislature adopted a list of about 15 serious felonies that fit the moral turpitude definition for disenfranchisement, including murder, impeachment, treason, rape and various sex related offenses. But in 2005, Attorney General Troy King developed his own broader list of disfranchising felonies, as well as a short list of those that do not fall into this category. The attorney general's list includes 16 felonies that are disqualifying, including passing a bad check, and six that are not disqualifying, such as possession of controlled substances and DUI-related offenses. Other felonies were simply not addressed. In addition, election administrators across the state are currently disqualifying citizens from voting for felony convictions that neither the legislature nor the attorney general has ever listed as disfranchising offenses.

"The Alabama legislature has already created a list of disfranchising crimes and any other attempts to expand that list not only violate state and federal law, but also undermine the democratic process by prohibiting thousands of eligible people from casting a vote in November," said Nancy Abudu, staff counsel with the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "The court must fix this problem before more citizens are unlawfully disfranchised -- and with the election right around the corner, time is of the essence."

The ACLU is representing individuals who have been wrongly disenfranchised by the state of Alabama.

"I have voted many times before. My father taught me this is what every American should do. But when I tried to register a few weeks ago I was told I couldn't," said Annette McWashington Pruitt, a plaintiff in today's case who received her first and only felony conviction in 2003 for receiving stolen property, an offense that has never been considered disfranchising by the legislature. "My youngest son just turned 18 and is going into the Navy. I have another son in Iraq right now. Voting is really my duty because it represents the freedom my sons are protecting overseas."

Kristen Hall, another plaintiff in today's case said, "I have never voted before, but the election this year is really important and I want to make sure my voice is heard."

Alabama law allows a person convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude to apply for voting rights restoration from the Board of Pardons and Paroles, but the applicant must have paid all fines, court costs, fees and restitution associated with his or her sentence before becoming eligible to vote again. Denying the right to vote based on one's failure or inability to pay these fees discriminates on the basis of wealth.

In today's lawsuit, the ACLU seeks to block state election administrators from disqualifying any voter who has a felony conviction not on the moral turpitude list developed by the legislature. In addition, the ACLU also asks the court to strike down the voter restoration process' discriminatory fee provision.

"There is no compelling or legitimate governmental interest in keeping a wealth-based voter restoration system that is nothing more than a modern-day poll tax," said Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama. "Everyone knows Alabama's ugly voting rights history. It is disappointing that discrimination based on income, and completely arbitrary disenfranchisement, continues to permeate our state voting system. These practices need to end."

ACLU attorneys on today's case are McDonald and Abudu of the ACLU Voting Rights Project, and Allison Neal of the ACLU of Alabama.

The complaint in today's case is available at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/exoffenders/36053lgl20080721.html .

More information on the ACLU Voting Rights Project is available at: www.votingrights.org.

More information on the ACLU of Alabama is available at: www.aclualabama.org.

Keep Your Hands Off Gay-Supportive Students

After a high school principal forcibly removed stickers from students' clothing during a silent protest to raise awareness of anti-gay violence, the American Civil Liberties Union demanded today that Luther Burbank High School stop censoring teens who took part in the protest and insisted that the school promise not to punish students who take part in such actions in the future.

"We're appalled at this school's actions against a group of peaceful, law-abiding students," said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "The school violated the Amnesty International Club's right to free expression by telling it that it could not sponsor Day of Silence. It then did the same thing to individual students who were peacefully taking part in it. Then the school violated the federal Equal Access Act when it abolished the club just because some of its members had acted independently to organize the protest," he said.

"The principal told these students that they were being disruptive, but it's obvious who was really causing problems at school that day," Choe added.

The school shut down the school's Amnesty International Club because some of its members had led the protest. The students were participating in National Day of Silence, an annual nationwide student action in which students take a day-long vow of silence to illustrate the silence in which lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgendered people often suffer discrimination and violence.

"We were really careful to make sure that what we were doing was legal and didn't interfere with school," said Andrea Adame, a senior at the high school who helped organize Day of Silence Activities. She added, "All we were doing was being quiet and wearing stickers that explained what the day was all about, and we made sure students knew they should speak in classes where they have to, like Spanish class."

Andrew Rodriguez, principal of the downtown San Antonio school, had previously warned the school's Amnesty International Club that he would not allow it to sponsor Day of Silence activities, so a group of students went forward with their plans while acting independently of the club. On April 9, Rodriguez spent much of the day confronting students in the hallways and cafeteria, demanding that they remove "I support Day of Silence" stickers from their clothing, and removing them himself if they didn't comply immediately, at one point even tearing a female student's shirt. By lunchtime, according to students, Rodriguez was entering classrooms and interrupting instructional time to demand that students take the stickers off their clothing.

Michael Heflin, director of Amnesty International's OUTfront Program, applauded the ACLU's action, saying, "Lesbian and gay youth in this country continue to face harassment, discrimination and violence in their schools and communities. It is unacceptable that a group of students trying to convey a positive message of human rights for all would face this type of reaction from their school administration."

In a letter sent today to Rodriguez and copied to San Antonio Independent School District Superintendent Ruben D. Olivarez as well as Amnesty International USA and the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, which spearheads National Day of Silence, the ACLU is demanding that the Amnesty International Club be reinstated immediately and seeking a guarantee that the school won't violate students' rights in this fashion in the future.

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