Susan was an inspiration to each of us. Her warmth and kindness made her a friend to all. We will truly miss her drive, her ambition, her leadership and, most of all, her potential. We will press on in her memory and spirit.
Please contribute in her honor as we use this year to recognize her commitment to our cause as a champion for civil liberties and social justice.

Passing of ACLU of Alabama Executive Director

We write with extremely sad news. Our colleague Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, passed away unexpectedly on Friday, December 2. Those who had the honor to work with her would describe her as a vibrant, energetic and passionate leader. She was a bright light for our organization, but more importantly, a devout advocate for civil liberties and progressive ideals in the conservative South.

As staff members who worked in a small office with Susan, we are both personally and professionally devastated by this tragic loss for the ACLU and for Alabama—she was an inspiration to each of us. Her warmth and kindness made her a friend to all. We will truly miss her drive, her ambition, her leadership and, most of all, her potential. We will press on in her memory and spirit.

Susan became executive director of the ACLU of Alabama in 2013, after an extensive career with the ACLU of Florida—first, as a plaintiff challenging a school voucher program, next as a volunteer, then as a board member, and finally as the regional director of the Florida affiliate in Pensacola, where she worked for eight years.

At the ACLU of Alabama, Susan made sure we were at the forefront of the state’s most restrictive civil liberties and social justice challenges. As a former ER nurse, Susan fought for reproductive freedom and applied the ACLU’s legal power to protect women’s access to abortions in Alabama. In the fight for immigrants’ rights, Susan built strong relationships with the Alabama Center for Immigrant Justice. She was a vanguard for marriage equality and LGBTQ rights in Alabama. She involved the ACLU in coalitions with leading organizations in the state, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP, to fight for criminal justice reform and against voter disenfranchisement in the Black Belt.

Susan will be profoundly missed by ACLU of Alabama staff and board members, ACLU colleagues throughout the nation, and community partners who worked alongside her to protect our individual freedoms and rights. We are organizing a memorial service in Montgomery, AL, and will let you know when details are finalized.

Sincerely,

Randall Marshall, JaTaune Bosby, Lucia Hermo & Teresa Galloway
ACLU of Alabama

ACLU of Alabama

P.S. Your commitment to our cause is what keeps our work going. As we strive to continue our work in Susan’s memory, we ask that you make a contribution in her honor. Please mail your gift directly: P.O. Box 6179, Montgomery, AL 36106 or make an online donation.

ENVIRONMENTAL PROTESTERS FIGHT DEFAMATION LAWSUIT FILED BY COAL ASH LANDFILL

ACLU MAKES FREE SPEECH CASE DEFENDING RESIDENTS OF LOW-INCOME, MAJORITY BLACK ALABAMA TOWN

June 2, 2016

MOBILE, Ala. — The American Civil Liberties Union today asked a federal court to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed against four people who voiced opposition to a coal ash landfill in their small town.

The defendants, all residents of Uniontown, Alabama — a poor, predominantly Black town with a median per capita income of around $8,000 — are being sued for $30 million by Georgia-based Green Group Holdings because the residents are fighting the hazardous coal ash that the company keeps in a landfill in a residential area.

“This lawsuit involves speech at the very core of the First Amendment,” said Lee Rowland, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “No one should have to face a multimillion-dollar federal lawsuit just for engaging in heartfelt community advocacy. All Americans have a right to speak out against hazardous substances being dumped in their home towns, and the Constitution prevents companies from using lawsuits to silence their critics.”

In 2009, Arrowhead Landfill in Uniontown became the new host for millions of cubic yards of coal ash after it spilled out of a landfill in Tennessee following a catastrophic dike failure. The coal ash in Tennessee contaminated land, rivers, reservoirs, and shore areas surrounding the landfill with arsenic and lead, leading the Environmental Protection Agency to conclude that there was a potential “imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health.”

Residents of Uniontown organized in opposition to what they saw as a racial and environmental injustice, speaking out against the risk to their environment and health, as well as the location of the landfill, which is across the street from several homes and next to one of the town’s historic Black cemeteries. Some 35 residents filed a complaint with the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The complaint alleges that the Alabama Department of Environmental Management violated their civil rights by allowing the Arrowhead Landfill to locate in their predominately Black neighborhood without adequate protections for the health of residents or the environment.

Some citizens also organized a concerned-citizens’ group called the Black Belt Citizens Fighting for Health and Justice, which created a Facebook page that publishes concerns about risks to their environment and health. Green Group sued over the Facebook posts, which included statements such as “we should all have the right to clean air and clean water” and “It affected our everyday life.”

The population of Uniontown is 91 percent Black, and 48 percent live below the poverty line. In addition to being the site of the Arrowhead Landfill — the biggest municipal waste dump in the state — is also the site of a sewage lagoon, catfish farms, and a large cheese processing plant.

The site of the Arrowhead Landfill was once a plantation where Uniontown residents’ Black ancestors — including both enslaved people and tenant farmers — picked cotton, and some are buried in graves near the site. Some Black residents now say that they are unsure about the location and treatment of their ancestors’ remains.

“State officials would never have allowed the landfill to be here if we were a rich, white neighborhood,” said Esther Calhoun, one of the Uniontown residents Green Group is accusing of defamation. “They put it here because we’re a poor, Black community and they thought we wouldn’t fight back. But we are fighting back and we’re not afraid to make our voices heard.”

Before filing the defamation suit, a lawyer for Green Group provided the defendants with a list of demands in exchange for not filing the lawsuit. The “settlement proposal” — which was sent before any lawsuit had been filed — would have required a full apology from each defendant, full-day interviews about their community advocacy, forensic searches of each of our client’s electronic devices, access to the group’s future social media postings, and extensive details about Black Belt Citizens’ membership, advocacy, and communications with other environmental groups. The proposal also would have required each of the defendants to withdraw as complainants in the federal civil rights complaint filed with the EPA.

“Not only have Black people been expected to endure this kind of systematic racial and environmental injustice throughout our nation’s history, they are expected to bear it silently or be subjected to harsh consequences just for advocating for their health and community,” said Dennis Parker, director of the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program. “We want to ensure that our clients don’t have to face that choice in Uniontown.”

The defendants in the case are represented by lawyers from the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy & Technology Project; the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program; the ACLU of Alabama; Charles S. Sims of the law firm Proskauer Rose; and Alabama attorneys Bill Dawson and Matthew Swerdlin.

 

We’re Looking for a Summer Intern!

American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama Foundation

Job Description: Outreach and Communications Intern

2calcual

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The ACLU of Alabama seeks a dynamic Communications and Outreach Intern to develop and implement a variety of communications and organizing strategies to build support for the ACLU’s work. An affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, the mission of the ACLU of Alabama is to protect and advance the civil rights and civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.  This internship is part-time and has a flexible schedule.

Key Responsibilities:

Interns will work under the direct supervision of the Public Advocacy Director, and will have an opportunity to work with the office on a variety of projects and campaigns. Key responsibilities may include:

  • Developing, writing, and editing posts for the ACLU of Alabama’s blog and sharing them on relevant social media.
  • Assisting the Public Advocacy Director with outreach events and the development and implementation of various campaigns.
  • Drafting and posting relevant updates to the organization’s social media platforms.
  • Working with the Executive Director and the Public Advocacy Director to assist in planning, implementing and promoting community events.
  • Strengthening an effective volunteer program and assisting in managing those volunteers.
  • Handling administrative tasks as needed, including managing databases, assisting with large mailings, and filing.

Desired Qualifications:.

  • Experience with and comfort using online media and tools, including social media.
  • A commitment to diversity; a personal approach that values the individual and respects differences of race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, ability and socio-economic circumstance.
  • Strong written and oral communication skills. Fluency in Spanish is a plus but not required.
  • Experience with web management and/or graphic design is a plus.
  • A demonstrated commitment to civil liberties and social justice.
  • Must be a self-starter, highly organized, and detail-oriented with strong interpersonal skills and willing to work in a fast-paced environment.
  • Willing to work some evenings and weekends: some travel may also be required.

To Apply:   Please send a resume, cover letter, and one-page writing sample to lhermo@aclualabama.org. Reference “Internship Application” and your first and last name in the subject line. Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis.

Federal Judge Instructs Alabama’s Mobile County Probate Judge to Issue Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 12, 2015

CONTACT:
Erik Olvera, Communications Director, NCLR, 415-392-6257 ext. 324, Eolvera@NCLRights.org
Brooke Anderson, Communications Manager, ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1750, Media@ACLUAlabama.org

MOBILE, Ala.–Moments ago, United States District Judge Callie V. S. Granade instructed Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Today’s order followed a hearing in which four same-sex couples, who were unable to obtain marriage licenses in Mobile on Monday when marriage equality went into effect in the state, asked Judge Granade to instruct Judge Davis to begin issuing marriage licenses. The order requires Judge Davis to begin issuing licenses immediately. Continue reading

Alabama Same-Sex Couples Ask Federal Court To Require Probate Judge To Issue Marriage Licenses

FOR  IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2015

CONTACT:
Erik Olvera, Communications Director, NCLR, 415-392-6257 ext. 324, Eolvera@NCLRights.org
Brooke Anderson, Communications Manager, ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1750, Media@ACLUAlabama.org

MOBILE, Ala.—Today, four same-sex couples in Mobile, AL asked United States District Judge Callie V. S. Granade to instruct Mobile County Probate Judge Don Davis to issue them marriage licenses after Davis stopped issuing marriage licenses entirely today rather than issue licenses to same-sex couples as Judge Granade previously ordered.

In their request to Judge Granade, the couples explained that each of them appeared at the Davis’s Mobile offices and were denied marriage licenses. The couples’ request explains that they are suffering serious harm each day that they continue to be excluded from marriage. Continue reading

ACLU-AL: Probate offices should adhere to federal same-sex marriage decision

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 9, 2015

CONTACT:
Media Desk, ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1750, media@aclualabama.org

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The following can be attributed to Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama:

“Judge Roy Moore has no authority to trump a federal court’s decision. By issuing his “order”, he has done nothing but create confusion among the different probate offices across the state. Whereas some counties are issuing licenses to same-sex couples, there are many who aren’t. Unfortunately, we have received a number of complaints to that effect.

“But today is still a victorious day because love has triumphed and same-sex marriage IS legal in Alabama. Dreams have come true today, love stories expanded upon…and THAT is something to celebrate fully and joyfully.

“To that end we respectfully ask probate offices to adhere to the federal ruling. In fact, they have sworn to uphold the U.S. Constitution which trumps state law in this matter.”

ACLU-AL Comment on Ala. Supreme Court's Order to Halt Issuing of Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 4, 2015

CONTACT:
Media Desk, ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1750, media@aclualabama.org

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The following can be attributed to Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama regarding the Alabama Supreme Court order to probate judges to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses:

“The Alabama Supreme Court came to a decision on a question that no party presented to them. To that end, it is deeply disappointing that despite marriage equality being on the horizon for the whole nation, Alabama insists on being on the wrong side of history. But it should be understood that this is merely just a bump in the road to marriage equality and we are examining further options to quickly bring it to fruition in Alabama. Same-sex couples should rest assured that the ACLU of Alabama will continue to fight this battle until full marriage equality exists in Alabama.”

ACLU-AL re: AL Supreme Court's Order to Stop Issuing Same-Sex Marriage Licenses

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 3, 2015

CONTACT:
Media Desk, ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1750, media@aclualabama.org

MONTGOMERY, Ala. — The following can be attributed to Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama regarding today’s Alabama Supreme Court order to stop issuing same-sex marriage licenses:

“Our legal team is currently reviewing the Alabama Supreme Court’s decision very carefully and we will issue a prepared statement tomorrow.”

ACLU of Alabama’s Statement on Bentley’s Refugee Ban

The ACLU of Alabama condemns Governor Bentley’s reactionary attempt to refuse to resettle Syrian refuges in the state of Alabama. America is known for welcoming refugees fleeing brutal conflict and offering a safe place for them and their children to live. By refusing to do so, Governor Bentley turns his back on American values and the values of this great state.

Moreover, the Governor does not have the authority to do so. The resettlement of refugees is determined by the U.S. State Department. States don’t have veto power in this area. It violates the Constitution for Governor Bentley to bar an entire group of refugees from coming into the state because of their nationality.

Additionally, singling out Syrian refugees does not make practical sense. The U.S. has a rigorous and multi-layered security screening program in place for refugee resettlement that includes background checks by multiple agencies. Refugees undergo extensive biometric tests, medical screenings, and in-person interviews with Department of Homeland Security officials. We urge Governor Bentley to stop the rhetoric of racial profiling, religious discrimination, and discrimination based on national origin and to uphold the values our constitution protects.

The ACLU of Alabama will continue to do so.

 

 

Planned Parenthood and ACLU File Suit to Protect Care in Alabama

Expanding Access to Affordable Health Care for Alabama Women Is Goal;
New Lawsuit Comes After Jindal Administration Tells Louisiana Court People Can Go to Orthopedists for Family Planning Care

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
August 27, 2015

CONTACT:
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, media.office@ppfa.org; 212-261-4433
ACLU of Alabama, 334-420-1740; swatson@aclualabama.org

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Today Planned Parenthood and the ACLU filed a complaint in a federal district court arguing Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s illegal effort to block patients from accessing care through Medicaid at Planned Parenthood Southeast is driven by a long record of hostility to reproductive health care providers. Next week Planned Parenthood Southeast will be filing a motion for a preliminary injunction in order to protect the ability of Alabama women enrolled in Medicaid to access birth control, lifesaving cancer screenings, and other preventive health services, at Planned Parenthood’s health centers in Alabama.

“We’re in court today because each and every patient, and her ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions, matters,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “Unfortunately, we find ourselves in court once again with state officials who are hell-bent on ending a woman’s ability to make her own deeply personal and private health care decisions. Only this time, instead of going after safe and legal abortion as he has each of the past four years, now Governor Bentley is trying to dictate where a woman can go for contraception and other preventive care if she’s enrolled in Medicaid. Meanwhile, Alabama is dealing with some of the nation’s worst health outcomes, and restricting access to providers will do nothing to help the urgent problems we face.”

The latest research shows there are more than 320,000 Alabama women in need of publicly supported contraceptive services and supplies. One in five women in Alabama doesn’t have health insurance, 16 percent of women are living in poverty in Alabama, and the state ranks 15th highest among 50 states in teen pregnancy rates. While other states have sought to improve health outcomes by expanded access to Medicaid and other health services, access remains a challenge in Alabama, where parents are only eligible for Medicaid at or below 18 percent of the federal poverty level — equivalent to about $2,800 for a mother with one child. Yet Planned Parenthood Southeast cares for 22,000 patients across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi, determined to improve health outcomes for all people, no matter who they are or how much money they make.

In the lawsuit filed today, Planned Parenthood Southeast argues that Governor Bentley’s termination of its Medicaid provider agreement — which came without explanation and only 15 days notice — violates federal law that requires Medicaid patients have their choice of provider to receive family planning care.

“The federal government and several courts have made clear that a state cannot kick Planned Parenthood out of its Medicaid program simply because Planned Parenthood provides abortion,” said Susan Watson, executive director of the ACLU of Alabama, which is representing Planned Parenthood Southeast in the suit. “This is yet another attempt by the State of Alabama to impermissibly target abortion providers for unfair treatment.”

By his own admission, speaking before the Madison County Republican Men’s Club, Governor Bentley’s decision to terminate the agreement with Planned Parenthood Southeast was based upon widely discredited videos generated as part of a fraudulent misinformation campaign against Planned Parenthood and has nothing to do with Planned Parenthood Southeast’s qualifications as a Medicaid provider. In fact, two separate investigations of Planned Parenthood Southeast in Georgia found compliance with state laws (just as officials in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Massachusetts, and South Dakota have found).

Planned Parenthood Southeast has two health centers in Alabama, located in Birmingham and Mobile, and both of these health centers provide care in Health Professional Shortage Areas, which are determined to be areas where primary care professionals are practically inaccessible. OB/GYN providers, including Planned Parenthood health centers, play a critical role in providing primary and preventive care to women in the United States. Almost six in 10 women (58 percent) report seeing an OB/GYN on a regular basis and one-third of women (35 percent) view their OB/GYN provider as their main source of care, with low-income women and women of color reporting that OB/GYN providers, like Planned Parenthood health centers, play an even stronger role in their health care. For many women, OB/GYN providers are their initial entry point into the health care system when they become adults.

“No politician should get to decide whether you can go to Planned Parenthood for care, but yesterday the Jindal administration filed papers with a federal court in Louisiana saying there’s ‘nothing unique’ about Pap tests, breast exams and HIV tests and suggesting the more than 5,200 people who rely on Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast can simply get this care from anesthesiologists, radiologists, cardiologists or orthopedists instead. It’s insulting, it’s outrageous and it’s exactly why we are fighting in Alabama, in Louisiana, in Congress, and anywhere else there are efforts to block women, men and young people from care at Planned Parenthood,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “For 99 years, Planned Parenthood has worked to advance women’s health care, to expand access, and to give women, men and young people more power to build the future they choose. We’re not going anywhere.”

For a copy of the filed complaint, please click here.

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For nearly 100 years, the ACLU has been our nation’s guardian of liberty, working in courts, legislatures, and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and the laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country. Whether it’s achieving full equality for the LGBT community, establishing new privacy protections for our digital age, ending mass incarceration, or preserving the right to vote or the right to have an abortion, the ACLU takes up the toughest civil liberties cases and issues to defend all people from government abuse and overreach. With more than a million members, activists, and supporters, the ACLU is a nationwide organization that fights tirelessly in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., for the principle that every individual’s rights must be protected equally under the law, regardless of race, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or national origin.​