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Congressman Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) says libertarian leaning Republicans like himself are having an impact on federal policies involving people’s civil rights. He made the remarks at a town hall meeting Monday night hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union in Grand Rapids.

He points to US Senator Rand Paul’s 13-hour-long filibuster of John Brennan’s nomination as director of the Central Intelligence Agency. That filibuster was, in part, to raise awareness about the ambiguity in the rules governing the use of unmanned drones on American soil.

Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stuart Phillips / Official U.S. Navy Imagery

Congressman Justin Amash (R-Grand Rapids) and the American Civil Liberties Union are teaming up to talk about national security.

Amash is more libertarian than many Republicans. While he and the ACLU don’t see eye to eye on everything, ACLU of Michigan Deputy Director Mary Bejian called Amash “one of the ACLU’s strongest allies in congress on these important national security issues.”

Michigan's sex offenders could face annual fees

Mar 24, 2013
Flickr user borman818

A bill to require the more than 40,000 people on Michigan's sex offender registry to pay an annual fee is igniting a debate over who should bear the costs for operating the system that tracks offenders.

Advocates say juvenile prisoners are at risk

Mar 12, 2013
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Michigan is one of 25 states that allow convicted teens, under the age of 18, to be imprisoned with adults.

Attorney Deborah LaBelle is a juvenile justice advocate with the ACLU. She estimates nearly 200,000 children have been abused in adult prisons. LaBelle recently returned from Washington, D.C. where the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights conducted a hearing on this issue with representatives from the U.S. State Department. The hearing focused on the physical, sexual, and psychological abuse experienced by children when housed with adults in prisons.

"In addition to the physical and psychological harm that's going on, putting children in the adult facilitates also results in them losing the very two things that makes them children: education and contact with their family and parents," LaBelle said in this interview with Jennifer White.

You can listen to the full interview above.

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Several labor unions and the Michigan ACLU have filed a lawsuit in Ingham County Court to overturn Michigan's right-to-work legislation.

This is several days after Gov. Rick Snyder requested that the Michigan Supreme Court review the constitutionality of the law.

The lawsuit argues that the closure of the Capitol to the public during the  passage of  the right-to-work legislation was in violation of  the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution.

It specifically cites the violation of the Open Meetings Act, which states that meetings of a governing body are open to the public unless the meeting is held in a "closed session."

The lawsuit is amended from an earlier complaint filed Dec. 6 2012 after state police blocked off entry to the Capitol.

Police said the closure was a safety precaution, but opponents argue it prevented public input during the session.

Here is what members of the ACLU said in their press release:

“Rushing controversial bills through a lame duck session is a bad way to make public policy under the best of circumstances; doing so on such important issues while the public is shut out of the debate every step of the way is illegal and shameful,” said Kary L. Moss, ACLU of Michigan executive director. “We have a sacred right to peacefully assemble and petition our government. When there is dissent and emotions are running high, our elected leaders should encourage more open debate, not close the doors to concerned voters.”

The lawsuit does not address the actual content of the right-to-work law rather the manner in which the law was passed.

The court brief currently sits in front of County Circuit Judge William Collette for review.

- Marlon Phillips, Michigan Radio Newsroom

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson over her refusal to provide driver’s licenses to some young immigrants.

Last summer, President Obama unveiled the so-called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. It gives undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children authorization to live and work here legally for a two-year period. There are an estimated 15,000 DACA-eligible young people in Michigan.

Michigan Sheriffs' Association

The ACLU of Michigan is suing Secretary of State Ruth Johnson over her decision to deny driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants with work permits granted under a new federal-deferred action plan.

The suit was brought on behalf of three young immigrants and One Michigan, a youth-led advocacy group.

There are approximately 15,000 young people in Michigan who are eligible for the federal program.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a class action lawsuit against Isabella County.

It says the county jail violates the constitutional rights of inmates with cells that are too crowded, and too few opportunities to exercise.

The federal lawsuit also says the jail discriminates against female inmates because they can’t participate in work assignments that could reduce their sentences.   

ACLU attorney Sarah Mehta filed the lawsuit.

User: Brother O'Mara / flickr

ACLU files challenge to state ruling banning election signs in bars and restaurants

"The American Civil Liberties Union filed a legal challenge to a state rule banning election campaign signs at bars and restaurants Thursday. The Michigan Liquor Control Commission rule forbids businesses with liquor licenses from displaying signs endorsing a political candidate or party," Jake Neher reports.

Rapid transit system to be built in Grand Rapids

"Michigan’s first bus rapid transit system will be built in the Grand Rapids area. Federal transportation officials signed the agreement Thursday. Bus rapid transit operates similar to light rail, but at a fraction of the cost. Buses will arrive at stops every ten minutes. They’ll have designated lanes and be able to shift traffic lights so they don’t have to slow down," Lindsey Smith reports.

Expansion of oil pipeline comes under fire in northern Michigan

"A planned expansion of an oil pipeline that passes through the Mackinac Straits is coming under fire. The National Wildlife Federation released a report opposing Enbridge Energy’s plans to increase the amount of oil passing through the straits. Beth Wallace is with the Federation. She fears the nearly 60 year old pipeline could rupture like another Enbridge pipeline near Marshall did in 2010. An Enbridge spokesman says the Calgary-based oil company is reviewing the Federation report," Steve Carmody reports.

Sarah Cwiek / Michigan Radio

The American Civil Liberties Union, the National Consumer Law Center and others have sued investment bank giant Morgan Stanley on behalf of five black Detroit homeowners.

Eight Highland Park school students returned to classes this week as plaintiffs against a school system they say has failed them. Their families and the ACLU say the school district and the state have  denied them the right to learn to read.

“It’s heartbreaking every day when you get up and people look in your face and say: oh, that’s that lady, her daughter can’t read,” says Michelle Johnson. Her daughter is heading into the 12th grade. But she can only read at about a fourth-grade level.

Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

The Grand Rapids suburb of Wyoming will appeal a judge’s ruling that overturned its ban of medical marijuana. Wyoming is one of a handful of Michigan cities with an outright medical marijuanna ban. Others have instituted zoning restrictions.

Wyoming City Manager Curtis Holt says city council worries that medical marijuana will increase crime and cause confusion for police.

Brian D. Hawkins / Creative Commons

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is urging local governments to review their laws regarding panhandling in light of a federal ruling handed down last week.

A federal judge ruled a state law banning panhandling in public places is unconstitutional.

But ACLU staff attorney Miriam Aukerman says one of her clients in that case, James Speet, was arrested for panhandling in Kentwood anyway.


The ACLU is asking a Berrien County judge to dismiss charges against three protestors who were ticketed for being too noisy during the Senior PGA Championship in Benton Harbor last May.

The three were taking part in a larger protest against the golf championship, the development of a city park, and the city’s emergency manager.

A report says as many as 15 people sent complaints to the Attorney General Bill Schuette's office more than a year before an investigation into the water crisis was launched.
Bill Schuette /

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette says hundreds of juveniles sentenced to life without parole for murder or complicity in a murder should not get re-sentencing hearings.

Schuette says a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Michigan’s mandatory life without parole law for juveniles should only apply to future cases. He has asked the state Supreme Court to limit the scope of the federal decision.

Randy Wood is a spokesman for the attorney general. He says Schuette believes re-sentencing hearings would be a mistake.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit yesterday that may change the entire conversation we’ve been having about education, in this state and perhaps beyond. Their focus is on the battered and impoverished little enclave city of Highland Park, which is embedded within Detroit.

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The American Civil Liberties Union is suing on behalf of more than 950 Highland Park Public Schools students and their parents, claiming children aren't receiving an adequate reading education.

ACLU of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss told reporters at a news conference Thursday the lawsuit is about the "right of children to read."

The suit against the state and others seeks class-action status.

State lawmakers are discussing whether to limit employers' ability to demand passwords to social media sites.

A bill would bar companies from asking employees or job applicants to hand over passwords to their Twitter, Facebook or other accounts.

flickr user FatMandy /

Teen offenders in Michigan are worse off than teens in other states.

That's according to a new report from Michigan-based Second Chances 4 Youth and the state chapter of the ACLU

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According to a new state law signed today, it's now illegal to lie or conceal facts from Michigan police officers who are investigating a crime.

The law says people do not give up their right to remain silent, but if they do talk, they have to tell the truth.

Sergeant Dwayne Gill is with the Michigan State Police.

“This law kind of mirrors the federal law on lying to federal agents. When we’re interviewing individuals, it’s a tool that law enforcement can use to elicit the truth in investigating crimes.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union says the law appears to be constitutional.

But a spokesperson says the ACLU is concerned about unintended consequences -- such as people not reporting crimes, or witnesses who refuse to cooperate with authorities because they’re afraid of being charged if they make a mistake.

The ACLU and the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center have filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Luis Valdez and his mother Telma Valdez. Telma was born in Guatemala but is a legal, permanent U.S. resident. Her son Luis is a U.S. citizen.

The lawsuit alleges ICE agents illegally detained the two in February of last year when Valdez and his mother pulled up to a relative’s home in Grand Rapids for a visit. He says U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers approached them with their guns drawn.

It’s alleged the agents illegally detained and interrogated the two; even after they produced proof they are legal U.S. residents.  

Michigan Department of Corrections

 The Michigan American Civil Liberties Union is criticizing Michigan’s only women’s prison for conducting invasive strip searches.

The ACLU says the Women’s Huron Valley Correctional Facility uses invasive body cavity searches after family visits, whether or not they believe a woman is hiding contraband.

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled law enforcement officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense before admitting them to jails.

user GPDII /

The Michigan State Police is opening an internal investigation into a traffic stop that has raised allegations of racial profiling.

The ACLU called on the Michigan State Police to look into the February traffic stop of an American citizen of Mexican descent.

During the traffic stop in Livonia, the ACLU claims the state trooper interrogated about the man about his immigration status, apparently not believing the man’s claims that he is a naturalized citizen.

The driver was handcuffed, threatened with deportation and federal immigration agents were called.

The man was eventually released after his claim of being a legal U.S. citizen was confirmed.

In a written statement, the head of the Michigan State police says the department “expects its members to perform their duties in a professional and impartial manner”, adding the department does not condone “bias profiling”.

The U.S. Circuit Court in Cincinnati will hear arguments tomorrow about Michigan's constitutional amendment barring state universities from considering an applicant’s race in college admissions.

Michigan voters overwhelmingly approved ‘proposition 2’ in 2006. The amendment bars state colleges and other publicly funded institutions from considering an applicant’s minority status.

Mark Rosenbaum is with the American Civil Liberties Union. He says Prop 2 violates the U.S. Constitution by forbidding the consideration of race, while other factors like whether a college applicant’s parent is an alumnus, are still permitted.

“That’s un-American because it removes ‘racial identity’ from the vocabulary of a democracy," says Rosenbaum.  

Last year, a federal appellate court ruled against Prop 2.  Joy Yearout is with the Michigan Attorney General’s office.  She says the Attorney General finds a serious problem with that ruling.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals said that by banning racial discrimination it somehow perpetuates discrimination," says Yearout, "And if that sounds crazy to you, there’s a reason.  It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The case may eventually end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Michigan ACLU fights anti-begging law

Feb 17, 2012
Annie Green Springs / Flickr

Michigan’s law against peaceful begging in public was challenged in federal court this week by the American Civil Liberties Union. 

ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman says peaceful begging is protected speech under the First  Amendment.

“Begging is not a crime, asking for help is not a crime, being poor is not a crime. There’s been so much economic turmoil, and penalizing poor people because they need help is wrong….and unconstitutional.”

James Speet says he’s been arrested at least eight times in the Grand Rapids area for holding up a sign that reads “Need job… God bless.”

Speet, who’s often homeless, says he never hassles people.

“I don’t approach anybody unless I’m called over to them, by them. That way there’s never no people feeling like I’m being aggressive toward them, or anything like that. I let them come to me.”

The ACLU of Michigan says the Grand Rapids Police Department has arrested nearly 400 people for peaceful begging since 2008.

(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)

The Michigan Supreme Court today will consider a case that affects the 131,000 medical marijuana patients in Michigan. The case centers on where patients can grow their marijuana.   

Larry Steven King grew his medical marijuana plants in a locked dog kennel at his home in Owosso. King has a medical marijuana card. But police charged him with growing marijuana illegally. The kennel did not have roof.  

Prosecutors say that means it did not meet the state requirement for an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ . 

Attorney John Minock represents Larry King. Minock says the problem is with the Michigan Medical Marihuana Act, which he says is vague on what exactly an ‘enclosed, locked facility’ actually entails.   

“Larry was trying to comply with the law, as he understood it," says Minock, "The law on this area is not really clear.” The case split the lower courts. The trial court dismissed the charges, finding that the marijuana had been stored properly. But the Court of Appeals sided with prosecutors that the kennel did not meet the law’s requirements.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is suing Governor Snyder over the state’s new law banning domestic partner benefits.

Snyder signed the controversial law just before Christmas.

It prohibits school districts, counties and other public employers from extending health insurance coverage to employees’ unmarried domestic partners. State universities are exempted.

The ACLU filed suit on behalf of four couples. One plaintiff is Doak Bloss of East Lansing, whose partner of 18 years stands to lose his benefits under the new law.

Last month, shortly after Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed a ban on healthcare benefits for the domestic partners of some public employees, the American Civil Liberties Union released a statement decrying the governor's decision and promised to "challenge the constitutionality of the law on behalf of families who will lose their health protections."

Now it looks like they are moving forward with that promise, according to a story from the Associated Press.

The AP reports that the ACLU "says it will file a lawsuit to challenge" the law and that the group "will discuss the case at a news conference Thursday in Detroit."

- John Wilson, Michigan Radio Newsroom

The state corrections department plans to test the use of tasers in four state prisons.   

The pilot program is intended to see if the electro-shock devices can be effective when dealing with unruly and uncooperative prison inmates. 

Andy Potter is the vice president of the state prison guards union. He says the  union has wanted to arm guards with tasers for years.  

Potter says "being able to utilize them when an inmate is being disruptive just makes sense.”     

The American Civil Liberties Union is raising some concerns about the plan. The ACLU says the corrections department should implement clear guidelines for the use of tasers so that they are not misused.  

Tasers are used by many law enforcement agencies, but their use has been criticized by groups who point to incidents of abuse and even death.

Annie Green Springs /

The Michigan ACLU filed a lawsuit in federal court today asking a judge to nullify a state law that prohibits panhandling in public places.

The lawsuit names Michigan state attorney general Bill Schuette, the Grand Rapids Chief of Police Kevin Belk, and Grand Rapids police officer Gregory Bauer as defendants.

The state law in question defines a "disorderly person" in part as a person who is "found begging in a public place."

ACLU of Michigan representatives say between January 1, 2008 and May 24, 2011, the Grand Rapids Police Department "produced 399 incident reports of individuals prosecuted under the unconstitutional state statute" - prosecutions that ACLU representatives say say led to 1,641 days in jail and $60,000 in expenses to taxpayers.

More from the ACLU of Michigan's press release:

“Anti-begging laws that punish that most vulnerable segment of our society are not only harsh, they are unconstitutional,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan staff attorney. "Removing the reminders of poverty from our sight is not the answer to Michigan’s economic woes. We need laws and practices that provide compassionate solutions for our growing homeless population.”

ACLU lawyers filed the lawsuit on behalf of two Grand Rapids residents, James Speet and Ernest Sims.

The lawsuit indicates the two have been "repeatedly arrested or ticketed by police for violating the state’s blanket ban on begging in public."

“I see people holding up signs throughout the city advertising restaurants or protesting and they don’t get arrested or ticketed,” said Speet. “I don’t understand why my sign is any different just because I’m homeless and looking for a job.”