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This Week in Civil Liberties (8/10/2012)

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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August 10, 2012

In which state did a charter school attempt to violate female students’ Title IX rights by forcing them to choose between taking a pregnancy test or getting kicked out of school?

Which ACLU affiliate recently released a report that documents unconstitutional police harassment of photographers?

Which constitutional amendment ought to protect the expression of “liking” something on Facebook?

Which court ruled this week that GPS tracking could be used against defendants who were tracked before the Supreme Court’s United States v. Jones decision?

In which state did police seize approximately $3 million from drivers, who were never arrested or charged with a crime, during traffic stops?

Get Tested Or Get Out: School Forces Pregnancy Tests on Girls, Kicks out Students Who Refuse or are Pregnant

In a Louisiana public school, female students who are suspected of being pregnant were told that they must take a pregnancy test. Under school policy, those who are pregnant or refuse to take the test are kicked out and forced to undergo home schooling. After the ACLU wrote to the school board protesting the policy, the board rescinded the rule, which violated the Constitution and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

NYPD’s Backwards Policy on Photography at Occupy Wall Street

Under the First Amendment, Americans have the right to observe and record members of the police force in the public discharge of their duties. Conversely, the New York Police Department’s right to conduct photo and video surveillance on citizens engaging in lawful protest is limited, with very few exceptions, to circumstances in which “it reasonably appears that unlawful conduct is about to occur, is occurring, or has occurred.” As a report released this week by the New York Civil Liberties Union starkly illustrates, though, these rules bear little relation to what is actually happening. Police continue to subject photographers to harassment, injury, and arrest.

ACLU & Facebook Tell Appeals Court That “Like” Is Free Speech

This week, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in an appeal of a federal judge’s ruling in May that “liking” something on Facebook is not speech protected by the First Amendment. In the case, now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, employees of a Virginia sheriff who was running for reelection were fired for “liking” the sheriff’s opponent’s webpage on Facebook and taking other actions to indicate their support for the opponent. Those employees brought a First Amendment lawsuit against the sheriff, B.H. Roberts, who fired them after he won the election.

Bad News On Warrantless GPS Tracking

On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a disappointing but fortunately narrow decision in a case involving warrantless tracking of a vehicle with a GPS device. The three-judge panel refused to exclude GPS tracking evidence under what’s known as the “good faith” exception, ruling that when the tracking took place, law enforcement agents reasonably relied on binding circuit court precedent in concluding that no warrant was necessary. The tracking happened before the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Jones that GPS device tracking triggers Fourth Amendment protections.

Settlement Means No More Highway Robbery in Tenaha, Texas

Last Friday, the ACLU settled a class-action lawsuit, pending court approval, against officials in the East Texas town of Tenaha and Shelby County, over the rampant practice of stopping and searching drivers, almost always Black or Latino, and often seizing their cash and other valuable property. The money seized went directly into department coffers. It was highway robbery, targeting those who could least afford to challenge the officers’ abuse of power, under the guise of a so-called “drug interdiction” program and made possible by Texas’s permissive civil asset forfeiture laws.

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