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This Year in Civil Liberties – 2012

Rekha Arulanantham,
Litigation Fellow,
ACLU National Prison Project
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December 31, 2012

In which state did politicians attempt to pass a bill that would allow anti-abortion doctors to lie to their patients in order to prevent them from ending their pregnancies?

The “Criminalizing Protest” Bill raises issues of significance to which Constitutional amendment?

A school in which state forced female students to take pregnancy tests and then kicked out students who refused or were pregnant?

Which news organization reported on the failure of Florida’s costly and unconstitutional bill mandating suspicion-less drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)?

In which state is a grandmother and non-violent, first-time drug offender serving a life without parole sentence because of unnecessarily punitive sentencing laws?

Kansas to Pregnant Women: “A Little Lie from Your Doctor Won’t Hurt You”

In March, we wrote about a 70-page anti-abortion bill with a provision that would immunize a doctor who discovers that a baby will be born with a devastating condition and deliberately withholds that information from his patient. That’s right. If the bill had passed, a doctor who opposes abortion could lie to you so that you won’t have information that might lead you to decide to end your pregnancy or that might lead you to learn more about your child’s condition so that you are prepared to be the best parent you can be to your child.

The bill passed the Kansas House in May, but thankfully died in the Senate later in the year.

How Big a Deal is H.R. 347, That “Criminalizing Protest” Bill?

This year has seen significant concern about an unassuming bill with an unassuming name: the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011.” The bill, H.R. 347, has been variously described as making the First Amendment illegal or criminalizing the Occupy protests.

The truth is more mundane, but the issues raised are still of major significance for the First Amendment.

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

Welcome to Delhi Charter School, in Delhi, La., a school of 600 students that did not believe its female students have a right to education free from discrimination.

In August, the ACLU of Louisiana and the ACLU Women’s Rights Project asked Delhi Charter School to immediately suspend a discriminatory and illegal policy that required female students suspected of being pregnant to take a pregnancy test. Those who were pregnant or refused to take the test were kicked out and forced to undergo home schooling.

After a firestorm of negative opinion, the school agreed to retract the policy and develop a new one that complied with Title IX and the Constitution.

Just as We Suspected: Florida Saved Nothing by Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

Last year, Florida became the first state to pass and fully implement a bill mandating suspicion-less drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law mandated that all applicants pay for the cost of the drug test themselves, and that they be reimbursed if their test came back negative. The law was in effect a mere four months before the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit and a federal court blocked the law, saying it was unconstitutional.

In April, the New York Times released the most comprehensive data yet on how the law fared during the short period of time it was in effect. We already knew the law was a failure; what we didn’t know was just how much of a failure it was.

Without a Card to Play, Texas Grandma Sentenced to Life Without Parole for First-Time Drug Offense

Texans can sleep more soundly knowing that Elisa Castillo, a grandmother and nonviolent first-time drug offender, is serving a life without parole sentence in Fort Worth. Yes, you read that right — a casualty of our War on Drugs is a grandmother who never even touched the drugs that sent her to prison. Though she may not look like public enemy No. 1, our persistently illogical criminal justice system has determined that this harsh punishment fits her crime. The truth, though, is that her fate was sealed, in large part because she didn’t have a card to play when negotiating her sentence.

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