ACLU Launches New State Supreme Court Initiative to Advance Rights at the State Level
NEW YORK — Today the American Civil Liberties Union is launching its new State Supreme Court Initiative to fight for the expansion of civil liberties and civil rights through state constitutions. Through this initiative, the ACLU is dedicating significant new resources to pursuing cases at the state supreme court level.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court is increasingly unwilling to protect – let alone expand – rights, the ACLU is turning to state courts to protect and defend the rights of individuals. State constitutions often protect more rights than the U.S. Constitution, making them a powerful backstop against the attacks of those looking to curtail rights.
This litigation strategy will build on the organization’s existing work in state supreme courts and will expand the organization’s litigating capacity. With lawyers in every state in the country, the ACLU is uniquely situated to do this important work and to develop cross-state expertise on state constitutional litigation.
To lead this work, the ACLU has hired Julie Murray and Matthew Segal as senior staff attorneys, working closely with ACLU National Legal Director David Cole, for the State Supreme Court Initiative. Collectively, Julie and Matthew bring nearly 30 years of experience in public interest litigation, including at the state level and in both civil and criminal settings. Together they will work with ACLU state affiliates and local litigators to identify opportunities where state constitutions provide powerful tools to advance rights.
“Last year’s Supreme Court term was the most conservative in a century, as President Trump’s three nominees exercised their newfound power to rule against liberty and shrink our constitutional rights. But we’re not letting that stop our work,” said ACLU National Legal Director David Cole. “We will continue to press the federal courts to meet their responsibility to protect rights. But we’re also taking the fight to the states – we’re showing up at the state level to ensure people receive the most protections possible in their state.”
The initiative will build on progress that the ACLU has already made in state courts on issues ranging from abortion access and LGBTQ rights to gerrymandering and criminal legal reform. Some of those wins include:
- Gerrymandering – Ohio: Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering is beyond the reach of the federal courts, the ACLU and its Ohio affiliate won state supreme court rulings that Ohio’s redistricting maps violate a state constitutional provision that bans partisan gerrymandering.
- Abortion Access – Montana: The ACLU of Montana, together with the Center for Reproductive Rights, blocked a state law that prevented qualified clinicians, including nurse practitioners and nurse midwives, from providing early abortion services.
- Equality/LGBTQ Rights – North Carolina: In North Carolina, the ACLU of North Carolina secured a temporary restraining order and a court-ordered settlement on the ground that school officials had violated the Equal Protection Clause of the state constitution when they forbade a transgender boy from using the boys’ bathroom.
- Criminal Justice – Massachusetts: The ACLU of Massachusetts, together with public defenders and other advocates, has won a series of victories at the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court setting out rules for addressing mass outbreaks of wrongful convictions. These victories have overturned tens of thousands of wrongful convictions arising from drug scandals in Massachusetts, including the single largest court-ordered dismissal of wrongful convictions in U.S. history.
The State Supreme Court Initiative’s caseload will include existing cases, such as an abortion access case in Utah and a case regarding transparency for police misconduct in Massachusetts, as well as new opportunities identified through the initiative.
More information on how the ACLU has advanced rights through state constitutions can be found in our report: Our New Federalism: Using State Constitutions and Statutes to Advance Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Julie Murray, Senior Staff Attorney, State Supreme Court Initiative
Prior to the ACLU, Julie was a litigator at Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), where she brought challenges around the country to restrictions on sexual and reproductive health and education. During her time at PPFA, Julie led numerous high-profile cases advancing novel state constitutional claims. Those cases established, for example, that the South Carolina Constitution’s right to privacy bars a six-week abortion ban, and that a Texas abortion ban relying on citizen enforcement is an unlawful delegation of state power.
Matthew Segal, Senior Staff Attorney, State Supreme Court Initiative
Matt joins the National ACLU after serving for 11 years as Legal Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts. At ACLUM, Matt led a team of lawyers and legal professionals in advocacy across a range of issues in both state and federal courts. Matt has argued cases that secured the release of more than 5,000 people from state prisons and jails during the COVID pandemic; temporarily halted President Trump’s first travel ban; recognized state constitutional protection for cell phone location data; and dismissed more than 61,000 wrongful drug charges in the Sonja Farak and Annie Dookhan lab scandals.
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.