From the White House to the North Carolina General Assembly, lawmakers spent much of 2018 seeking to attack or diminish the civil rights and civil liberties that we all hold dear. But time and again, the ACLU of North Carolina, our members, and our partners, pushed back, working in courts, communities, and beyond to secure some important victories for justice, freedom, and equality.
Here, in chronological order, are 10 times in 2018 when We the People were able to protect or advance civil rights and civil liberties in North Carolina.
State Prisons Stopped Banning a Book about Mass Incarceration. In January, we learned that the N.C. Department of Public Safety banned people who are incarcerated from reading Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, the best-selling 2010 book that explains how, by targeting Black men through the War on Drugs and mass incarceration, the criminal justice system has created a “well-disguised system of racialized social control that functions in a manner strikingly similar to Jim Crow.” We sent officials a letter and spoke out in the press demanding that the unconstitutional and cruelly ironic book ban be lifted. In less than 24 hours, officials backed down and agreed to allow people who are incarcerated to have access to the book.
The ACLU of North Carolina Launched a Statewide Campaign for Smart Justice. As part of the ACLU’s unprecedented nationwide effort to end racial disparities in the criminal justice system and reduce the number of people incarcerated by half, we launched the North Carolina Campaign for Smart Justice. This statewide effort will seek to move our state away from the failed policies of mass incarceration and pursue a new vision of justice and safety, beginning with the elimination of our state’s unjust for-profit cash bail system, which strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities. We hired new campaign staff, including our first-ever full-time staff in Charlotte and Wilmington, held a series of public education forums, and worked with officials and advocates across the state to build power and create a roadmap for change.
A State Legislator Agreed to Turn Over Public Records. In a victory for transparency, state Representative Beverly Boswell agreed to release public records of phone and email correspondence between her office and the residents and businesses she represents after the ACLU-NC filed a lawsuit on behalf of one of her constituents who had requested the public records for more than a year.
Rowan County’s Unconstitutional and Coercive Prayer Practice Ended, For Good. In an important victory for the rights of all people to be free from religious coercion by government officials, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not review a lower-court ruling that found the county commissioners of Rowan County violated the Constitution by coercing members of the public to join in sectarian prayers. The high court’s decision brought a successful conclusion to a 5-year-long legal challenge we filed on behalf of three Rowan County residents.
Greensboro Repealed an Unconstitutional Panhandling Ordinance. The ACLU and other groups filed a legal challenge to a Greensboro ordinance that made it a crime for people to ask for money in public places, a measure aimed at “aggressive panhandling.” We challenged the policy on behalf of three people who have experienced homelessness because such a punitive approach is wrong and asking people for money in public spaces is protected by the First Amendment. Just six days after we filed our lawsuit, the Greensboro City Council voted to rescind its unconstitutional ordinance.
Farmworkers Won An Important Victory for their Right to Organize. A federal court protected the right of the state’s only farmworkers’ union, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, to fight for safe working conditions and fair pay. More than 90 percent of these workers are Latinx. Many are migrants working seasonally under temporary visas, and they are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable workers in the state. The ACLU-NC and other groups are representing FLOC in a legal challenge to a 2017 state law that made it all but impossible for the union to operate.
A Federal Court Said that Transgender People Can’t Be Barred from Facilities that Match Who They Are. North Carolina law does not prevent transgender people from using public restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity, a federal court ruled this October in our ongoing legal battle over the measure that replaced House Bill 2, North Carolina’s notorious 2016 law that barred transgender people from using facilities that matched who they are. The court also said our lawsuit challenging the replacement law’s ban on local protections for LGBTQ people could go forward.
North Carolina’s Two Largest Counties Ended Anti-Immigrant Programs. For years, sheriffs in Wake and Mecklenburg counties helped to fuel the federal government’s deportation machine through the 287(g) program, a partnership with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) that encourages racial profiling, terrorizes communities, and diverts resources from local law enforcement. This election, we worked with local activists to educate voters about this harmful anti-immigrant policy. Voters in both counties elected new sheriffs who not only pledged to end their 287(g) agreements but did so within their first week of taking office. The results sent a clear message to elected officials that if they pursue anti-immigrant policies, voters can and will hold them accountable.
Voters Pushed Back on the General Assembly’s Power Grab. North Carolina voters soundly rejected two proposed amendments to the state constitution that would have taken power away from the governor to make appointments to empty judicial seats and the State Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement, respectively, and give that power instead to the General Assembly. The results showed that voters strongly believe in our state government’s separation of powers and do not support extreme power grabs by state legislators bent on rigging the system in their favor.
Gov. Cooper Expanded Pregnancy Protections for Some State Workers. Following advocacy from the ACLU-NC and others, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order in December that provides on-the-job protections to state workers who are pregnant. The order also encourages companies that receive state contracts to provide the same protections to their employees.
Our work on these issues and more is possible because of the continued support of our members and supporters. Please considering making a gift to help us continue fighting for civil rights and civil liberties in 2019 and beyond.