We’re ready for you, 2020.
This year brought many national and local challenges to civil rights and civil liberties as children continued to be taken from their parents by ICE, lawmakers attempted to chip away at abortion rights, the federal government pushed to take away protections for people who are transgender, and lawmakers implemented new restrictions on the right to vote.
But the ACLU of North Carolina, backed by thousands of North Carolinians, fought back. We should all be proud of our accomplishments and victories over attacks on our constitutional rights from this past year. And as 2020 approaches, we want to recognize the ways you showed up and the wins you made happen for justice, freedom, and equality in our state.
Here are important victories and strides in the fight for justice in North Carolina from the past year:
We raised the age of juvenile jurisdiction (and it’s a big deal). North Carolina was the last state in the country to treat 16- and 17-year olds as adults in the criminal legal system. Starting this December, “Raise the Age” went into effect so that most 16- and 17-year-old youths charged with misdemeanors and some low-level felonies will no longer be tried in adult court and will instead go through the juvenile justice system. No longer will a young person who makes one bad decision and is charged with even the most minor offense be housed in an adult jail or saddled with the consequences of a lifelong criminal record. We have finally ended a century of a harmful and outdated policy that put our young people at a greater risk of suicide, sexual assault, and future criminal activity.
A judge struck down a sexist school dress code in Brunswick County. In 2018, we sued Charter Day School, a public charter school in Leland, over their outdated policies that required girls to wear skirts to school and punished them if they wore pants. This year a federal court agreed that this policy was discriminatory and ordered the school to change their dress code so that girls could wear pants to school.
We defeated anti-immigrant bills in the General Assembly. During the legislative session this year, anti-immigrant lawmakers introduced several bills that would have negatively impacted our immigrant community. Among them was House Bill 370, a bill that would force collaboration between sheriffs and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). We mobilized with supporters, partners, and coalitions to secure Governor Cooper’s veto on H.B. 370 and other anti-immigrant measures.
A federal court overturned North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban. This dangerous and unconstitutional law was written by politicians to intimidate doctors and interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions. It prevented doctors from providing needed care to patients, denied people the ability to make decisions about their own bodies, and prevented some people with fewer resources from accessing treatment at all. Together with Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, we filed a lawsuit to challenge the law. This year, a federal court overturned the ban and affirmed that people have a constitutional right to make their own decisions about their pregnancy.
We made strides in achieving LGBTQ equality. We reached a settlement in our lawsuit challenging the infamous House Bill 2 and its replacement law House Bill 142 which states that these hateful laws cannot be used to bar people who are transgender from using public restrooms that match their gender in North Carolina government buildings. It is an important victory but not a complete one. Local protections for LGBTQ people are still banned under state law.
Kanautica Zayre-Brown, a woman who is transgender and incarcerated, was transferred to a women’s facility. For almost two years, Kanautica was incarcerated in a men’s facility, in violation of federal law and at great risk to her personal safety and well being. Following our letter to the Department of Public Safety and pressure from people in the community, Kanautica was finally transferred to a women’s facility this year.f
We sued on behalf of incarcerated people who are being held in solitary confinement. Right now, thousands of people are incarcerated in solitary confinement — held in prison cells no bigger than a parking spot and denied human contact, sunlight, and fresh air for 22 to 24 hours a day. North Carolina’s use of solitary confinement is cruel, unnecessary, and does not lead to safer prison conditions. We are challenging this practice with N.C. Prisoner Legal Services to stop the prevalence of this inhumane practice across our state.
We filed a lawsuit to end unjust cash bail practices in Alamance County. We’re working to move our state away from the failed and racist policies fueling mass incarceration. This year we filed a lawsuit to challenge Alamance County’s use of unjust cash bail that keeps people locked up without ever being convicted of a crime. Money should never determine someone’s freedom, and this practice strips people of their rights, targets poor people and people of color, and hurts families and communities.
The work continues as we move into 2020 -- an important year that, no doubt, will see challenges to issues that matter most to you. We know the attacks won’t stop, but we’re glad to have you fighting alongside us. Your calls and messages to elected officials, your presence at rallies, and your donations to our work made a difference and sent a loud and clear message: we will protect the rights of all North Carolinians. We hope you’ll stick with us as we gear up for a momentous year because, with your support, we’ll be ready.