Last Sunday, on the HBO late night talk show Last Week Tonight, comedian John Oliver took on our criminal justice system. He began by showing a clip from Sesame Street, where Muppets were explaining incarceration to children. Like many kids, I grew up watching Sesame Street - most of my memories just involve puppets singing songs about the importance of sharing, counting to 10 in faux accents, or, in the case of Cookie Monster, hunting for cookies.


Earlier today, President Obama signed an executive order to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from workplace discrimination at businesses that contract with the federal government. This was not unexpected, but it is still well worth noting, especially in the context of the blog I posted last week.


Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.

California Nixes the Death Penalty

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled that California’s death penalty violates the  U.S. Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Natasha Minsker, a director of the ACLU of Northern California, said Wednesday’s ruling marked the first time that a federal judge had found  the state’s current system unconstitutional.


In her native country of Burundi, Suavis Furaha was an office manager at the United Food Programme. She left that job behind - along with her country, her husband, and everyone she knew - when she fled the country with her four children in 2013. She fled because she feared for her life and the life of her children; they are safe now but she still fears for the life of her husband, who remains in Burundi. Now Suavis lives in Westbrook with her school-aged kids. She is studying English in Adult Ed; she also speaks French, Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, and Swahili.


On Monday, July 14, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued new federal guidance to protect pregnant workers from job discrimination. These revisions are the first the EEOC has made in the last 30 years. The new guidelines make it clear that any form of workplace discrimination or harassment against pregnant workers is a form of sex discrimination and is, therefore, illegal.


Last week, the Pew Charitable Trust Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation released a report examining state prison health care spending. Overall, Maine has the eighth highest percentage of elderly prisoners in the country, with 15.2% of the population over the age of 50. 


Late last year, when the U.S. Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), it was viewed by many as one of the highlights of an already-historic year for LGBT people. In Maine we have protections so that no one can be fired or not hired based on their sexual orientation, but the majority of states do not have such a law. So when ENDA passed, we celebrated here in Maine.


On Tuesday, Congressional Democrats said that they have created legislation that would override the disappointing June 30 SCOTUS decision on the contraceptive mandate.


This weekend, the Boston Globe published an article focused on Governor LePage’s prioritization of arrests over treatment in response to Maine's rise in drug abuse rates. The article pointed out that last month, the governors of New England convened a meeting to address the sharp rise in opioid overdoses across the region and to discuss best practices to combating this tragic public health problem.


As a new map out from the ACLU makes clear, Maine is a leader on protecting the privacy of our residents. 

The map shows the privacy laws on the books in each state in four areas:


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