The 3 a.m. emails are usually from Walt McKee, a lawyer with a legendary work ethic who appears to need no sleep. Since the beginning of my tenure at the ACLU of Maine, Walt has been our chief ally on any and all legislative proposals before the Criminal Justice Committee of the Maine State Legislature.
He has analyzed, testified, and lobbied on hundreds of bills, and the amazing part is that he does it all as a volunteer, outside of the significant time he dedicates to a busy law practice. Walt is making a difference every day, fighting to improve Maine's criminal justice laws to protect civil liberties and community safety.
This matters in a country where approximately 6 million of our fellow citizens are incarcerated. The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world, and a huge part of that problem is that there are not enough Walt McKees -- experts who can volunteer their time and provide sensible alternatives to the "lock 'em up" approach. In an era where politicians compete to appear "tough on crime" regardless of the real-world consequences to our families and community, Walt is a voice of reason -- arguing passionately and effectively for a better way.
In today's Portland Press Herald, Senator David Hastings (R-Fryeburg), noted that in championing the rights of the accused, "Walter has always been able to do that in a way the Legislature has been receptive to, understanding of and responsive to."
In addition to his extraordinary pro bono advocacy before the legislature, Walt also volunteers his time on important civil liberties cases. Just this year, Walt and ACLU of Maine Legal Director Zach Heiden obtained a unanimous decision from the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in the Fourth Amendment case of State of Maine v. Ronald LaPlante. The court found that it was unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment for a state trooper to stop a vehicle for the sole purpose of obtaining information about another vehicle that the trooper had observed speeding.
Tonight, the ACLU of Maine is proud to honor Walt McKee with the Justice Louis Scolnik award for extraordinary civil liberties advocacy. Justice Louis Scolnik was the founder of the ACLU of Maine back in 1968. He had a vision of a more just and fair Maine, and Walt works tirelessly toward that vision. Earlier this year, the New Yorker noted that, "The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life." We need moral voices of authority to change our approach to criminal justice and end this moral scandal: Walt is one of the most consistent and effective moral voices of our time here in Maine.