Each Friday, we’ll bring you updates on the latest civil liberties news from Maine and the nation.
Pete Seeger’s Vision
Pete Seeger, singer, songwriter, peace activist, and civil liberties champion extraordinaire, died on Monday at age 94. The ACLU mourns the loss of a man who sang out in the name of freedom of expression and association.
He will be remembered for his articulate call to action:
“I’m fighting because
I want a better America, and better laws
And better homes, and jobs, and schools
And no more Jim Crow, and no more rules like
‘You can’t ride on this train ’cause you’re a Negro’
‘You can’t live here ’cause you’re a Jew’
‘You can’t work here ’cause you’re a union man.”
Rejecting the Death Penalty
On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was authorizing trail prosecutors to seek the death penalty against accused Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
“After consideration of the relevant facts, the applicable regulations and the submissions made by the defendant’s counsel, I have determined that the United States will seek the death penalty in this matter. The nature of the conduct at issue and the resultant harm compel this decision,” Holder said in a brief statement released Thursday afternoon.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts objected to Holder’s decision.
Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts stated: “After the horrible marathon attack, this community rallied around the slogan ‘Boston Strong.’ Even — and especially — in a case like this, that means not letting terrorists or anyone else shake us from staying true to our values.”
Keeping an Eye on Stop-and-Frisk Tactics
On Thursday, the new Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio made good on his campaign promise to settle the stop-and-frisk issue. He announced that the city is moving to end its appeal of a ruling that found the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk tactic unconstitutional. He stated that the city would appoint a federal monitor to oversee reforms to the stop-and-frisk tactics. The civil rights community and the ACLU applaud this step forward.
Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, reacted with pragmatism: “Of course we understand that the culture of the largest police force in the country cannot happen overnight.”
Transgender Student Rights
On Thursday, Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled that a school district violated the Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) when school officials prohibited a transgender fifth-grader from using the girls’ bathroom. The MHRA bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This is the first time the Court has had an opportunity to interpret MHRA protections against transgender discrimination, and the first time that a state high court has found that a transgender person should use the bathroom of the gender with which they identify.