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


Pennsylvania Voter-ID Victory

Grainne wrote in her blog this week, "Our democracy is at its strongest when all our citizens are able to freely participate." Correspondingly, voting laws are designed to protect democracy and ensure free participation. Today, Pennsylvania state judge Bernard L. McGinley struck down a 2012 Voter-ID law – stating that the law does not further this goal.

“The type of problem that is addressed by voter ID laws is virtually nonexistent, which does raise the question of why they are passing these laws,” Witold Walczak, legal director of the A.C.L.U. of Pennsylvania, said after Friday’s ruling. “And the answer is that it is a voter suppression tool.”

Read more about how this decision sets up a possible Supreme Court confrontation that could have an impact on similar laws across the country here.

Obama’s NSA Speech

President Obama outlined his specific changes to his Administration’s approach to intelligence in a speech at the Department of Justice this morning: 

“I have often reminded myself that I would not be where I am today were it not for the courage of dissidents, like Dr. King, who were spied on by their own government; as a President who looks at intelligence every morning, I also can’t help but be reminded that America must be vigilant in the face of threats.”

Obama announced a series of reforms to the current intelligence activities. These reforms include strengthening the executive branch oversight of intelligence programs and providing greater transparency to surveillance activities. However, Obama firmly stated the bulk collection of telephone records was invaluable to our security.  

Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU responded accordingly:

“The president's decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans' data remains highly troubling. The president outlined a process to study the issue further and appears open to alternatives. But the president should end — not mend — the government's collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans' data."

Watch the full speech here.

In local news…

 LD 1428, An Act to Protect Religious Freedom

A carload of ACLU staff drove to Augusta yesterday with a mission: to join a coalition of opponents to LD 1428, An Act to Protect Religious Freedom.

This bill would restore the “compelling interest” test  (as set forth in Wisconsin v. Yoder and Sherbert v. Verner) and provide a defense to a person whose exercise of religion is burdened by state action or law. The definition of exercise of religion includes “the ability to act or refuse to act in a manner substantially motivated by one’s sincerely held religious belief, whether or not the exercise is compulsory or central to a larger system of religious belief.”

Oami testified on behalf of the ACLU of Maine, offering a valid hypothetical situation:

 “LD 1428 would … pit religions against each other, leaving the state and courts in an impossible position … In a case where a store owner of one faith refuses to serve a customer of a different faith, who would win? It is hard to imagine how a court would resolve such a dispute without running afoul of the First Amendment.”

Read more about yesterday’s hearing here.