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President Obama, Michael Vick, and Santa Claus

In the final days of the year, typically dominated by annual “best of” lists, a simple call by President Obama managed to spurt multiple headlines and ignite a flurry of conversations.

In his call to Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, President Obama reportedly applauded the team for giving quarterback Michael Vick a second chance. In 2007 Vick pleaded guilty to charges related to practices of animal cruelty, and served a 19-month sentence in federal prison. The President reportedly told Lurie, “So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. It's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail.”

The President’s call emphasized an important reality that more and more political leaders and policymakers are acknowledging: America has a big problem with over-incarceration, and its pernicious effects are not limited to the grim confines inside of jailhouse walls. Read More »


Do the Feds know what’s in YOUR stocking?

Big Brother is watching, and you might not even realize that you are the one being watched!  A recent story on revealed that:  “Federal law enforcement agencies have been tracking Americans in real-time using credit cards, loyalty cards and travel reservations” without the subscriber ever finding out – when the administrative subpoena is served with a Court Order for Non-Disclosure.

That’s right: the government is keeping tabs on your credit card purchases. Read More »


State Supreme Court to Hear Appeal of Firing of Medical Marijuana Patient

The ACLU of Washington has filed a friend-of-the-court brief saying that the firing of an employee for using marijuana at home for medicinal purposes was wrongful. The ACLU brief urges that the rights of individuals under our state’s medical marijuana law be protected. The Washington Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the employee’s case on January 18, 2011. Read More »

Reminder to the SPD: Words Matter

Many people were shocked to hear a Seattle Police officer threatening to “kick the fucking Mexican piss” out of a Latino man in South Lake Union last April.  Why did he choose to use those words when the man was already face-down on the ground in the middle of a circle of police officers and physically under their control?  The officer’s action and words were defended by the president of the Seattle Police Officer’s Guild, who said that gang officers deal with plenty of rough characters and often need to use coarse language. 

But did the officer need to degrade and humiliate the man? Did the officer need to let him know that he is not worthy of respect?  Read More »


The Inquest – A step toward justice or just a step?

Next month, the King County District Court will hold an inquest into the August 30, 2010, fatal shooting of First Nations carver John T. Williams by Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk.  An inquest looks like a trial, so you might imagine that we will soon learn whether Officer Birk committed a crime or will be found civilly liable for killing Mr. Williams, right?  Well, probably not.  The one thing that inquest juries cannot do is to determine liability. Read More »

County Jail Populations Drop: So What Should We Do?

With little public fanfare, other than a couple of newspaper articles and blog posts, two of Washington’s largest jails (Spokane County and King County) have seen significant decreases in inmate populations. This is a big deal, as Spokane County is hoping to build a new jail (they’ll vote on funding for the jail this spring). Similarly, several Puget Sound cities, including Seattle, were considering building their own jail because King County would no longer have bed space. What explains the decreases in inmate populations? Is it sustainable? Can other county jails replicate the trend? Let’s take a closer look.

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Tackling Government Surveillance in the 21st Century

As an attorney who graduated from both Gonzaga (J.D.) and the University of Washington (LL.M.), I recently joined the ACLU-WA staff as a government surveillance fellow.  I’d like to introduce myself and let you know why I care about the impact of technology on civil liberties. Read More »

OSPI Rolls Out New Anti-Harassment Policies and Procedures – Now School Districts Must Adopt Them

The first and most basic step every school district must take to address harassment and bullying is to adopt strong, clear anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies and procedures.  While many school districts have such policies (somewhere), too often they are outdated, confusing, underutilized, or unknown to the general school community.  That will hopefully change now, with the December 8th publication of the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s (OSPI) new Model Anti-Harassment and Bullying Policy and Procedures.    Read More »

National Institutes of Health Changes Approach to Addiction. Will Washington State Policy-Makers Follow Suit?

It was recently announced by the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that a new institute will be created that will study “substance use, abuse, and addiction research and related public health initiatives.” This institute will replace the existing National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), and other institutes dealing with addiction. As the NIH director states, creating the new, unified institute “makes scientific sense and would enhance NIH's efforts to address the substance abuse and addiction problems that take such a terrible toll on our society.” In other words, the brain processes involved with addiction are universal across substances, so we shouldn’t be studying them in a piecemeal fashion based on their legal status. Makes sense right? Perhaps it’s time our lawmakers follow suit and pass laws which treat addiction as the public health issue it is, instead of the current criminal/non-criminal system we now employ. Read More »

Gay and lesbian teens are punished more at school and by police

LGBT teenagers are more likely than their peers to be punished by schools, police and the courts, according to a recent Washington Post article  which cites the first nationwide study of its kind to highlight these important issues.

The study found that LGBT youth are 40% more likely to receive educational and criminal justice-related punishments, such as expulsions, police stops, arrests and incarceration.  And, it found that girls are especially at risk for unequal treatment.  “The most striking difference was for lesbian and bisexual girls, and they were two to three times as likely as girls with similar behavior to be punished.”

These studies confirm what the ACLU has known for a long time: that LGBT students are often discriminated against from a young age, which denies them equal access to education and robs them of future opportunities. Read More »