Greatest Hits: Celebrating Milestones For The ACLU and Civil Liberties In Washington

1935: ACLU of Washington Founding
A group of trade unionists, political activists, and intellectuals, plus a minister, establish a branch of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington state
1936: Freedom of Assembly
The ACLU-WA represents the left-wing Washington Commonwealth Federation in winning it the right to hold a meeting in a Bellevue School District building.
1937: Freedom of Speech
Urged on by the ACLU-WA, the legislature repeals the state’s “criminal syndicalism” law that had been used to target Wobblies and other radicals for advocating unlawful acts as a means of bringing about political change.
1942: Japanese-American Internment
The ACLU-WA supports University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi’s challenge of the curfew and internment order for Japanese Americans.
1954: Government Investigations of “Subversives”
The ACLU-WA urges fairness for persons targeted for investigation by the U.S. House Un-American Activities Committee for their political views.
1960: Police Civilian Review Board
The ACLU-WA calls for Seattle to establish a civilian review board to serve as an independent body to examine allegations of police abuse.
1964: Faculty Loyalty Oath
The U.S. Supreme Court sides with the ACLU-WA and strikes down the University of Washington’s requirement that faculty members swear a loyalty oath. (Baggett v. Bullitt)
1964: John Birch Society
The ACLU-WA convinces the Seattle Park Board to let the right-wing John Birch Society meet in public parks.
1964: ACLU on Trial
Former legislator John Goldmark wins his case against a newspaper which accused him of being a Communist because, among other things, he was a member of the ACLU. (Goldmark v. Canwell)
1965: Movie Censorship
King County Superior Court invalidates a Seattle ordinance empowering a government body to preview films for moral content and jail theatre owners who show films deemed obscene. (Fine Arts Guild v. Seattle)
1966: Native American Fishing Rights
The ACLU-WA supports the rights of Native Americans arrested for fishing – rights guaranteed by treaties.
1966: Long Hair in School
The ACLU-WA defends an eighth-grade boy suspended from public school for having hair which touched his eyebrows.
1967: Indigents’ Right to Counsel
The U.S. Supreme Court sides with the ACLU-WA and rules that an indigent on probation has the right to an attorney before being sent back to prison. (Mempa v. Rhay)
1967: Free Speech for Black Power
The ACLU-WA wins the right of African-American leader Stokely Carmichael to rent Garfield High’s auditorium. (Carmichael v. Bottomley)
1967: Unlawful Search
In an ACLU-WA case, the U.S. Supreme Court finds that the fire department cannot search private property without a search warrant or evidence of hazardous conditions. (See v. Seattle)
1968: Fair Housing Law
After several years of grassroots pressure, the City of Seattle passes a law banning discrimination based on race in housing transactions.
1970: First Woman to Give Birth in Military
The ACLU-WA successfully challenges military rules requiring the discharge of a pregnant officer, enabling Capt. Susan Struck to become the first woman to give birth and remain in the armed forces. (Struck v. Air Force)
1972: Leafleting Against the Draft
The U.S. Supreme Court throws out the convictions of college students arrested for loitering “without a lawful purpose” while handing out leaflets about the draft. (State v. Oyen)
1972: State ERA

The ACLU-WA celebrates when Washington voters add an Equal Rights Amendment to the state constitution, guaranteeing equal treatment for women under the law.

1972: Seeking Marriage for Gay Couple
The ACLU-WA brings a lawsuit seeking the right for John Singer and Paul Barwick to marry – the first (and unsuccessful) such suit in Washington. (Singer v. Hara)
1972: Language Requirement for Voting
The Washington Supreme Court overturns the English language requirement for voting, opening the way for Spanish-speaking citizens and others to vote. (Jiminez v. Naff)
1973: Farmworker Organizing
The Washington Supreme Court overturns the conviction of a labor organizer and attorney arrested while seeking to speak with farmworkers. (State v. Fox)
1974: Flag with Peace Symbol
The ACLU-WA successfully defends a man charged with displaying an American flag with a peace symbol on it – the first time the U.S. Supreme Court decided a flag desecration case directly on First Amendment grounds. (State v. Spence)
1974: Marijuana Legalization
The ACLU-WA backs an initiative to legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana in Seattle – which, though unsuccessful, helps pave the way for the city to reduce penalties for possession.
1975: Girls on Varsity Sports Teams
Representing Wishkah Valley girls seeking to join the football team, the ACLU –WA wins a Washington Supreme Court ruling that public school varsity sports programs must be open to girls. (Darrin v. Gould)
1975: Reproductive Rights for Minors
The Washington Supreme Court rules minors do not need parental consent to obtain an abortion. (State v. Koome)
1976: Juvenile Rights
The legislature reforms the Juvenile Code so that the state can no longer lock up “incorrigible children” who have never committed a crime.
1977: School Desegregation
Prodded by civil rights groups, religious leaders, the ACLU-WA, and others, the Seattle School District launches a district-wide desegregation program.
1978: Gay Parents
In a Washington Supreme Court case, the ACLU-WA successfully defends the right of gay parents to maintain custody of children. (Schuster v. Schuster)
1979: Police Spying Ordinance
After a lawsuit by the Coalition for Government Spying unearths secret police surveillance files, Seattle becomes the first city in the U.S. to adopt a law barring police from collecting information about political activities without suspicion of a crime.
1982: Nuclear Sub Protests
The ACLU-WA defends the rights of peace activists protesting the arrival of the first nuclear-armed Trident submarine to Puget Sound.
1982: School Censorship
A federal district court rejects a suit backed by the Moral Majority to have The Learning Tree, a book about film director Gordon Parks’s boyhood as an African American in Kansas, removed from an eastern Washington school district curriculum. (Grove v. Mead)
1983: Concert Searches
In a challenge to random searches of Grateful Dead concert-goers by Seattle police, the ACLU-WA convinces the Washington Supreme Court that general searches violate constitutional protections. (Jacobsen v. Seattle)
1983: Strip Searches
An ACLU-WA lawsuit challenging jail strip searches for detainees arrested for minor offenses leads to a consent decree ending the degrading practice. (Exkano v. King County)
1985: Walla Walla Prison Conditions
In the wake of a month-long lockdown, the ACLU, Evergreen Legal Services, and others initiate a lawsuit over inhumane treatment of inmates at the state penitentiary in Walla Walla that leads to a major overhaul of prison conditions. (Hoptowit v. Ray)
1985: Student Luggage Search
In an ACLU-WA lawsuit, the Washington Supreme Court finds that school officials cannot search a student’s possessions without individualized suspicion. (Kuehn v. Renton School District)
1988: Drug Testing of College Athletes
In settlement of an ACLU-WA lawsuit, the University of Washington agrees to stop requiring student athletes to undergo suspicionless urine testing as a condition of participating on varsity teams. (O’Halloran v. University of Washington)
1988: Student “Underground” Newspaper
A federal appeals court rules that school officials cannot censor publications produced by students off school grounds before they are distributed at school. (Burch v. Barker)
1989: Employee Lie-Detector Tests
King County Superior Court rules that local law enforcement agencies cannot require polygraph tests for job applicants because the tests invade privacy. (O’Hartigan v. Personnel Dept.)
1989: Gays in the Military
After nine years of ACLU-WA litigation, a federal appeals court orders the Army to reinstate Sgt. Perry Watkins, who had been discharged after serving as an openly gay man – the first gay military case to be successfully completed. (Watkins v. U.S. Army)
1990: One Person, One Vote
The U.S. District Court finds the Metro Council’s election system produced disproportionate representation and must be restructured according to the “one person, one vote” principle. (Cunningham v. Metro)
1991: School-sponsored Prayer
In a precedent-setting ACLU-WA case, Thurston County Superior Court finds that a planned prayer at Yelm High School’s graduation ceremony would violate the constitutional separation of religion and government. (Rosenberger v. Yelm School District)
1991: Jail Conditions
Settling a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and Evergreen Legal Services, King County agrees to remedy overcrowding, poor medical care, and inadequate staffing at its jail – the first of several successful ACLU lawsuits in the decade over conditions at county jails. (Hammer v. King County)
1991: Washington’s Roe v. Wade
After a campaign led by the ACLU-WA, Planned Parenthood, and allies, the voters of Washington adopt Initiative 120, guaranteeing women the right to choose abortion under state law and funding it to the same extent as pregnancy care.
1992: Police Misconduct
With the ACLU-WA calling for greater accountability, the City of Seattle appoints the first non-police civilian auditor for the Police Department’s internal investigations section.
1993: Female Boxing
As a result of a successful ACLU-WA lawsuit, Dallas Malloy becomes the first woman in the U.S. to fight in sanctioned amateur boxing bout. (Malloy v. U.S. Amateur Boxing)
1993: Political Signs
Backing free speech rights over aesthetic concerns, the Washington Supreme Court agrees with the ACLU-WA in striking down a law limiting how long campaign yard signs could be posted. (Collier v. Tacoma)
1993: Death Penalty
The state legislature prohibits the execution of mentally retarded persons – making Washington one of the first states to do so.
1994: Erotic Music
With the ACLU representing prominent local musicians, the Washington Supreme Court strikes down the state’s music censorship law which barred selling minors recordings deemed “erotic.” (Soundgarden v. Eikenberry)
1995: Student Website
The ACLU gains a settlement for Bellevue high school student Paul Kim who was disciplined for creating a website on satirizing his school on his home computer – one of the first student website cases to gain national attention.
1996: Free Speech at Newsstand
The ACLU-WA gains an acquittal for Bellingham newsstand owners prosecuted for carrying a magazine that examined rape with graphic language and imagery. (State v. Stohl and Hjelsand)
1998: Bullying in School
In response to an ACLU lawsuit for a student harassed because of his perceived sexual orientation, a school district agrees to enforce its anti-harassment policy and to provide financial compensation. (Iverson v. Kent)
1998: Free Speech in Cyberspace
In an early case on rights on the Web, a federal district upholds the free speech rights of a man who posted sharply worded derogatory comments about credit reporting agencies online. (Sheehan v. King County)
1998: Medical Marijuana
Initiative 692 passes, authorizing individuals with serious medical conditions to obtain a physician’s recommendation to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.
1999: WTO Demonstrations
The ACLU-WA challenges the “No-Protest Zone” and documents police brutality at the historic demonstrations at the Trade World Organization meeting.
2000: Driving While Black
To combat racial profiling, the state legislature passes legislation promoted by the ACLU-WA that requires the Washington State Patrol to collect and analyze data on the race and ethnicity of stops and searches of motorists.
2000: Employee Drug Testing
The Washington Court of Appeals rules in favor of the ACLU-WA’s challenge to Seattle’s program requiring applicants for jobs with the city to undergo urine testing before being hired. (Robinson v. Seattle)
2001: Art Censorship
In an ACLU-WA case, a federal appeals court finds that Pasco violated the rights of two artists when it removed their works from a program to display art in city hall. (Hopper v. Pasco Arts Council)
2003: Curfew for Minors
The Washington Supreme Court strikes down Sumner’s curfew law for minors, challenged by the ACLU-WA on behalf of a man fined for allowing his teenage son to go to a neighborhood store to buy milk. (Sumner v. Walsh)
2003: Privacy and GPS
In a first-in-the-nation case, the Washington Supreme Court finds that police must obtain a warrant before tracking an individual’s car with a Global Positioning System. (State v. Jackson)
2003: PATRIOT Act
Seattle adopts an ACLU-WA-backed resolution affirming civil liberties and calling for repeal of anti-liberty features of the federal PATRIOT Act – the first of 17 such resolutions adopted by city and county government bodies in Washington.
2004: Domestic War on Terror
The ACLU-WA negotiates compensation for two Somali merchants whose merchandise was wrongly seized by Treasury agents in a raid on a nearby business.
2004: Government Funding of Religion
In a case involving a Washington scholarship program, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that states cannot be required to use taxpayer funds to train students for the ministry. (Locke v. Davey)
2005: Fair Trials
Settling a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU-WA and Columbia Legal Services, Grant County agrees to overhaul its woefully deficient system for providing attorneys to indigents accused of a crime. (Best v. Grant County)
2006: LGBT Discrimination
After three decades of lobbying by the LGBT advocates and the ACLU-WA, the state legislature adopts a law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
2007: REAL ID
In response to ACLU-WA lobbying, the state legislature barred implementation in Washington of the federal REAL ID law, a de facto national identification card.
2007: Ethnic Profiling
An ACLU-WA lawsuit gains an apology and compensation for an Iraqi refugee who was unlawfully arrested and imprisoned by Border Patrol agents when he took a walk at a train station. (Habeeb v. Castloo)
2008: Student Drug Testing
In a case the ACLU-WA pursued for nearly a decade, the Washington Supreme Court rules that public schools cannot force students to take drug tests without individualized suspicion of drug use. (York v. Wahkiakum)
2008: Protest Marches
With the ACLU-WA representing a group that protests police brutality, the state Court of Appeals tosses out Seattle’s parade permits law because it gave police too much discretion in making decisions about marches. (October 22 Coalition v. Seattle)
2008: Death with Dignity
Washington voters adopt Initiative 1000 enabling terminally ill persons to obtain a prescription so they may choose how and when to end their lives – a long-sought ACLU-WA goal.
2008: Tracking Travel
Transit officials agree to privacy protections for users of the regional ORCA public transit fare card, thanks to advocacy by the ACLU-WA.
2009: Everything But Marriage
The legislature passes a law providing registered domestic partners the same rights and responsibilities under state law as married couples, after the ACLU-WA and others sued unsuccessfully for marriage equality. (Castle v. State)
2009: Taking Photos on Public Property
The ACLU-WA gains a settlement for art professor Shirley Scheier, whom police handcuffed and detained when she took photos of power lines for an art project.
2009: Voting Rights Restoration
After years of ACLU-WA advocacy, the legislature ends the ban on voting by citizens who have completed their sentence but still owe financial debts – a modern form of the poll tax.
2010: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell
In a landmark ACLU-WA lawsuit, a federal court rules in favor of Major Margaret Witt who challenged her dismissal from the Air Force due to her sexual orientation – a ruling that helped pave the way to repeal the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. (Witt v. Dept. of the Air Force)
2011: Police Accountability
After the ACLU-WA and allies requested a federal investigation, the Dept. of Justice finds that Seattle Police engaged in a pattern and practice of excessive force – landing a court consent decree bringing major reform.
2012: Marriage Equality
With LGBT advocates including ACLU-WA leading the campaign, voters statewide approve a referendum affirming the legal right of lesbian and gay couples to marry.
2012: Marijuana Legalization
In a history-making election, Washington voters approve an initiative drafted and promoted by the ACLU-WA that legalizes and regulates marijuana for adults.
2012: Religious Rights
An ACLU-WA lawsuit results in a settlement to protect the religious or Muslim inmates to practice their faith while incarcerated. (Tarrer v. Pierce County)
2013: Indigent Defense
The ACLU-WA wins an historic ruling that the public defense system provided by two municipalities was so sorely deficient that it deprived indigent persons of their right to counsel, setting a strong precedent for reforms in municipalities across the state and country. (Wilbur v. Mt. Vernon and Burlington)
2013: Racial Profiling
In a suit brought by the ACLU-WA and the NW Immigrant Rights Project, the U.S. Border Patrol agrees that stops of vehicles away from the border must be based on reasonable suspicion of unlawful conduct, not the race of their occupants. (Sanchez v. U.S. Border Patrol)
2014: Voting Rights
The ACLU-WA wins a landmark federal court ruling that Yakima’s City Council election system violated the Voting Rights Act, ensuring Latinos representation on the council. (Montes v. City of Yakima)
2014: Death Penalty
After quiet and persuasive advocacy by the ACLU-WA and allies, Governor Jay Inslee places a moratorium on the death penalty in Washington state.
2015: Rights of the Mentally Ill
In a case brought by the ACLU-WA and allies, a federal court orders that mentally ill people awaiting trial must no longer be warehoused in jail for weeks and months waiting to receive competency services. (A.B. v. DSHS)
2015: Reining in Surveillance
With a unanimous vote, legislators approve a bill co-authored by the ACLU-WA that makes Washington a national leader in putting tough restrictions on government use of surveillance devices known as Stingrays.
2015: Debtors’ Prisons
After an ACLU-Columbia Legal Services report exposing “Modern-Day Debtors’ Prisons,” the Washington Supreme Court unanimously rules that judges must consider a defendant’s ability to pay before imposing discretionary court fees on top of criminal sentences. (State v. Blazina)
2015: Discrimination Against Gay Couples
In an ACLU-WA lawsuit against a florist that refused to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding, a superior court rules that a business open the general public may not use religious beliefs as a reason to violate anti-discrimination laws. (Ingersoll v. Arlene’s Flowers)