ACLU of Oregon Blog

There Is No 5-Second Rule for the First Amendment, Ferguson

By Lee Rowland, Staff Attorney, ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project

This piece originally ran at POLITICO.

Tear gas, rubber bullets, and assault weapons; free speech zones, gags, and press pens: This is the arsenal of the police state. Some of these tactics are physical. The other ones - all the more pernicious for their quiet coercion - impose a veil of silence over the actions of law enforcement. And each of these weapons has been unleashed on the people of Ferguson, Missouri, since the killing of Michael Brown.

In the first few nights of protest, Ferguson and St. Louis County police responded with a truly inconceivable show of force. Officers suited up in DHS-funded military hand-me-downs, outfitted with goggles, machine guns, sniper rifles, riot gear and gas masks. Distressing warzone-like images flickered into the public consciousness: photos of armed police cohorts pointing loaded automatic weapons at citizens with their hands in the air, women and children's faces streaming with tear gas and milk and white officers targeting black protesters like it's Selma circa 1964.

The message was clear: The public is the enemy.

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Happy Birthday VRA!

By Justin M. Loveland, Outreach Intern


Forty-nine years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law to prohibit racial discrimination in voting. This long-overdue Act finally outlawed the worst of the Jim Crow laws, including debilitating poll taxes, literacy tests that were vaguely worded or required obscure political knowledge, or the racist Grandfather Clause that gave voting rights to those whose ancestors voted before the Civil War – white men. While the VRA symbolized a leap toward equality, last summer the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to voting rights nationwide by striking down a coverage formula used in a key part of the Act.


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Marijuana Legalization Initiative: A Common Sense Path Forward for Oregon

By Executive Director David Fidanque

On Tuesday, two retired prosecutors argued that Oregon voters should reject the initiative designed to reform our failed approach to marijuana.

While the prosecutors acknowledge it is just a matter of time before marijuana use by adults 21 and older will be legalized, regulated and taxed in Oregon, they demand that it be done only on their terms.

Let’s step back for a minute. In the last decade, Oregon police have arrested or cited more than 95,000 people for marijuana offenses, according to the Oregon State Police. That’s like arresting or citing every single person who lives in Hillsboro. Last year, a person was arrested or cited for a marijuana offense every 41 minutes in Oregon.

It’s more than a waste of money; it’s a distraction. Police ought to focus on keeping our roads safe and stopping violent criminals, not clogging our courts and jails with people who buy pot. And people who buy marijuana ought to be taxed for it. Right now marijuana sales are feeding black market cartels that fuel violent crime.

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The Enduring Legacy of the 1969 Stonewall Riots

By Stuart Kaplan, Board Member

The LGBT community has made tremendous strides toward greater societal inclusion and equality in the last dozen or so years. Most recently, the freedom to marry has spread in the states with almost dizzying speed as state constitutional bans against marriage equality get struck down in the courts. Against this backdrop of significant progress it is helpful to remind ourselves of historical events that now stand out as key milestones. One of those seminal events is the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.

The site of the riots was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, which was a popular gathering place for sexual minorities. Even though Greenwich Village was considered to be an area that was especially tolerant and open to sexual minorities, New York City police often raided bars that were thought to be friendly to a gay clientele. Police raids were a frequent occurrence at the Stonewall Inn causing the patrons to become increasingly frustrated and angry about their treatment. The raid on June 28, 1969 was seen as the last straw and it touched off numerous spontaneous and sometimes violent demonstrations on the street outside the bar against repressive police tactics. With the 45th anniversary of Stonewall occurring this June what is notable about its place in the history of the LGBT rights movement?

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Botched Execution in Oklahoma – Could Have Happened in Oregon

By Becky Straus, Legislative Director

In what witnesses and media outlets have reported as painfully botched, the failed execution in Oklahoma this week serves as a chilling reminder of the broken machinery of the death penalty in the United States. What happened in Oklahoma this week had the potential to happen in Oregon, were it not for Governor Kitzhaber’s decision in November of 2011 that no death sentence would be carried out in Oregon on his watch.

That’s because Oregon’s laws and regulations allow for a similar “three-drug cocktail” to the one that brought such gruesome results in Oklahoma. And Oregon’s guidelines raise the same kinds of unanswered questions around what specific lethal substances will be injected into the human being to be executed, where the drugs are coming from, if they’ve been tested, and the medical credentials of the person who administers the drugs. Oregon’s vague laws provide no guidance for monitoring the effects on the individual as the drugs are administered, nor do they outline contingency plans should anything go wrong.

Unfortunately the situation in Oklahoma this week was just another in a long list of botched executions that continue to be tolerated in this country. 

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Marriage Matters to Us

By Chris Tanner, Plaintiff

Ten years ago in March, Lisa and I were first in line when Multnomah County issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. We married immediately in our church, with our ministers, blessed with the presence of friends.

Ten years ago in November, voters approved Measure 36, an amendment to our state constitution denying the freedom to marry to Oregon's same-sex couples. Shortly thereafter, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled our marriage invalid.

Lisa and I took down the framed marriage license from our wall. 

Much has changed over the last decade. A majority of Americans now support the freedom to marry, including 55% of Oregon voters. In 17 states and D.C., all loving couples can marry and Oregon now recognizes those out of state marriages. But, I still cannot legally marry Lisa in the state we call home.

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Because of You, History Is in the Making

David Fidanque - US Supreme Court

By David Fidanque, Executive Director

Today I am at the U.S. Supreme Court to watch our volunteer attorney, Steven Wilker of the Tonkon Torp firm, argue against the federal government’s position that Secret Service agents cannot be sued for intentionally violating the First Amendment rights of protesters.

The Moss case started almost ten years ago after police were directed to move only those protesting the policies of the Bush administration but not the people who showed up to support the President. Do you know your rights to protest?

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Jacksonville Protest Case Before Supreme Court

By Michael "Mookie" Moss, ACLU plaintiffMichael Moss

In March of this year, the Jacksonville police riot celebrates its almost-tenth anniversary by taking a trip to Washington D.C. and landing on the desk of the United States Supreme Court. Under review by the high court is whether the respondents (me and my fellow plaintiff demonstrators) sufficiently alleged there was clear First Amendment discrimination on the part of the Secret Service and whether the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals erred when it denied the Secret Service qualified immunity for its role in the events that took place nearly 10 years ago. 

For those present that night in Jacksonville, the answer to the question of First Amendment discrimination couldn’t be clearer. The large multigenerational group of anti-Bush demonstrators assembled in front of the Jacksonville Inn faced police-fired projectiles which were filled with chemical irritants, canisters of hand held pepper spray, and submission by baton, while the pro-Bush crowd equidistant from the dining President faced not a word of admonishment.  

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Bill Threatens Patients' Safe Access to Medicinal Marijuana

By Becky Straus, Legislative Director

The debate is long over in Oregon about the medicinal value of marijuana, yet a bill (SB 1531B) is quickly moving forward in Salem to allow counties and cities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

Voters approved the Oregon Medical Marijuana Act (OMMA) in 1998. OMMA permits marijuana use for Oregonians suffering from debilitating medical conditions without being in violation of Oregon criminal law.

In 2013, the Legislature passed a bill, enabling a legal and regulated means of getting authorized amounts of marijuana to OMMA patients who cannot grow their own. Licensing and regulating medical marijuana facilities provides consistency across the state for dispensaries and law enforcement. The result is better care and better outcomes for patients.

Reasonable regulations on the time, place, and manner in which dispensaries may operate may be appropriate, but outright bans will have a significant and detrimental effect on patient access to needed medication.

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Oregon Needs Clear Guidelines on the Use of License Plate Readers

By Becky Straus, Legislative Director

Tomorrow, I will be in Salem for the January Legislative Days, a time when our elected officials look ahead to the upcoming 2014 session. One of the issues being addressed will be the use of automatic license plate readers (ALPRs) which have the potential to create permanent records of everywhere you drive, transforming the meaning of a "private life" and opening up many opportunities for abuse.

This surveillance data may be useful to law enforcement in identifying stolen cars or finding missing persons. But most of the information license plate readers capture is the day-to-day movements of innocent people, which is stored for years. Tracking of a person's location is a significant invasion of privacy, and can reveal things like visits to friends, doctors, protests, political events, and churches.

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