Social Challenges

 New Resources Help Communities 

Counter Mainstreaming of Hate

    MONTGOMERY, Ala. and WASHINGTON - (SPLC - November 26, 2022 - At a moment in America when extremism is threatening grassroots democracy, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the Polarization and Extremism Research and Innovation Lab (PERIL) at American University today released a new resource to help communities confront and build resilience against the mainstreaming of hate.

    The guide – Building Networks & Addressing Harm: A Community Guide to Online Youth Radicalization – recognizes the crucial role trusted adults play as the first line of defense against radicalization. It intends to equip them with tools to effectively support and protect young people targeted by hateful actions and rhetoric.

    “The best way to prevent radicalization is to address its root causes,” said Susan Corke, director of the Intelligence Project at SPLC. “Doing this requires a whole-of-community approach, moving beyond parents and caregivers to provide all trusted adults with tools to intervene in their homes, schools and neighborhoods.”

    “Each trusted adult in a young person’s network of care has a unique vantage point into their lives,” said Dr. Pasha Dashtgard, director of research at PERIL. “That network of trusted adults – whether they’re coaches, religious leaders, tutors or others – has an opportunity to help young people build resilience against the manipulation of extremist groups.”

    This new resource provides guidance to help young people resist the supremacist narratives and manipulative rhetoric they encounter online and offline, including:

  • Insight into the drivers of young people’s susceptibility to extremist radicalization, such as feelings of isolation, dislocation and coping with traumatic experiences.
  • Information about some of the common ways young people become radicalized, including echo chambers, content “rabbit holes,” and unmoderated and under moderated online environments.
  • Tools to recognize the warning signs of youth radicalization, such as sharing concepts associated with scientific racism or a belief in male supremacy.

    The guide builds on existing resources developed by the SPLC and PERIL, including The Parents & Caregivers Guide to Online Youth Radicalization and supplements for educators, counselors, and coaches. A 2021 assessment of the Parents & Caregivers Guide shows that after just seven minutes of reading the guide, parents improved their knowledge and understanding of youth radicalization, with over 80% feeling “definitely” or “probably” prepared to talk with young people about online extremism and to intervene appropriately.

    A full suite of online resources is available here in English, Spanish, German and Portuguese.

Elections in America

 GOP’s Full-Throated Nativism 

Fails to Resonate Beyond 

the MAGA Base

    Washington, DC – (America's Voice) - Nov. 13, 2022 - An array of voices are highlighting one takeaway from the 2022 midterms – once again, most voters rejected Republicans’ relentless anti-immigrant attacks and larger extremism. As in past recent cycles, the GOP fear-mongering and nativism failed to resonate beyond the MAGA base as Americans voted against leading peddlers of ugly nativism and expressed renewed support for common sense solutions at odds with Republicans’ ugliness. Among the voices and examples:

  • Greg Sargent of Washington Post: GOP assumptions on border and immigration again “proved wrong”: As part of his larger analysis titled, “5 big GOP narratives just went down in flames,” Greg Sargent of the Washington Post notes, “Invasion language did little for Republicans,” writing that “Republicans have long enjoyed a presumption of a major advantage on this issue, but aside from Trump’s 2016 victory, it keeps failing to deliver … GOP confidence that President Biden’s ‘disastrous open border’ would spark major electoral repudiation, giving Republicans space to hyper-radicalize their base around the issue, has proved wrong.”
  • Paul Waldman of Washington Post: “Arizona Democrats chalk up their big night to GOP focus on immigration.” Waldman writes: “Though Republicans wouldn’t use those terms, immigration was clearly the beginning and end of their strategy in Arizona this year. If you went to any GOP campaign event in Arizona lately, you would have heard a litany of horrors about the border as candidates Kari Lake and Blake Masters painted a nightmarish picture of murder and mayhem pouring into American communities, courtesy of a quasi-conspiracy involving the Chinese Communist Party, Mexican drug cartels and President Biden himself seeking to flood the country with fentanyl and criminal aliens … In Arizona as elsewhere, through victory and defeat, Republicans’ faith in the electoral power of the immigration issue has been unwavering. And all indications are that whatever else happens between now and 2024, that isn’t going to change.”
  • “Hatemongering isn’t a sustainable political strategy.” Los Angeles Times columnist Jean Guerrero, who wrote a biography of leading nativist Stephen Miller, responded to Miller’s attempted spin that Republicans didn’t make anti-immigration attacks enough of their focus by noting: “Except this is literally all the GOP ran on. Hatemongering isn’t a sustainable political strategy.”
  • “While votes are still being counted, it’s clear Stephen Miller’s racist political ads were a flop” from Gabe Ortiz at Daily Kos: Ortiz writes, “Miller had been assuring his racist base that a “red wave” was in store for Republicans, doing his part by launching massively offensive ads in more than a dozen states that sobbed about supposed “anti-white bigotry” and pushed violent anti-immigrant imagery … But this week, voters largely rejected this bigoted agenda … ‘Stephen Miller predicted that Republicans’ nativism would help usher in a ‘red tsunami,’ but his tens of millions of dollars’ worth of overt racism and nativism fell flat in 2022—just as his similar election predictions about the power of GOP nativism failed in past cycles,’ said Vanessa C├írdenas, executive director of immigrant rights advocacy group America’s Voice. ‘The strategy of trying to mobilize the MAGA base around extreme Trumpian grievances and anti-immigrant fear-mongering fell flat.’”

    Indeed, as America’s Voice tracked, the Stephen Miller-affiliated “Citizens for Sanity” spent over $51 million in TV ads across 16 states in the midterms’ homestretch with some of the year’s most vile nativist, racist and transphobic ads (as seen during World Series) – just part of the GOP’s relentless focus on nativism and 3,200 different paid communications on anti-immigrant themes highlighted by the America’s Voice’s ad tracking project.

    Following is a statement from Vanessa C├írdenas, Executive Director for America’s Voice:

    “Nativism has become the beating heart of the Republican Party and the throughline from Trump’s descent down the escalator in 2015 to MAGA extremists taking control of the GOP to the current perilous moment facing our democracy. And once again, the political potency of GOP full-throated nativism failed to resonate beyond the Republican base and may have been part of a larger backlash among many voters against MAGA candidates.

    "One clear takeaway from this election is that the GOP’s massive investment in nativist attacks failed to deliver, which is an especially striking fact given an election environment that overwhelmingly favored Republicans and that the issue was a top message priority GOP-wide. The vast majority of Americans reject the GOP’s radicalism and scare tactics on immigration and recognize that immigrants are a source of strength for the nation. Now, we need policies that meet the vast majority of the country where it actually is – in favor of common sense solutions that address the uncertain futures of Dreamers, TPS holders, and farm workers and in support of bipartisan reforms that will modernize and actually address immigration reform in a real way.”

U.S. Elections

Social Media and the 

Midterm 2022 Elections

Anticipating Online Threats to Democratic Legitimacy

    Washington, D.C. — (CAP) - Nov. 5, 2022 - As social media companies continue to allow attacks on American democracy to proliferate on their platforms, a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress reveals the top threats to democratic legitimacy facing social media platforms and explains how these companies must confront them.

    “Online platforms are not the sole cause of this democratic crisis,” said Adam Conner, CAP’s vice president of Technology Policy and co-author of the brief. “But companies’ continued refusal to make the fundamental changes required to stop their tools from becoming platforms for hate and election subversion make them complicit in these assaults on our democracy.”

    Over the past few years, there has been an extraordinary informational assault on the legitimacy of U.S. elections fueled by the spread of baseless claims of fraud. Despite continuous calls for product changes, social media platforms continue to abdicate their responsibility to prevent these attacks.

    The new issue brief identifies the three most significant threats to democratic legitimacy that social media platforms must address: 1) election subversion theater, 2) online harassment and intimidation of election workers, and 3) post-election informational chaos.

    “Many candidates and elected officials now promote baseless claims of fraud in order to create the impression that there were instances of fraud or election insecurities, even when there were not,” said Ashleigh Maciolek, research associate for Structural Reform and Governance at CAP and co-author of the brief. “Online platforms need to be aware of this election subversion theater and take steps to prevent their platforms from being used to delegitimize elections.”

    Anticipating that these informational threats will continue to undermine U.S. democracy, fuel violence, and sow chaos, CAP and its partners issued a clear set of demands to major social media companies ahead of the midterm elections to protect the freedom to vote and fairness of elections. Unfortunately, many of these demands have been ignored. The three informational threats identified by CAP remain major threats to the legitimacy of our elections, including:

  • Election subversion theater: Social media companies continue to allow election denialism and baseless claims of fraud to spread on their platforms, providing a platform for perceptive assaults on the legitimacy of the U.S. election process.
  • Online harassment and intimidation of election workers: Online disinformation and violent rhetoric have made the election process seem untrustworthy, implicating election workers who are simply carrying out their vital jobs to protect U.S. elections.
  • Post-election informational chaos: Between the time that the public casts their ballots and elected officials are sworn into office, social media companies must double down on countering baseless claims of fraud, declarations of a “stolen” or “rigged” election, and other election conspiracy theories.

    Recognizing these online threats, CAP again recommends that social media companies take serious, proactive steps to prevent informational assaults on U.S. democracy to proliferate online. Among other recommendations, these steps include:

  • Employing viral circuit breakers to ensure that the spread of false election information or delegitimization is not immediately damaging
  • Proactively monitoring for—and expeditiously removing—attempts to create conspiracy theories about election workers
  • Prohibiting advertisements that promote the “big lie,” delegitimize the election, or otherwise declare elections stolen or rigged

    It is critically important for social media companies to address these ongoing threats now, as CAP expects the 2022 midterms to see the same flood of informational assaults as in 2020. These will only get worse as the 2024 election gets closer.

    Read the issue brief:Social Media and the 2022 Midterm Elections: Anticipating Online Threats to Democratic Legitimacy” by Erin Simpson, Adam Conner, and Ashleigh Maciolek

    For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at shananel@americanprogress.org.

Law and Democracy

Common Cause Scorecard 

Charts Lawmaker Support 

for Pro-Democracy Bills

    Washington D.C. - (Common Cause) - 9/6/2022 - As the January 6 Select Committee is reportedly set to hold more hearings this month, and less than two years since January 6, Common Cause is releasing its 2022 Democracy Scorecard, which tracks the positions of every Member of Congress on issues vital to the health of our democracy during the 117 Congress. Throughout this Congress, members of the House and Senate were notified that various votes on key democracy issues – including many related to January 6th and its aftermath – would be counted in the Scorecard, which will be distributed to our 1.5 million members, as well as to state and national media.

    “Americans expect and deserve legislation to strengthen and protect our democracy so that our nation can live up to its ideals – especially in the wake of January 6. At Common Cause we keep close track of what members of Congress have done on these issues. Our Democracy Scorecard lets constituents know where their representatives stand,” said Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn. “At the very start of the 117th Congress, Members were besieged in the U.S. Capitol by a violent, armed, insurrectionist mob intent on overturning the 2020 presidential election. Members of Congress were then faced with a series of choices in the months following to take steps that would strengthen democracy. Too many Members chose fealty to former-President Trump over the oath of office they swore to protect the nation.”

    “As we face unprecedented attacks on our democracy, protecting and strengthening our freedom to vote are paramount,” said Aaron Scherb, Common Cause’s senior director of legislative affairs. “After we witnessed the former president try to overturn our votes in a free election, it’s imperative for Congress to establish fair national voting standards, despite continued filibusters by Senate Republicans. Congress would be wise to take heed of the voting rights bills, and the wave of other popular pro-democracy reforms, that are being passed at the state and local level while Republicans in Congress blockade them at the federal level. This Scorecard is a resource for all constituents to evaluate which members of Congress are working to strengthen our freedom to vote and which ones are trying to make it harder for Americans to vote.

    Some highlights and trends from the 2022 Democracy Scorecard include:

  • Most of the included bills would’ve become law if the legislative filibuster didn’t exist, as many of them have majority support in Congress

  • 101 members of Congress had a perfect score on this year’s Scorecard, a more than 70% increase over the number of members who had perfect scores (58) in 2020

  • California has the highest number of members of Congress (19) with perfect scores

  • Vermont is the only state with every member of its delegation (3) earning a perfect score

  • 7 states have both U.S. Senators earning a perfect score: Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, and Vermont

    A subset of votes and bills in this year’s Scorecard include:

Votes

  • Impeachment and conviction of former President Donald Trump for incitement of insurrection

  • For the People Act

  • DC Statehood

  • Independent commission to investigate the January 6th insurrection and a resolution creating the January 6th Select Committee

  • John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act

  • Steve Bannon criminal contempt resolution

  • Protecting Our Democracy Act

  • Mark Meadows criminal contempt resolution

  • Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act

Bills to cosponsor

  • DISCLOSE Act

  • Supreme Court Ethics Act

  • Frank Harrison, Elizabeth Peratrovich, and Miguel Trujillo Native American Voting Rights Act

  • Democracy for All Amendment

    The Scorecard does not ‘rate’ candidates. Instead, it spotlights the votes and co-sponsors of legislation that would protect our elections, elevate the voices of all Americans in politics and government, make voting more accessible, end racial and partisan gerrymandering so that every American has a fair chance to elect representatives of their choice, and promote high ethical standards for elected and appointed officials.

    Common Cause previously issued Democracy Scorecards in 2016, 2018, and 2020 based on the votes and cosponsorship of between 15-18 key democracy reform bills.

     To view the full 2022 Democracy Scorecard, click here.

Reproductive Rights

Report Examines How State

Abortion Bans Will Harm 

Women and Families

Economic Security and State and Local Economies At Risk

    Washington, D.C. — 8/29/2022 - The Center for American Progress released a report on Aug. 26 examining the economic consequences of state abortion bans. The report provides a comprehensive overview of the existing research that highlights the connection between abortion legalization under Roe v. Wade and women’s advancement, along with an analysis of the challenges women—especially women of color—will face in the 27 states that have at least one abortion ban on the books and are already difficult places for women and families to thrive. The social infrastructure of these states is not equipped to deal with the fallout of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Many of these states already have some of the worst economic and health outcomes for women and families across the country. For example, of these states: 

  • None guarantee paid family and medical leave. 
  • Eighteen have gender wage gaps above the national average. 
  • Twenty-two have poverty rates for women above the national average. 
  • Seventeen have poverty rates for children above the national average. 
  • Nineteen have not extended Medicaid coverage to 12 months postpartum. 
  • Only four legally require insurers to cover an extended supply of contraceptives. 

    The report also highlights how abortion bans will cost local and state economies by leading to reduced labor force participation, increasing time off and turnover among women, and causing some employers to relocate to other states with abortion protections. 

    To combat the detrimental impact of these abortion bans, the authors argue that legislative and administrative action will be critical. They recommend that state and federal officials must use every legislative and administrative tool to expand abortion access.  They also recommend that at the same time, federal and state policymakers must fight to strengthen workplace protections and social safety nets—while acknowledging that these supports, as critical as they are to women’s overall economic security, do not eliminate the need for abortion care or erase the deep harms abortion bans impose on women. 

    “The Supreme Court’s decision to deny women the constitutional right to abortion will negatively affect women and families’ economic security, particularly for those living in the 27 states that have at least one abortion ban on the books,” said Lauren Hoffman, associate director of Women’s Economic Security at CAP. “The federal and state governments must take legislative and administrative action to mitigate these harms and preserve access to abortion care.” 

    “State leaders banning abortion are not interested in improving economic and health policies that support women and the children these women already have—revealing, at best, a willful ignorance of the real-life effects of abortion bans and, at worst, a deliberate attack on gender equality and women’s progress.” said Osub Ahmed, associate director of Women’s Health and Rights at CAP. 

    “Without robust federal and state action to strengthen the nation’s social safety net and advance policies to help working families, women, and other people who can become pregnant, facing unintended parenthood in those states are likely to fall even further through the cracks—with downstream effects on their children, communities, and local and state economies,” said Bela Salas-Betsch, research assistant for the Women’s Initiative. 

    Read the report: “State Abortion Bans Will Harm Women and Families’ Economic Security Across the US” by Lauren Hoffman, Osub Ahmed, and Bela Salas-Betsch.

Mass Surveillance

Groups Urge U.S. Supreme Court 

to Hear Challenge to NSA's 

Mass Surveillance

     WASHINGTON, D.C. — (ACLU) - 8/26/2022 - The Wikimedia Foundation, the nonprofit that operates Wikipedia, petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court on Aug. 25 to review a challenge to the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of Americans’ private emails, internet messages, and web communications with people overseas, also known as its “Upstream” surveillance program. In its petition, Wikimedia asks the Court to reject the government’s sweeping claims of “state secrets” and allow the case to proceed, arguing that the wealth of public disclosures about Upstream surveillance means the program can and should be subject to constitutional review in the courts. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and the law firm Cooley LLP represent the Wikimedia Foundation in the litigation.

    “When people’s privacy is at risk, free knowledge is at risk,” said James Buatti, senior legal manager at the Wikimedia Foundation. “The NSA’s mass surveillance is a threat to the fundamental rights to privacy and free expression for the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who rely on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects for reliable information.” 

    Upstream surveillance is conducted under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which permits the government to intercept Americans’ international communications without a warrant so long as it is targeting individuals located outside the U.S. for foreign intelligence purposes. Section 702 will expire in 2023 unless it is reauthorized by Congress.

    In the course of this surveillance, the NSA copies and combs through vast amounts of internet traffic, including private data showing what millions of people around the world are reading or writing online — whether they are accessing knowledge on Wikipedia and other Wikimedia projects, browsing the web, or communicating with family and friends. This government surveillance has had a measurable chilling effect on Wikipedia users, with research documenting a drop in traffic to Wikipedia articles on privacy-sensitive topics following public revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance in 2013.

    “It is past time for the Supreme Court to rein in the government’s sweeping use of secrecy to evade accountability in the courts. Upstream surveillance is no secret, and the government’s own public disclosures are the proof,” said Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Project. “Every day, the NSA is siphoning Americans’ communications off the internet backbone and into its surveillance systems, violating privacy and chilling free expression. The courts can and should decide whether this warrantless digital dragnet complies with the Constitution.”

    In September 2021, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that even though the Wikimedia Foundation provided public evidence that its communications with Wikipedia users around the world are subject to Upstream surveillance, the government’s assertion of the “state secrets privilege” required dismissal of the entire case. The privilege allows the government to withhold information in legal proceedings if disclosure of that information would threaten national security. The government claimed it might have sensitive information that would — at least in theory — establish a defense to the lawsuit. Over the dissent of Judge Diana Gribbon Motz, a majority of the court held that this possibility was enough to end the litigation.

     Wikimedia’s petition argues that the Fourth Circuit was wrong to dismiss the lawsuit on the basis of the state secrets privilege and that the court should have, instead, excluded any secret evidence, but allowed the case to proceed.

    “For years, the NSA has vacuumed up Americans’ international communications under Upstream surveillance, and to date, not a single challenge to that surveillance has been allowed to go forward,” said Alex Abdo, litigation director of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The Supreme Court should make clear that NSA surveillance is not beyond the reach of our public courts.”

    The Wikimedia Foundation, which filed the case alongside eight other plaintiffs, sued the NSA in 2015 to protect the rights of Wikipedia readers, editors, and internet users globally. The Supreme Court may consider the petition as early as October 2022.

    Wikimedia v. NSA is a part of the ACLU's Joan and Irwin Jacobs Supreme Court Docket. Lawyers representing the Wikimedia Foundation in the litigation include Patrick Toomey, Ashley Gorski, and Sarah Taitz for the American Civil Liberties Union, Alex Abdo and Jameel Jaffer for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, and Ben Kleine, Aarti Reddy, and Maximilian Sladek de la Cal from the law firm Cooley LLP.

Living Wages

Michigan Workers Win 

Minimum-Wage Increase, 

Paid Sick Leave

 
By Brett Peveto, Producer

    MICHIGAN (PNS) - 8/20-2022 - Workers in Michigan won major victories recently as a minimum-wage increase and employer paid sick time program were reinstated by court order.

    In 2018, petitioners succeeded in placing a minimum-wage increase along with an earned-sick-time provision on the November ballot. In turn, the Michigan Legislature passed the measures in September to avoid a vote on the referendums, then in a lame-duck session in December the Legislature amended the bills, delaying the wage increase and denying the full hourly rate to tipped workers. The sick-time provision also was changed.

    Last month, a Michigan Court of Claims judge ruled amending the original bills was a violation of the state constitution, and the $12 minimum wage will now be instituted in February.

    Alicia Renee Farris, chief operations officer of Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, helped organize the ballot initiative and is calling it a victory for Michigan workers.

    "This is really a victory for 685,000 Michiganders that do not make $12 an hour," Farris asserted. "We see that as very important particularly for low-wage restaurant workers."

    The minimum wage for tipped employees is set to gradually increase to $12 per hour by 2024.

    After Judge Douglas Shapiro declared the adopt-and-amend legislative maneuver unconstitutional, the State of Michigan asked for a stay pending appeal. Shapiro denied the request but did delay implementation until Feb. 19.

    Mark Brewer, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said the delay is due to the scale of the coming changes.

    "This is a massive change. The paid sick time affects every employer in the state," Brewer pointed out. "Minimum wage obviously affects many employers and hundreds of thousands of employees, so the court said, 'Look, you can have a few months to make a transition here to fully implement these laws.' "

    Litigation over the matter has not ended with the Court of Claims ruling, since the state of Michigan will next take its case to the Michigan Court of Appeals. Brewer noted the appeals court has agreed to speed things up.

    "We did get some good news in just the last 24 hours," Brewer emphasized. "The court of appeals has agreed to expedite our appeal, and so we're hopeful to have oral argument in the court of appeals this fall, which would mean a decision early next year."

    Upon implementation, the minimum wage will be indexed to inflation with adjustments made annually so long as the state unemployment rate remains below 8.5%.

    Disclosure: Restaurant Opportunities Center United contributes to our fund for reporting on Civil Rights, Human Rights/Racial Justice, Livable Wages/Working Families, and Social Justice. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

References:  

Ballot initiative Ballotpedia 2018
Ruling State of Mich. Court of Claims 07/19/2022

Credit: Story published courtesy of Public News Service.

Task Force Report

Election Threats Task Force Briefs 

Election Officials and Workers

   WASHINGTON, D.C.-  (DOJ) - 8/13/2022 - Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. convened a virtual discussion today with a bipartisan group of approximately 750 election officials and workers to provide an update on the work of the Justice Department’s Election Threats Task Force.

    Assistant Attorney General Polite thanked the election community for continuing to prioritize this national public safety issue, for engaging directly with the task force over the past year, and stressed the importance that those lines of communication stay open ahead of election season. He also reminded the election community of the individual points of contact they have in every FBI field office in the country.

    Following Assistant Attorney General Polite’s remarks, the task force shared intelligence, data, and analysis stemming from their first year of work. This included:

  • The task force has reviewed over 1,000 contacts reported as hostile or harassing by the election community.
  • Approximately 11% of those contacts met the threshold for a federal criminal investigation. The remaining reported contacts did not provide a predication for a federal criminal investigation. While many of the contacts were often hostile, harassing, and abusive towards election officials, they did not include a threat of unlawful violence.
  • In investigations where the source of a reported contact was identified, in 50% of the matters the source contacted the victim on multiple occasions. These investigations accordingly encompassed multiple contacts. The number of individual investigations is less than 5% of the total number of reported contacts.
  • The task force has charged four federal cases and joined another case that was charged prior to the establishment of the task force. There have also been multiple state prosecutions to date. The task force anticipates additional prosecutions in the near future.
  • Election officials in states with close elections and postelection contests were more likely to receive threats. 58% of the total of potentially criminal threats were in states that underwent 2020 post-election lawsuits, recounts, and audits, such as Arizona, Georgia, Colorado, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin.

    The task force also briefed the election community on available funds for enhanced security for election offices, and the availability of additional resources from both academic and non-governmental organizations.

    Joining Assistant Attorney General Polite in the briefing was Principal Deputy Chief John Keller of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section, FBI Assistant Director Luis Quesada, and FBI Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section Chief Joseph Rothrock.

Original press release date: Aug. 1, 2022

Education Politics

Students Reminded of Rights 

Under New Classroom 

Censorship Law in Georgia

    ATLANTA, Ga. - (SPLC) - 8/7/2022 - The ACLU of Georgia (ACLU-GA) and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are offering support to educators, students and parents in Georgia as the school year begins under a new classroom censorship law (H.B. 1084) signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in April. The law critically limits discussions on race in Georgia public schools.

    Both organizations encourage everyone involved in Georgia public schools to share experiences related to H.B. 1084. Educators who believe the law is being used to discipline or retaliate against them or students in a way that interferes with their First Amendment rights, are asked to contact the SPLC at TeachTruth@splcenter.org. Students are also encouraged to contact the SPLC if they suspect the classroom censorship law is blocking classroom discussions, materials, or lessons from occurring. The SPLC, ACLU-GA, and ACLU Speech, Technology and Privacy Project are working together, and may be able to help.

    “Understanding constitutional protections including the right to free speech in public or private, the right to clear, understandable laws, and the right to employment protections, will help educators and Georgia public school parents and students navigate the school year under a censorship law recently passed by the Georgia legislature,” said Brock Boone, senior staff attorney for the SPLC. “If an educator or student believes that truthful and accurate teaching in their class is being withheld or censored under HB 1084, we want to hear from them.”

    The ACLU of Georgia and the SPLC are committed to proactively supporting public education that is truthful, diverse and inclusive. These organizations are also committed to supporting educators, students and parents who are negatively affected by the law.

    “Teachers, educators, and school staff play a vital role in educating the future generations of this country,” said Nneka Ewulonu, ACLU of Georgia staff attorney. “While these new classroom censorship laws are vague, public school teachers still have constitutional rights and a professional duty to teach the truth.”

Civil Rights

Arizona Prison Officials Withhold

Selected Issues of The Nation from

Incarcerated Subscribers

    PHOENIX - (ACLU) - 8/6/2022 - The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sent a letter in late July to the Arizona Department of Corrections, Rehabilitation, and Reentry (ADCRR) challenging its decision to withhold selected issues of The Nation magazine from incarcerated subscribers at least five times in the past 18 months on the basis that the issues promoted racial superiority or contained sexual content, in violation of the First Amendment.

    “The ban on these issues of The Nation is yet another example of prisons routinely restricting materials that incarcerated people can access, by way of unconstitutional, arbitrary rules,” said Corene Kendrick, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project. “ADCRR’s actions violate not only the First Amendment rights of incarcerated people, but also the First Amendment rights of the publisher and writers in the magazine. The Nation, or any other publication, may not be banned simply because it describes acts of current or historic racism — reporting on racism is not promoting racism.”

    The ACLU examined the withheld issues of The Nation and found no content promoting acts of violence, racism, degradation, or the superiority of one race over another. One prohibited issue had a cover story entitled “Black Immigrants Matter.” Another issue that was banned, because it supposedly contained sexual content, had a photo of a fully-dressed 93-year-old drag queen in the magazine and a cartoon of two fully-dressed people kissing each other. The ADCRR regulation banning sexual content recently was held to be unconstitutional by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in another censorship case against the department.

    “True to its Orwellian name, ADCRR’s Office of Publication Review (OPR) has given vague explanations lacking any specific citation of allegedly offending material to justify withholding our magazine from incarcerated subscribers,” explains D.D. Guttenplan, editor of The Nation. “But as Malcolm X says in his Autobiography, reading in prison ‘changed forever the course of my life’ — as it has for countless other incarcerated people. So when the notices kept coming, we decided to do something about it.”

    “This is not the first time the ACLU has called ADCRR to account for its arbitrary censorship policies,” said Emerson Sykes, senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. “In 2019, the ACLU successfully called on Arizona prison officials to allow Chokehold, Paul Butler’s acclaimed nonfiction book on racial disparities in the criminal justice system. In 2021, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in support of a Black Muslim man who sued ADCRR for denying him access to religious texts, and to popular rap and R&B music such as Kendrick Lamar and The Weeknd. In January 2022, the Ninth Circuit ruled against ADCRR in the prisoner’s favor.”

    In its letter, the ACLU asks ADCRR to review each facility’s policy and practice to ensure respect for the First Amendment rights of incarcerated Arizonans, as well as the constitutional rights of publishers. Specifically, the ACLU is asking ADCRR to provide uncensored issues of The Nation to the intended recipients, to notify mailroom staff that they cannot invoke the unconstitutional and vague “sexual content” regulation, and to refrain in the future from banning materials reporting acts of current or historic racism.

    The full ACLU letter and the banned issues are at:

Racial Equality

Illinois Traffic Stop Data Shows

Continued Racial Inequalities 

in Stops, Searches

    Illinois (ACLU) - 7/31/2022 - Motorists of color on Illinois streets and highways continue to be stopped at rates higher than that of white drivers according to data collected and reported by police across the state. In 2021, Black drivers were approximately 1.7 times more likely to be stopped by police than white drivers. While Latinx drivers did not see a statewide disparity, they are more likely to be stopped in many jurisdictions. 

    Racial inequities in traffic stops have persisted statewide and in many jurisdictions for years. Black and Latinx drivers are often pulled over for low-level violations, whether it is changing lanes without signaling or having a broken taillight—offenses for which white drivers who violate the same laws are often not stopped. 

    The data for traffic stops in 2021 is contained in a recent report released by the Illinois Department of Transportation earlier this summer, as mandated by the Illinois Traffic and Pedestrian Stop Statistical Study Act (“the Act”).  The Act requires all law enforcement officers in Illinois to record and report data about every motorist they stop, including the race of the motorist, the reason for the stop and the outcome of the stop.  The Act was originally sponsored by then-State Senator Barack Obama and made permanent in recent years.

    The Act was designed to provide law enforcement leadership across the state with a tool for addressing potential racial bias in traffic enforcement. In highlighting the data today, the ACLU of Illinois again calls on law enforcement leadership to review and focus on the data to seek improvement. 

    “Black drivers from across the state have raised concerns for years that police are more likely to stop them than white drivers – that remains true based on this data,” said Joshua Levin, staff attorney for the ACLU of Illinois. “This is not anecdotal or selective – this reality is based on data that police report themselves about traffic stops in their communities. And that data consistently shows that Black drivers are more likely to be stopped than white drivers. ”

    The report makes clear that no single community is responsible for this disparity and some communities have improved in recent years.  Still, some communities have a rate of racial disparities far worse than the statewide rate.

    A number of communities across Illinois showed disparities:

    Chicago: Black drivers were more than 5 times more likely to be stopped than white drivers; Latinx drivers were nearly 2.5 times more likely to be stopped;

    Aurora: Black drivers were 7 times more likely to be stopped by police; Latinx drivers were nearly 4 times more likely;

    Bloomington: Black drivers were 4.7 times more likely to be stopped by police; Latinx drivers were twice as likely;

    Peoria: Black drivers were 6.8 times more likely to be stopped by police; Latinx drivers were 2.3 times more likely;

    Springfield: Black drivers were 5 times more likely to be stopped by police, even though Latinx drivers were stopped consistent with their driving population in the community

    “Black people who have lived in Springfield for any amount of time have noticed that Blacks were more likely to be stopped while driving compared to white drivers,” added Ken Page, a Black driver and President of the ACLU of Illinois Chapter in Springfield. “This data shows that we have more to do as a community to make everyone feel like policing is fair and even-handed. We will be calling on our elected officials and law enforcement leaders to address this situation.”

    The data also shows that Black drivers were more likely to be asked for consent to search their car by police once a stop has been made. Black drivers statewide were more than 40 percent more likely to be asked for permission for such a search. In Chicago, Black drivers were more than 5 times more likely to be asked to allow police to conduct a consent search. Yet the data shows that Chicago police were more likely to find contraband in the automobile of a white motorist. 

    The ACLU’s Levin added: “Because Black and Latinx drivers are more likely to be stopped by police, they are more likely to experience invasive questioning, searches, humiliation, and, all too often, tragic violence at the hands of police. This is why we renew our call on police departments across Illinois to review and use this data to address these longstanding disparities. The Illinois legislature intended this data to be a tool for reform and improvement. Every police agency in Illinois should explain how it will change its policies to solve these stubborn racial inequalities.”

Reproductive Rights

Planned Parenthood Groups in 

Illinois, Wisconsin Partner 

to Improve Access


By Jonah Chester
Producer, Public News Service

 

     Illinois - (PNS) - 7/27/22 - Planned Parenthood of Illinois and Wisconsin are partnering to improve abortion access for Wisconsinites.

    Abortion in Wisconsin was functionally banned after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 case guaranteeing access to abortions.

    Jennifer Welch, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said the new partnership will increase services at the state's Waukegan clinic, just across the Wisconsin-Illinois border, south of Kenosha.

    "Abortion providers from Wisconsin now travel to Illinois several days a week to expand access to care at our Waukegan health center," Welch explained. "We opened the Waukegan health center in 2020 in anticipation of this moment."

    The legality of Wisconsin's 1849 abortion ban is currently a matter of dispute, and the state's Democratic Attorney General has filed a lawsuit to strike down the pre-Civil War measure. Even if its enforceability is questionable, the threat of legal action pushed Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin to discontinue providing abortion care at its clinics.

    Tanya Atkinson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, said the organization will continue to offer non-abortion-related reproductive health care. She added support is available for anyone who needs help getting to the Waukegan clinic.

    "We have also added patient navigators who can work with patients one-on-one and offer additional travel and financial support," Atkinson outlined. "We really want to remove those barriers for people, as much as we're able."

    According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, in 2020, Illinois clinics performed roughly 530 abortions for Wisconsin patients, out of the nearly 9,700 total abortions performed for out-of-state residents.

    Kristen Schultz, chief strategy and operations officer for Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said demand has exploded since Roe's fall.

    "Patients from Wisconsin traveling to our health centers across the state in Illinois for abortion has increased 10 times versus the pre-June average," Schultz reported. "We expect to see this need continue to expand."

    Before the Supreme Court's ruling, the number of out-of-state abortions Illinois clinics provided had steadily grown over the years. In 1995, the state performed about 3,600 abortions for out-of-state patients, roughly 63% below the number provided in 2020.

References:  

Ruling U.S. Supreme Court 06/24/2022
Abortion law Wis. State Legislature 1849
Abortion statistics Ill. Dept. of Public Health 2020

Credit: Story published courtesy of Public News Service.

Law and Justice


Justice Department Charges 

Dozens for $1.2 Billion 

in Health Care Fraud

 

     WASHINGTON, D.C., (DOJ) - 7/20/2022 - The Department of Justice today announced criminal charges against 36 defendants in 13 federal districts across the United States for more than $1.2 billion in alleged fraudulent telemedicine, cardiovascular and cancer genetic testing, and durable medical equipment (DME) schemes.

    The nationwide coordinated law enforcement action includes criminal charges against a telemedicine company executive, owners and executives of clinical laboratories, durable medical equipment companies, marketing organizations, and medical professionals.

    Additionally, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), Center for Program Integrity (CPI) announced today that it took adverse administrative actions against 52 providers involved in similar schemes. In connection with the enforcement action, the department seized over $8 million in cash, luxury vehicles, and other fraud proceeds.

    “The Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting people who abuse our health care system and exploit telemedicine technologies in fraud and bribery schemes,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “This enforcement action demonstrates that the department will do everything in its power to protect the health care systems our communities rely on from people looking to defraud them for their own personal gain.”

    The coordinated federal investigations announced today primarily targeted alleged schemes involving the payment of illegal kickbacks and bribes by laboratory owners and operators in exchange for the referral of patients by medical professionals working with fraudulent telemedicine and digital medical technology companies. Telemedicine schemes account for more than $1 billion of the total alleged intended losses associated with today’s enforcement action. These charges include some of the first prosecutions in the nation related to fraudulent cardiovascular genetic testing, a burgeoning scheme. As alleged in court documents, medical professionals made referrals for expensive and medically unnecessary cardiovascular and cancer genetic tests, as well as durable medical equipment. For example, cardiovascular genetic testing was not a method of diagnosing whether an individual presently had a cardiac condition and was not approved by Medicare for use as a general screening test for indicating an increased risk of developing cardiovascular conditions in the future.

    “Protecting the American people is at the forefront of the FBI’s mission,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “Fraudsters and scammers take advantage of telemedicine and use it as a platform to orchestrate their criminal schemes. This collaborative law enforcement action shows our dedication to investigating and bringing to justice those who look to exploit our U.S. health care system at the expense of patients.”

    “Today’s enforcement action highlights our dedication to fighting health care fraud and investigating individuals who target Medicare beneficiaries and steal from taxpayers for personal gain,” said Inspector General Christi A. Grimm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “HHS-OIG is proud to work alongside our law enforcement partners to disrupt fraud schemes that use the guise of telehealth to expand the reach of kickback schemes designed to cheat federally funded health care programs.”

    One particular case charged involved the operator of several clinical laboratories, who was charged in connection with a scheme to pay over $16 million in kickbacks to marketers who, in turn, paid kickbacks to telemedicine companies and call centers in exchange for doctors’ orders. As alleged in court documents, orders for cardiovascular and cancer genetic testing were used by the defendant and others to submit over $174 million in false and fraudulent claims to Medicare—but the results of the testing were not used in treatment of patients. The defendant allegedly laundered the proceeds of the fraudulent scheme through a complex network of bank accounts and entities, including to purchase luxury vehicles, a yacht, and real estate. The indictment seeks forfeiture of over $7 million in United States currency, three properties, the yacht, and a Tesla and other vehicles.  

    Some of the defendants charged in this enforcement action allegedly controlled a telemarketing network, based both domestically and overseas, that lured thousands of elderly and/or disabled patients into a criminal scheme. The owners of marketing organizations allegedly had telemarketers use deceptive techniques to induce Medicare beneficiaries to agree to cardiovascular genetic testing, and other genetic testing and equipment.

    “The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services continues to aggressively investigate fraud, waste and abuse and has taken action to protect patients, critical health care resources and to prevent losses to the Medicare Trust Fund,” said CMS Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure. “Work like this to combat fraud, waste, and abuse in our federal programs would not be possible without the successful partnership of CMS, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General.”

    The charges announced today allege that the telemedicine companies arranged for medical professionals to order these expensive genetic tests and durable medical equipment regardless of whether the patients needed them, and that they were ordered without any patient interaction or with only a brief telephonic conversation. Often, these test results or durable medical equipment were not provided to the patients or were worthless to their primary care doctors. 

    Today’s announcement builds on prior telemedicine enforcement actions involving over $8 billion in fraud, including 2019’s Operation Brace Yourself, 2019’s Operation Double Helix, 2020’s Operation Rubber Stamp, and the telemedicine component of the 2021 National Health Care Fraud Enforcement Action. Specifically, the Operation Brace Yourself Telemedicine and Durable Medical Equipment Takedown alone resulted in an estimated cost avoidance of more than $1.9 billion in the amount paid by Medicare for orthotic braces in the 20 months following that enforcement action.

    Today’s enforcement actions were led and coordinated by Acting Principal Assistant Chief Jacob Foster, Acting Assistant Chief Rebecca Yuan and Trial Attorney Catherine Wagner of the National Rapid Response Strike Force in the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section. The Fraud Section’s National Rapid Response Strike Force and the Health Care Fraud Unit’s Strike Forces (SF) in Brooklyn, Detroit, the Gulf Coast, Houston, Miami, Newark, as well as the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices for the District of New Jersey, Eastern District of Louisiana, Eastern District of Texas, Middle District of Florida, Middle District of Tennessee, Northern District of Georgia, Northern District of Mississippi, and Western District of North Carolina are prosecuting these cases.

    In addition to the FBI, HHS-OIG, and CPI/CMS, VA-OIG, DCIS, IRS, MFCU, DEA, and other federal and state law enforcement agencies participated in the operation.

    Prior to the charges announced as part of today’s nationwide enforcement action and since its inception in March 2007, the Health Care Fraud Strike Force, which maintains 16 strike forces operating in 27 districts, has charged more than 5,000 defendants who collectively billed federal health care programs and private insurers approximately $24.7 billion.

    A complaint, information or indictment is merely an allegation, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

    The following documents related to today’s announcement are available on the Health Care Fraud Unit website through the following links:

Telemedicine Enforcement Action (justice.gov)

Telemedicine Court Documents (justice.gov)

Telemedicine Press Releases (justice.gov)

Telemedicine Case Summaries (justice.gov)

    Any patients who believe that they have been contacted as part of a fraudulent telemedicine, clinical laboratory, or DME scheme should call to report this conduct to HHS-OIG at 1-800-HHS-TIPS.