Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Standard-Examiner Guest Commentary: Is the ACLU Relevant in Utah?

Where the hell has the Utah ACLU been during the entire several year pendency of the Powder Mountain matter?

After a two-month lull, the Powder Mountain Legal Stalemate is back on the Standard-Examiner editorial page this morning, with this probing Larry Zini guest commentary, which asks the question many of us have been asking, as the ongoing Powder Mountain lawsuits have languished in the Utah Supreme Court for the past six months or so:
Is the ACLU relevant in Utah? Powder Mountain plight beckons
Although Mr. Zini suggests that the ACLU ought to at least file an Amicus Curiae brief in this matter, we'll observe that it's probably too late for that, inasmuch as final briefs were due in the Utah Supreme Court by January 29 of this year. Nevertheless, Mr. Zini's question remains a good one. Where the hell has the Utah ACLU been during the entire several year pendency of this matter?

Looking at the situation objectively, it would seem that a voter rights case like this would be right up the ACLU's alley, yet the ACLU has been entirely silent on the matter. Still, the organization has been recently involved in at least one other voter rights case in Weber County, so the question remains... why are they sitting this one out?

Mr. Zini does speculate as to the reasons the ACLU may have declined to get involved in this case; but for the moment at least we'll refrain from offering our own additional speculation on the subject.

But here's what we will do, gentle readers. We'll forward a copy of this article to the ACLU Utah chapter this morning. Perhaps we can get an answer straight from the horse's mouth.

If we're fortunate enough to receive anything tangible back in reply, our readers will be the first to hear about it.

Update 5/12/10 10:13 a.m.: We now discover that Blogmeister Valley has published his own writeup on this morning's guest commentary on Ogden Valley Forum:
Is the ACLU relevant in Utah?
Have at it, O Gentle Ones.


althepal said...

Bingo, Rudi. I just found this on the Utah ACLU's "How the ACLU of Utah Accepts Cases" page:

There are many cases of injustice that the ACLU is simply unable to handle. We receive hundreds of requests for help each month at this office alone, and we must select those cases that we think will have the greatest impact on protecting civil liberties in Utah.

The Utah ACLU is clearly outgunned in this matter, and the civil injustice in this case only affects a narrow demographic.

Ernie the Attorney said...

According to information in the ACLU press release cited in the article above, "the ACLU of Utah operates with the help of a dedicated staff of 'two full-time and four part-time employees.'"

"Outgunned" doesn't even begin to describe the problem.

William Kuntsler said...

Those are poor excuses. The ACLU has a national organization structure and if this issue involved minorities or gays and national coverage, they be front in center in an instant! It has always appeared that the Utah citizens receive very little interest on civil rights issues from the ACLU unless they are minorities or gays. Did you ever hear of a case involving higher profile issues where the ACLU has not even responded?

Curmudgeon said...

From the headline of his op-ed piece, it seems Mr. Zini has been reading the Salt Lake City Weekly recently. [That's good. Everyone should read the SL City Weekly. It often does the best investigative journalism in the state . Doesn't get it right all the time, but it does a lot of the time.]

The City Weekly recently ran a lead story taking the Utah ACLU to task for what the paper thought was excessive timidity [link here]. It's an interesting read, as is the response on-line from the former Utah ACLU director, which specifically addresses the "what we choose to litigate" question.

I'm sorry the claim that the ACLU is interested in your rights only if you are a "minority" [meaning, many seem to think, black, Hispanic, gay, etc.] appeared in Mr. Zini's otherwise interesting op ed piece, and in the commentary here. The ACLU has a long record of defending the liberties of the white and happily heterosexual as well [including LDS families harassed for their beliefs at public schools, for example], and most famously defending the right of American Nazis to hold a parade in Skokie, Illinois under the same requirements and restrictions, but only those, that applied to any other group wishing to parade there. [The American Nazi Party is not generally known to be composed of blacks or gays, so far as I know.]

But it is hardly surprising that the ACLU will be involved on the side of racial and ethnic minorities often, since it's minorities that are mostly likely to have their rights stepped on by majority-driven governments [e.g. Jim Crow laws, etc.]

But such side matters aside, Mr. Zini raises some good points about the threatened liberties of the Powderville residents.

My own view, as a card-carrying Utah ACLU member, is that the issue involved in Powderville is significant enough for the ACLU to have become involved. I suspect [I have not asked anyone in the SL office, but will next time I see them] about the group's involvement, or decision not to become involved, in the Powder Mountain matter. I suspect the fact that the legislature changed the law so that the disaster at Powder Mountain cannot be repeated elsewhere has something to do with it. That of course in no way helps the Powderville residents whose rights were so cavalierly stripped away by Utah's Republican legislators for the benefit of developers whose realtor lobbyists so happily dip into their deep pockets to finance the legislators' campaigns.

Had it been up to me, I probably would have chosen differently. But then, I'm not the Utah group's director with severely limited resources having to pick and choose which matters to expend those resources on. Looking at which matters have the greatest potential for threatening protected liberties going forward seems a reasonably sound metric to apply when making such decisions.

William Kuntsler said...

Crum, it would have been better if the people at Powder Mountain had even heard back from the ACLU. Despite several contacts, they never responded with any reason they would not get involved.

We should see now if they even respond to this wake up call.

Zodiac said...

The part about this issue with Powder Mountain that is so appalling is that the legislature has had several opportunities to correct this terrible wrong and has refused to do so!

When they identified the constitutional flaws in the original HB466, they very carefully crafted the new replacement law to prevent it from happening again, but they also made sure that the PM developers retained their right to deny the affected citizens their civil rights of equal protection. That was willful and deliberate collusion by the legislature to deny equal protection to Utah citizens.

The ACLU should have acted and it sounds like they did not even reply to the request to get involved.

Tiny Britches said...

Wow, now I understand this whole thing much better.

How could the ACLU feel this was a minor issue
not worth their time? A State legislature passes an ill advised bill that denies the civil rights to some of the state's citizens, recognizes that, and then crafts a replacement bill that still DOES NOt correct constitutional problem. What was the legislature thinking?

ozboy said...

Mr. Curmudgeon

As a card carrier of the ACLU, can you give us any examples of any significant cases in Utah that the organization has been involved with that ended well for Utah folk's constitutional rights?

Don't know for sure, but they seem to be about as involved and effective as the average high school debating team here in the land of the great Mo.

Danny said...

If anybody is interested...

"Agriculture Department said 39.68 million people, or 1 in 8 Americans, were enrolled for food stamps during February, an increase of 260,000 from January. USDA updated its figures on Wednesday. Nearly 40 million Americans received food stamps -- the latest in an ever-higher string of record enrollment ..."


"April's federal deficit of $83 billion was the highest April deficit on record. Income was $245.3 billion, 8% below the total recorded last April. Spending was $328.0 billion, up 14% year-over-year. A year ago in April the deficit was $20.9 billion."

So food stamps still going up, gummint spending going up, deficit going up, and tax collections (taken from what we used to call the "real economy") are still going sharply down.

It paints a pretty clear picture to me, and it's not pretty. Why is nobody else scared?

rebles said...

You forgot to add that Big Corporations profit rose dramatically during this period, as did the wealth of the top one percent, while the actual contribution to the nations economy by these super-wealthy fatcats did not increase even by a slim margin.
They do less than ever, and now virtually own you. Meanwhile, wages for hard working Americans declined similarly, you know, the ones who actually work? Pharaohs and their trust fund unemployed kids are the problem; regulation of these super wealthy crooks is the answer. But, that is not what your overlords want you to believe. They want you to think that the problem is that you are all over taxed. Bull.

Curmudgeon said...


You asked for one example. OK. Here's one [taken from the City Weekly article I linked above]:

In another instance, outrage over discounted ballots during the 2007 Ogden mayoral race resulted not in a lawsuit, but a new state law. In 2007, thousands of voters were shocked to find that, when they showed up at their polling locations, their eligibility as voters had been challenged, forcing them to cast a provisional ballot. With hundreds more than usual provisional ballots turning up, overwhelmed election staff had to throw out many votes because they could not confirm the eligibility of the voters.

“Unfortunately, the way the law was drafted, somebody could submit a list to the county clerk saying, ‘I think all of these people are ineligible to vote,’ without any factual sort of basis,” says Marina Lowe, the legislative liaison for the ACLU of Utah and former legal director.

Pulling the trigger on a lawsuit would have required the ACLU of Utah to prove that the discarded ballots would have changed the outcome of the election—a time-consuming and costly effort to even get the complaint off the ground. Instead, the ACLU of Utah spent two years working with legislators, elections-office officials and county clerks to develop a bill passed by Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, during the 2010 Legislature to protect voters’ rights at the polling place. The bill requires that if a vote is to be challenged, it has to be done before Election Day. Further, the challenger must provide facts to back up the claim under penalty of perjury and the challenged voter must have time to respond to the challenge.

“It’s really great that the ACLU has multiple tools to use,” Lowe says. “In this case, a lawsuit couldn’t effect the change that we wanted.”

Seems like a reasonably good example to me.

Danny said...

I appreciate that Curm. I didn't know that. One less "tool" for Godfrey to use. One more reason he should retire on his own terms, rather than being disgraced like Bennett was.

Brother Orchid said...

It seems obvious with all the media coverage in Northern Utah that the ACLU avoided any involvement on the Powder Mountain issue even though it was obvious that the Utah legislature deprived the homeowners of their civil rights. Even when contacted about the issue, the ACLU failed to respond. They just don't wish to take on the power structure in this state unless it involves minorities or gays. They are not effective in this state.

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