Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy
The ACLU of Colorado's Legal Department works to protect and defend civil liberties through legal actions as well as advocacy outside the courtroom. With only five full-time attorneys on staff, the ACLU also relies on the work of dedicated volunteer cooperating attorneys from around the state who are willing to donate their time and talent to assist our struggle for liberty.
ACLU of Colorado attorneys have successfully fought back against attacks on immigrant rights, LGBT rights, and the rights of people living in poverty. We've set precedent and won significant victories for racial justice, prisoner rights, and police accountability.
Recent successes include:
Holding the Line against ICE Immigration Detainers:
Local law enforcement officials, including sheriffs, have no legal authority to enforce federal immigration law. Despite that, federal immigration officers routinely ask sheriffs to hold people in their jails past their release so that they can be shuffled into deportation proceedings. These requests are not approved by a judge and have no legal foundation.
In 2014, ACLU of Colorado successfully challenged the detention of Claudia Valdez, a domestic violence victim who was arrested by police and then held for three days after the court had ordered her release due to a request from federal immigration authorities. After that case settled and Valdez was awarded $30,000 in damages, every sheriff in the state changed their policies and stopped honoring detention requests from the federal government.
In the last year, sheriffs in El Paso and Teller Counties strayed from the position taken by all other sheriffs and began, once again, to honor detainer requests. On behalf of individuals who were illegally jailed, ACLU of Colorado sued both sheriffs. A judge in El Paso County issued an emergency order mandating that those individuals be released and ordering the sheriff to stop honoring warrantless detainer requests.
Fighting for LGBT Rights at the US Supreme Court:
In 2012, Colorado residents David Mullins and Charlie Craig, along with Charlie's mother Deborah Munn, visited Masterpiece Cakeshop to order a wedding cake. Masterpiece owner Jack Phillips informed the couple that he does not provide cakes to customers for same-sex weddings. Phillips has turned away several other couples for the same reason.
Colorado's Anti-Discrimination Act prohibits businesses, such as Masterpiece Cakeshop, from refusing service based on factors including race, sex, national origin, or sexual orientation. The ACLU of Colorado filed suit on behalf of Mullins and Craig in 2013.
ACLU of Colorado represented Charlie and Dave as they took their fight for equal rights through the Colorado courts and all the way to the US Supreme Court.
While the Cakeshop, its lawyers, and the Trump Administration sought to overturn Colorado's non-discrimination protections at the Supreme Court, the Court upheld our state's laws in a 7-2 decision.
We will continue fighting in the courts and at the legislature to ensure that all people are protected against discrimination and that businesses, healthcare providers, governments, and other services providers don't get a license to discriminate.
Victories for Racial Justice and Police Accountability:
In 2018, City of Aurora paid $75,000 to settle lawsuits brought by ACLU of Colorado on behalf of Omar Hassan and Dwight Crews, two black men who were victims of racially-biased policing by the Aurora Police Department. Across the state, ACLU of Colorado has won our clients more than $500,000 in compensation in police misconduct and unnecessary use of force cases. We continue to advocate for major law enforcement reform, including more truly independent systems of police accountability.
Fighting Criminalization of Homelessness:
As affordable housing options become increasingly rare in Colorado, the number of people who have no place to live or sleep has increased. Cities across the state have responding by passing new laws and enforcing old ones that essentially make it a crime to exist when a person is homeless.
From restrictions on sitting or lying down in public to laws that dictate when and where someone can peacefully ask for charity to geographic restrictions that banish people from downtown areas, police use these ordinances to target, harass, and ultimately displace people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty.
Through legal challenges and advocacy letters, the ACLU of Colorado has stopped or overturned unconstitutional ordinances that criminalize homelessness in Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Durango, Steamboat Springs, Greeley, and Telluride.
Challenging Gender Discrimination at Frontier Airlines:
The ACLU of Colorado has filed discrimination charges in two separate cases involving Frontier Airlines pilots and flight attendants who were forced to take unpaid leave because they were pregnant and then not provided proper accommodations for pumping breast milk after they returned to work. State and Federal law requires employers to provide a private, comfortable place for employees to pump breast milk at work.
Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy
The Public Policy Department is responsible for advancing the civil liberties agenda of the ACLU before the Colorado legislature, executive branch, as well as city, county and state governmental bodies. The work takes place through lobbying, working with staff of key policymakers, coalition building, legislative strategies, advocacy, and public education.
We had an ambitious legislative agenda entering into the 2019 session and are happy to announce a series of successes. First, we championed legislation that will fund for the first time in our state's history, comprehensive sex education for schools seeking to adopt such a curriculum. We were able to champion legislation that will bring some relief to our immigrant friends and neighbors and advanced legislation that will reform aspects of our cruel bail system. You made this happen and we thank you for your help and support. Let's take a look at the rest of our successes:
HB 19-1032: Comprehensive Human Sexuality Education - Creates a $1 million program so schools can provide students with the tools they need to make healthy choices and ensures sex ed programs don't shame or stigmatize students.
HB 19-1124: Protect Colorado Residents From Federal Government Overreach - Builds trust and promotes public safety by limiting probation cooperation with ICE, ends the unconstitutional practice of relying on warrantless ICE detainers and protects the rights of Coloradans by ensuring everyone receives a written advisement before questioning.
HB 19-1335: Juvenile Expungement - Creates opportunities for youth to clear their criminal records and get a fresh start.
HB 19-1042: Extend Court Jurisdiction For Vulnerable Youth - Allows Colorado courts to appoint guardians for vulnerable immigrant youth between 18 and 21 who have been abandoned, abused or neglected, thus ensuring their long-term well-being.
SB 19-108: Juvenile Justice Reform - Ensures Colorado's youth are not left behind bars by providing much-needed services and promoting alternatives to incarceration.
SB 19-136: Expand Division Youth Services Pilot Program - Funds a second program for youth in juvenile facilities that moves away from a punitive approach to one based on providing treatment and care so youth can successfully transition back into their communities.
Criminal Justice Reform:
HB 19-1225: No Monetary Bail For Certain Low-level Offenses - Ensures that poverty is not a crime and prevents judges from setting monetary bonds for petty and traffic violations.
HB 19-1263: Offense Level For Controlled Substance Possession - Changes low-level drug felony possession to a misdemeanor and provides substance abuse and mental health services for those incarcerated and struggling with addiction.
HB 19-1266: Restore Voting Rights for Parolees - Defends the founding American principle that in a democracy, voting is a right, not a privilege.
HB 19-1297: Jail Capacity Data Collection - Establishes a statewide data collection system for Colorado's jails so policymakers can make data-driven decisions to improve public safety, reduce costs and identify areas for reform.
SB 19-036: State Court Administrator Reminder Program - Creates texts that remind people of their court date to reduce failures to appear and prevent needless incarceration.
SB 19-191: Prompt Pretrial Liberty And Fairness - Allows people to post bond within 2 hours, ensures people are released within 4 hours after posting bond and limits excessive fees to no more than $10.
SB 19-1119: Peace Officer Internal Investigation Open Records - Promotes government transparency and accountability by allowing public access to these files after the investigation is complete.
Civil Rights, Social Action & Advocacy
The ACLU Foundation of Colorado educates Coloradans about their civil rights and civil liberties and mobilizes diverse communities across the state through outreach events, Know Your Rights Training's, the Purple State Report Podcast, and the Mobile Justice smartphone app.
Our communications program holds government and elected officials accountable, educates the public on civil rights and civil liberties issues, and expands the impact of our public policy and legal work.
Vote Like Your Rights Depend on It
During the critical 2018 midterm elections, ACLU of Colorado launched an activist-led statewide voter education campaign to protect voting rights, inform voters about key races and initiatives on the ballot, and turn out tens of thousands of pro-civil liberties voters.
ACLU of Colorado held candidate forums in the Gubernatorial, Attorney General, and Boulder District Attorney races. We hosted statewide and local candidates on the Purple State Report podcast, and published VoteYourAGColorado.org, a site dedicated to educating voters about the positions of the two candidates vying to be Colorado's next Attorney General.
We launched a statewide voter protection network to combat misinformation, intimidation, and suppression.
Prior to the election, our activists participated in door-to-door canvasses, phone banks, and house parties to get out the vote and to encourage all Coloradans to prioritize civil rights and civil liberties when they cast their ballot.
In 2017, the ACLU launched the People Power platform to empower local activists to protect their local communities and fight back against unconstitutional policies from the Trump Administration.
People Power is, at its core, a grassroots member-mobilization project. Through People Power, the ACLU engages volunteers across the country to take action when Trump or his administration attempt to enact unconstitutional policies or trample on people's constitutional rights. By mobilizing in defense of our civil liberties, volunteers build local communities that affirm our American values of respect, equality, and solidarity.
For 98 years, the ACLU has defended our Constitution in the courts. Now, we're going to couple that legal power with People Power - and take our fight to the streets.
The Purple State Report Podcast:
The ACLU of Colorado produces a bi-weekly podcast that reaches more than 10,000 Coloradans on their phones and electronic devices. Each episode features breaking news updates, an interview highlighting a client, activist, legislator, or member of our staff, and a call to action to get engaged in one of our ongoing advocacy campaigns.
Know Your Rights Training's:
The ACLU of Colorado provides free community trainings and materials with simple steps for handling interactions with police and law enforcement. Trainings focus on de-escalation, asserting your rights, and reporting instances of police misconduct.
We have also added a new emphasis on Know Your Rights training's for immigrant communities focused on preparedness for interactions with federal immigration agents and rights when detained or facing deportation proceedings.
So far, in 2018, ACLU of Colorado Know Your Rights trainers have conducted more than 60 training's and trained more than 3,000 people in communities throughout the state.
Mobile Justice Colorado :
In September 2015, the ACLU of Colorado launched Mobile Justice Colorado, a free smartphone app that allows users to record their interactions with law enforcement in video and audio that is automatically transmitted to the ACLU of Colorado, so that it cannot be destroyed, deleted, or confiscated.
The app also informs users if there is a police interaction happening nearby, so that they can go to the interaction and be a witness. It also includes a Know Your Rights guide in English and Spanish.
Through email campaigns activating our statewide list, the ACLU of Colorado routinely generates thousands of emails to legislators and decision-makers on civil rights and civil liberties issues. In the last legislative session, ACLU e-activists sent more than 100,000 emails to state representatives on policies addressing police accountability, reproductive rights, LGBT rights, and criminal justice reform.
The ACLU of Colorado participates in community outreach at several public events throughout the year, including PrideFest, Juneteenth, Cinco de Mayo, and MLK Day celebrations. Staff and volunteers march, table, and promote the ACLU and our key issues, while having face-to-face conversations with tens of thousands of Coloradans.