At Liberty is a weekly podcast from the ACLU that explores the biggest civil rights and civil liberties issues of the day. A production of ACLU, Inc.
Kids Sued Montana Over Climate Change—Here’s How They Won
Last month, a district court judge in Montana ruled in favor of 16 youth plaintiffs in a landmark climate lawsuit. In Held v. Montana, young Montanans ranging from ages 5 to 22 sued the state, arguing that lawmakers have consciously prioritized the development of fossil fuels over the well-being of Montana’s residents and the protection of natural resources.
This case marks the first time that a U.S. court has declared a government’s constitutional duty to protect people from climate change. Not only does this case model how young people can engage with the legal system, it also sets precedent for similar lawsuits, proving state constitutions as a viable pathway to scoring seemingly unlikely civil rights victories.
Joining us today is Mat dos Santos, an attorney for Our Children’s Trust, the legal nonprofit group that brought the case on behalf of the youth, and Claire Vlases, one of the plaintiffs. They’ll explain what it took to get this case off the ground and what implications it could have for the future.
American Poverty is Our Problem to Fix
“The United States, the richest country on earth, has more poverty than any other advanced democracy. Why?” That’s the question that underscores Pulitzer Prize-winning sociologist Matthew Desmond’s new book, “Poverty, by America.” America is a country that purports equality as one of its highest values. Economic opportunity and the long touted American dream have driven millions to emigrate and settle here for centuries. In reality, however, gross economic inequality undergirds every facet of American life: education, the criminal legal system, health care, and housing.
Affordable housing is foundational to American life. Because America is rife with poverty, it’s also rife with housing inequality. This is Desmond’s focus of study. Desmond’s work at Princeton University’s “Eviction Lab” and his 2016 book, “Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City,” continue to shape the conversation about housing and poverty today. His new book takes his exploration one step further, seeking to examine and address the roots and responses to housing insecurity and its threat to American life.
Today, we are running a conversation between Desmond and the ACLU’s Sandra Park, senior staff attorney for the Women’s Rights Project, who also works on these issues. Together, they’ll break down the complexities of American poverty and how poverty as a societal force threatens the accessibility of our civil rights and civil liberties.
This Student Fought a School Fine for Four Years
We’re continuing to feature major stories impacting students as the back-to-school season is underway. Today, we confront one troubling question: Why are students being fined by police in schools? Across the nation, students are being disciplined through tickets with shocking frequency, burdening them with hefty fines and subjecting them to the juvenile justice system, all of which greases the skids on the school-to-prison pipeline.
The state of Illinois has become a hotbed for ticketing in schools, to such an extent that legislators and activists have proposed a House bill to end the practice. But as we await the passage of this law, students continue to pay the price.
Last year, the Chicago Tribune and ProPublica published an investigation on this issue, finding that nearly 12,000 tickets were written to Illinois students over three school years, with Black students twice as likely to be ticketed compared to their white peers.
20-year-old Amara Harris is one of those students. She’s entering her senior year at Spelman College, finally free from an alleged theft fine that she received as a high school student in Naperville, Illinois. Now, the state is considering legislation to end fees and fines in schools on the backbone of cases like Amara’s. She joined us to explain how a misunderstanding over a pair of lost AirPods led to a trial four years in the making.
Then, Ghadah Makoshi, advocacy and policy strategist with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, discusses her research on ticketing in Pittsburgh public schools and how we can disrupt school-based pathways to the juvenile justice system.
Why Is Texas Eliminating School Libraries?
Back-to-school season is upon us and here at the ACLU we’ve been following the nationwide campaign to censor education, be that the censorship of important historical and social context in curriculums, or the recent rise in book bans. All of these efforts threaten students' right to learn. As we chart this issue, our eyes are on Texas. The state is banning more books than any other, eliminating libraries, and through these decisions, targeting low-income students of color.
This year, some students in the Houston Independent School District — the largest district in Texas — may be heading to schools with no libraries or librarians. In August, the state announced plans to convert libraries into disciplinary centers, eliminating librarian positions at 28 elementary and middle schools. Another 57 schools are being assessed for the same outcome, with the goal of addressing low academic performance in certain schools. This alarming change comes as part of a sweeping reform program led by the HISD’s new superintendent Mike Miles, and a new state-imposed school board, both of which replaced the district's former elected school board and superintendent in the spring.
We're joined by Becky Calzada and Deborah Hall, two Texas librarians who are advocating for students and the future of their profession. Then, we hear from ACLU of Texas attorney Chloe Kempf, to help explain how the rise in education censorship infringes on students’ civil rights.
No One Should Die In Custody
Across America, 68 percent of incarcerated people with a medical condition go without care in local jails. Put simply, incarcerated people are often denied life sustaining and life-saving health care treatment. To make matters worse, carceral facilities are increasingly used as a response to “treat” those with mental and physical illnesses. But, in reality, they are doing the opposite. After an arrest, those who can’t immediately post bail can spend days on end without medical services. Until they can gather enough money to buy freedom, incarcerated people can suffer from poor health care with dire consequences, including in some cases death. Nothing reveals this experience more than the story of 54-year-old Dexter Barry.
Last year, in November of 2022 Dexter was experiencing a renewed sense of health and stability in his life. This was all thanks to a heart transplant that he received after waiting for an organ for 12 years while battling ongoing heart complications. That month, Barry got into a verbal dispute with his neighbor in Jacksonville, Florida. The incident resulted in a misdemeanor arrest that kept him in jail for two days without anti-rejection medication for his transplant, despite several pleas for it. Three days after he was released from jail, he died from cardiac arrest that was caused by an acute rejection of his heart.
Dexter’s story is reflective of sweeping failures in the carceral system. Unfortunately, his story is one of many. We’re joined by his children Janelle King and Dexter Barry Jr., who are amplifying their dad’s story to get justice and prevent what happened to him from happening to anyone else.
The Decade-Long Fight For Pregnant Workers
On Tuesday, June 27, more than a decade after its first introduction in a congressional committee, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act went into effect, changing the landscape of work for all pregnant people. Before this law, many pregnant workers had to decide between protecting their jobs and protecting their health.
While there have been efforts in the past to protect pregnant workers, employers have always found loopholes to avoid providing accommodations. Against their judgment and against their doctors’ judgment, pregnant workers have had to lift heavy objects, stand for hours on end, and expose themselves to hazardous chemicals. This will no longer be the case thanks to national advocacy efforts, including those from us here at the ACLU.
Today, we’re speaking with Vania Leveille, senior legislative counsel in the ACLU’s National Political Advocacy Department, who will share more about the mammoth undertaking that moved the law to its passage, and Gillian Thomas, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, who will detail what the act looks like in practice.
So happy i listened to the podcast with trans youth
I wanted to comment on the podcast with trans youth. It is devastating that there are hateful people in power trying to suppress basic human rights of already marginalized individuals in this country. I wanted to comment and show my support as an ally and cis woman. I have a few clients who are trans and/or gender queer and it is important that I show support and advocate. I will do anything I can to speak out about the hatefulness occurring.
ACLU Fighting for Human Rights and Dignity
Your episode on the barrage of anti-transgender laws was so well done. It’s easy to fall into despair at so much Republican led hate in our country. But your podcast was able to both educate listeners on the frightening scourge of anti-trans legislation while at the same time providing motivation to fight back.
Issues, facts and action
My first listen and as always the ACLU has the facts and lays them out so we understand. Excellent but heartbreaking.