Like many Americans, last Tuesday I found myself first in shock – but then fear for our country and for the civil liberties values we cherish.
This was because of how the campaign of President-elect Donald Trump stoked racist, xenophobic and Islamophobic fears, promising polices that, if enacted, would be an unprecedented all-out attack on the rights of Americans.
The day after the election, the ACLU of Florida staff met first to come to terms with our collective shock at the civil liberties challenges we are now surely facing, then to immediately begin planning how we will deploy our resources and the tens of thousands of ACLU members in Florida to respond to them.
We are now preparing to fulfill the role the ACLU has always played since it was established in 1920: standing up against and challenging any government abuses of rights and liberties.
People understand this about the ACLU. That is why, in the week since the election, the ACLU has received an unprecedented outpouring of support. We are now hard at work putting that support to work.
At the federal level, we are committed to:
- protecting the “Dreamers” who received Presidential protection against deportation, and resisting any attempt to create a dragnet deportation force;
- blocking any effort to deny reproductive rights or defund Planned Parenthood and other reproductive health service providers that serve women’s health;
- preserving civil rights protections for transgender Americans, especially transgender children in public schools;
- preventing “stop-and-frisk” policies from being adopted nationwide; and
- opposing discrimination against Muslims in the U.S. and bans on Muslims entering our country.
But the reverberations of this election will not be felt only at the federal level. The stakes are also enormously high in Florida.
We must be vigilant against efforts by Florida politicians who may seek to capitalize on the toxic anti-immigrant sentiment that fueled Donald Trump’s rise to the Presidency. Laws targeting individuals based on their status as immigrants violate the fundamental right to fair and equal treatment. Despite their large share of our state’s population, immigrants in Florida are now a punching bag for opportunistic politicians seeking to make cheap political points. We will be stand up for Florida’s immigrant community against efforts to discriminate.
We must also be vigilant against efforts to roll back Florida women’s access to abortion and reproductive care. President-elect Trump has said he would appoint justices who would undermine Roe v. Wade, but the Florida Constitution’s explicit right to privacy protects everyone in Florida, including a women’s right to abortion. (We are currently before the Florida Supreme Court challenging the Legislature’s latest restriction – subjecting women to a mandatory wait period before receiving an abortion.)
We are prepared to fight back against attacks on that right, from the Legislature or the forthcoming Constitutional Revision Commission.
And we must guard against efforts to undermine hard-won victories for LGBT people who want to live their lives free from discrimination. We’ve celebrated victories that brought an end to Florida’s ban on adoptions and marriage, and we are prepared to fight back against efforts to undermine those victories.
For example, if Florida legislators attempt to pass a bill like that signed into law in Indiana last year by Vice President-elect Pence to allow people to assert a religious belief as grounds to discriminate against LGBT people, the Florida civil rights and business communities must be prepared to forcefully respond.
We must prevent the election results from being misinterpreted as justification for derailing the momentum for genuine criminal justice reform. A recent study commissioned by the James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute found that 72% of Floridians want reforms in the criminal justice system. We cannot allow racially-charged rhetoric about “law and order” to lead our state to double down on failed mass incarceration policies for which the cost in taxpayer dollars is matched only by their toll in human suffering.
For its nearly 100-year history, the ACLU has fought back – on behalf of everyone, regardless of race or political point of view.
We have faced difficult times in the past -- from the anti-immigrant Palmer Raids in the 1920s, to the Japanese internment in the 1940s to the McCarthy hysteria of the 1950s, to the Nixon assault on civil liberties in the ‘70s, and the inept reaction of the Bush Administration to the tragedy of 9/11.
In each of these crises, the ACLU stood up to presidents -- stood up for the constitutional rights of Americans.
Ultimately constitutional values prevailed. Together, we will prevail again.
A version of this op-ed was originally published in the Broward New Times, and Tampa Bay Times.