New York Civil Liberties Union

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is a civil rights organization in the United States. Founded in November 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, it is a not-for-profit, nonpartisan organization with nearly 50,000 members across New York State.[1]

NYCLU's stated mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution and the New York State Constitution, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers.[1] NYCLU performs its work through litigation, advocacy, community organizing, and public education.[1]

The NYCLU has eight offices in New York State: Central New York (the Syracuse area), the Capital Region (the Albany area), Lower Hudson Valley, Suffolk County, Nassau County, New York City, Genesee Valley and the Western Region.[2] The New York City office is the organization's headquarters and represents all regions that do not have their own local chapter or regional office.[2]

Donna Lieberman has been the executive director of the NYCLU since December 2001.[3]

Recent and current work


The NYCLU helped stop the NYPD's practice of keeping a computer database of personal information of innocent people who were stopped and/or frisked by police officers. On June 23, 2010, the State Senate passed a bill sponsored by Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D-57th AD) and Sen. Eric Adams (D-20th SD), which calls for the NYPD to shut down this database. On June 29, 2010 the New York State Assembly also passed the bill. Governor Paterson signed the bill into law on July 16, 2010.[4]

Opposition to involuntary commitment for the dangerously mentally ill

The NYCLU opposes Kendra's Law, which provides for judges to force dangerously mentally ill persons to be required to take medication to prevent them from harming themselves or others.[5]

DASA (Dignity for All Students Act)

The Dignity for All Students Act aims to halt the bias-based harassment and bullying present in public schools throughout New York. The bill passed the State Assembly on May 17, 2010, and the Senate on June 22, 2010. Governor David Paterson vowed to sign it into law.

School-to-prison pipeline

The "school-to-prison pipeline" is a nationwide system of local, state, and federal education and public safety policies that push students out of school and into the criminal justice system. This system disproportionately targets youth of color and youth with disabilities. Inequities in areas such as school discipline, policing practices, high-stakes testing and the prison industry contribute to the pipeline.

The NYCLU takes an active role in fighting the school-to-prison pipeline and in educating New York public school students about their rights within the confines of their schools. These rights range from those pertaining to interactions with school safety and school resource officers to how to deal with metal detectors.

In January 2010, the NYCLU, ACLU, and Dorsey & Whitney LLP filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the NYPD's practice of wrongfully arresting and using excessive force against children in New York City schools. The case, B. H. et al. v. City of New York, is ongoing.

Domestic worker's rights

Domestic workers have long been denied equal rights and protection under New York law.[6] On July 1, 2010, the state Legislature passed the Domestic Worker's Bill of Rights, legislation that guarantees that the 200,000 domestic workers currently residing in New York State receive basic labor protections, such as a day off every week, overtime pay, and paid sick days.[7] Governor Paterson signed the bill into law on August 31, 2010.[8]

Public defense

The NYCLU filed the class action lawsuit Hurrell-Harring et al. v. State of New York in 2007, challenging New York State's failure in its constitutional duty to provide effective counsel to New Yorkers accused of crimes who cannot afford to pay private lawyers.[9][10] This case targets the public defense systems in Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Suffolk and Washington counties for failing to provide adequate public defense services: The case was filed on behalf of defendants from these five counties. On Aug. 1, 2008, a State Supreme Court judge denied the state's motion to dismiss the case. In July 2009, the Third Department of the Appellate Division, in a split decision, reversed the lower court's denial of the state's motion to dismiss. In May 2010, the State Court of Appeals, New York's highest court, overturned the Third Department in a historic 4-to-3 ruling, allowing the case to proceed.[11]

Reproductive Health Act

The NYCLU supports the Reproductive Health Act, which, if passed, will guarantee that a woman will have the ability to have an abortion if her health is at risk, ensure that state law will regulate abortion as a medical procedure, and guarantee the right of everyone to use or refuse contraception. The Reproductive Health Act was introduced in the New York State Assembly by Assemblymember Deborah Glick, D-66th A.D, in June 2010. It was introduced to the State Senate by Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-35th S.D., during the 2009 legislative session.[12][13]

Kings County Hospital

In May 2007, the NYCLU (attorney Chris Hansen), along with Mental Hygiene Legal Services and Kirkland & Ellis LLP, filed a lawsuit against Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn. The lawsuit described the hospital's psychiatric emergency room and inpatient unit as "a chamber of filth, decay, indifference and danger", and sought to end abusive treatment in the hospital's psychiatric facilities. The conditions at the hospital drew national attention in 2008 when the NYCLU released security camera footage of a woman dying on the hospital's waiting room floor, after hospital staff ignored her for hours. Under a settlement, the hospital agreed to significant reforms and monitoring for five years by the NYCLU, the Department of Justice, Mental Hygiene Legal Services and Kirkland & Ellis LLP.

Tabbaa v. Chertoff

After attending the Reviving the Islamic Spirit Conference in Toronto in 2004, scores of Americans were stopped by U.S. Custom and Border Protection agents at the U.S.‑Canada border. They were frisked, interrogated, fingerprinted and photographed. Their information was entered into government databases. This occurred as a result of a federal policy that targeted thousands of people who attended Islamic conferences outside of the United States. In 2005, the NYCLU, along with the ACLU and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of five Muslim Americans who were detained. The organizations argued that the policy violated both the First and Fourth Amendments. In 2005 the District Court ruled that the law did not violate the plaintiffs' constitutional rights. Upon appeal, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court's decision, and held that the policy was tailored to a government concern that terrorists might attend such conferences.

Historical work


In 1961, as a result of the NYCLU's efforts, the NYPD posted English- and Spanish-language placards in police precinct stations advising prisoners of their right to a free, local telephone call.

In 1962, the NYCLU celebrated a number of triumphs. In response to an NYCLU report, City University of New York lifted its ban on communists speaking at its college campuses.

That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the NYCLU's position that the New York City Parks Department wrongfully denied George Norman Rockwell, the American Nazi Party leader, a permit to give a speech in Union Square Park.

Also that year, the NYCLU won Joseph Papp reinstatement to his job after CBS television dismissed Papp for invoking the "Fifth" before the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Finally, in response to a landmark school-prayer case brought by the NYCLU, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a school board cannot prescribe recitation of prayer in classrooms.

In 1965, David J. Miller was arrested when he burned his draft card to protest selective service regulations and the Vietnam War; the NYCLU defended Miller's expression of political dissent.

That same year, the NYCLU convinced the Nassau County district attorney to drop charges against reproductive rights pioneer William G. Baird after his arrest for distributing contraceptives to married women.

In 1967, in an appearance before the state Assembly's Committee on Health, the NYCLU questioned the constitutionality of state law limitations on a woman's right to an abortion.

Also that year, in a major victory for academic freedom,[citation needed] the US Supreme Court upheld the NYCLU's challenge of the Feinberg Law, which barred members of "subversive" organizations[clarification needed] from working in public schools.


In 1970, a campaign led by the NYCLU's legislative office lead to the repeal of a state law that imposes criminal sanctions for the performance of medical abortions.

That same year, the NYCLU launched Prisoner's Rights Project, whose mission is to "penetrate the prisons with the rule of law."

In 1971, the NYCLU played a key role in organizing the Welfare Rights Litigation Task Force, a coalition that launched a statewide attack on illegal and discriminatory welfare legislation.

In 1972, the NYCLU brings landmark litigation charging that inhumane conditions at the Willowbrook State School violate the constitutional rights of the mentally disabled.

Also that year, in an important reproductive rights case, a federal court upheld the NYCLU's position that denial of Medicaid payments for elective abortions is unconstitutional.

In 1973, the New York Human Rights Commission ordered Nassau County to admit women to the police cadet training program in response to a discrimination claim brought by NYCLU's Nassau chapter.

In 1974, the NYCLU won enactment of state legislation prohibiting discrimination in credit transactions based on sex, marital status or child-bearing capacity.

1975 marked a series of triumphs for the NYCLU, starting with the US Court of Appeals ruling that a high school teacher was wrongly suspended for wearing a black arm band to protest Vietnam War; the NYCLU prevailed in the case drawing national attention to the issue.

Also that year, a major US Supreme court decision upheld the NYCLU's position that students are entitled to a hearing when threatened with suspension.

During the same year, a federal court approved a consent decree in the Willowbrook case that establishes comprehensive and detailed treatment standards for the mentally disabled.

Finally, in a test case brought by the NYCLU, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the mentally ill cannot be held against their will if they pose no danger to themselves or others.

In 1976, ten years of lobbying by NYCLU resulted[citation needed] in enactment of state legislation that requires criminal records be expunged when charges are terminated in favor of the accused.

In 1977, the NYCLU joined with the NYPD in a consent decree that bars police officers from arresting bystanders who observe, comment upon or photograph an arrest.


In 1980, an NYCLU lawsuit required the Immigration and Naturalization Service to free fifteen Cuban women detained over three months without hearings or notice of charges.

In 1981, the NYCLU entered into a consent decree establishing guidelines and reporting requirements when the NYPD engages in surveillance of political activities.

That same year, the Department of Justice paid damages to five NYCLU clients subjected to illegal wire-taps and break-ins by the FBI's "Squad 47," which was seeking information on suspected political radicals.

Also that year, the NYCLU secured enactment of state law that prohibits insurance companies from refusing to provide insurance to applicants with a history of mental illness.

In 1982, the NYCLU won release of 53 Haitian immigrants who, a court found, had been denied pre-hearing release "because they were black and/or Haitian."

That same year, in response to a First Amendment case brought by the NYCLU, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students and parents can challenge school boards that remove library books deemed offensive.

In 1987, the US Supreme Court upheld an NYCLU victory: The government cannot deny visas to foreign visitors invited to the United States in order to prevent expression or association deemed critical of U.S. policies.

In 1989, a federal court upheld the NYCLU's claim that the New York City Board of Education discriminated against women by awarding scholarships based solely on SAT scores, in the case Sharif v. New York State Department of Education.

That same year, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the system of electing members to the New York City Board of Estimate violated the constitutional principle of "one person, one vote." The NYCLU prevails after eight years of litigation.

Also that year, the NYCLU launched the Reproductive Rights Project as the legal arm of the pro-choice movement in New York State.


In 2007, the NYCLU helped a pair of homeless drug addicts challenge a judge's ruling that they not have any more children until they recovered custody of their other offspring. Three of the four had been born addicted to cocaine.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c About the NYCLU, NYCLU, retrieved on March 11, 2012, at http://www.nyclu.org/node/1022#executiv
  2. ^ a b NYCLU's 2011 Annual Report, pg. 28, retrieved on March 11, 2012, at http://www.nyclu.org/files/NYCLUAR_2011_web.pdf Archived 2013-03-31 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Donna Lieberman, Executive Leadership, NYCLU Staff, NYCLU, retrieved on March 11, 2012, at http://www.nyclu.org/node/1022#executive
  4. ^ "Paterson Signs Bill Limiting Stop-and-Frisk Data". The New York Times. July 16, 2010.
  5. ^ "Testimony: Extending Kendra's Law". New York Civil Liberties Union. 2007-02-27. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  6. ^ "First Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights Passes". YES! Magazine. June 28, 2010.
  7. ^ "NYCLU celebrates passage of Domestic Workers' Bill of Rights". Utica Daily News.[dead link]
  8. ^ "Paterson Signs Landmark Bill of Rights For Domestic Workers". NY1 News. August 31, 2010. Archived from the original on October 4, 2010.
  9. ^ "Hurrell-Harring et al. v. State of New York (Challenging New York State's failure to provide adequate public defense services)". NYCLU. Retrieved September 27, 2010.
  10. ^ "Hurrell-Harring, et al. v. State of New York (Amicus Brief)". Brennan Center. 2010-06-05.
  11. ^ "NY's Highest Court Green Lights NYCLU Case that Charges State with Failing its Constitutional Duty on Public Defense" (Press release). ACLU. May 6, 2010.
  12. ^ "The Reproductive Health Act: Protecting the Health and Safety of the Women of New York". Family Planning Advocates of New York State. Archived from the original on October 30, 2010.
  13. ^ "Pass the Reproductive Health Act". NARAL NY. April 28, 2011.
  14. ^ "Procreation ban on homeless pair tossed". USA Today. 28 September 2007.

External links

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