Posts Tagged ‘Rowland’

ACLU of Nevada Opposed to State Lawmaker Proposal To Make English Official Language

By Sean Whaley | 9:37 am August 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – A state lawmaker is having a bill drafted for the 2011 legislative session to make English the official language of Nevada, saying his intent is to unify rather than divide the state’s diverse residents.

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart, R-Henderson, said he is still researching the issue, but that his bill will be symbolic rather than seek to have any practical effect on the delivery of government services. It is not an English-only bill, but instead a recognition that English is the common language of the state and country, he said.

Stewart introduced a similar bill in the 2009 session but it did not receive a hearing.

“We have many different cultures and many people from different lands but I think that the English language is one thing that should be common to all of us and bring us all together,” he said. “Some people have criticized it as being divisive but that is certainly not my intent. It is to be a unifying thing.”

Many other states across the country have already adopted similar measures so it is not unique to Nevada, Stewart said.

The U.S. English website lists 30 states with “official English” laws.

Oklahoma voters will weigh in on the issue on the November ballot. The measure would go further than what Stewart is proposing in Nevada. It would require all official actions of the state to be in English except as required by federal law.

Despite Stewart’s intent, the ACLU of Nevada opposes such legislation and will oppose Stewart’s measure even if it is symbolic only.

“We think they are generally inconsistent with the free speech protections of the First Amendment,” said Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the organization. “And perhaps more importantly they may impact or conflict with civil rights laws that require equal access to critical government services regardless of national origin.”

Rowland said such laws can intimidate non-English speakers from seeking government assistance, including police and fire, even if they are symbolic only, she said. These concerns were reflected in comments during a debate about an English-only ordinance in Pahrump, Rowland said.

“Often these laws simply have a kind of scare tactic effect,” she said.

The Pahrump Town Board passed the ordinance in November 2006 but repealed it early the following year.

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Audio files:

Assemblyman Lynn Stewart says his official English bill is meant to unite Nevadans:

081710Stewart1 :19 us as one.”

Stewart says the proposal is not intended to be divisive:

081710Stewart2 :08 a unifying thing.”

Stewart says many other states have adopted such laws:

081710Stewart3 :10 Nevada or anything.”

Lee Rowland of ACLU says English-only bills can conflict with federal civil rights laws:

081710Rowland1 :20 of national origin.”

Rowland says such measures cause problems even if they are only symbolic:

081710Rowland2 :21 result for anyone.”

U.S. Supreme Court Opens Up 2010 Elections in Major Free Speech Ruling

By Sean Whaley | 3:41 pm January 21st, 2010

CARSON CITY – Like it or not, the 2010 campaign season is likely to dominate the airwaves more than ever nationally and in Nevada following a decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court repealing a limitation on political spending by corporations.

In what is being hailed by supporters as a major First Amendment free speech ruling, the 5-4 decision will allow corporations and labor unions to spend freely on behalf of political candidates and on political issues. The ruling overturned a key section of the McCain-Feingold Act.

Janine Hansen, executive director of the Independent American Party of Nevada and a lobbyist in Carson City for the party and the Nevada Eagle Forum, welcomed the ruling as a victory for free speech and challengers to the political establishment.

“The more campaign finance laws we have had enacted, the fewer successes challengers and non-incumbents have had,” she said. “Anything we can do to restore free speech is very important.

“These laws are why we have a government that is unresponsive to the will of the people,” Hansen said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, also welcomed the ruling, saying the ACLU had filed a “friend of the court” brief with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the section of the law repealed in today’s decision.

The case involved a type of speech, called an “electioneering communication” as opposed to limits on the expenditure of money in political races, and was clearly a violation of the First Amendment, she said.

“We are dealing with core political speech,” Rowland said. “It was a very black and white issue to us.”

Rowland said it is too early to know what effect the ruling may have on Nevada’s state campaign finance laws. But the ACLU of Nevada spoke out against a bill in the 2009 session of the Legislature that would have established similar restrictions that Rowland said were also unconstitutional. The changes did not win approval.

“This is precisely the type of core political speech the First Amendment is designed to protect,” she said.

The case arose when a Washington, DC-based conservative nonprofit group called Citizens United, sought to run advertisements for a film called Hillary: The Movie, right before the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008. The ads were rejected by the Federal Election Commission citing limitations on campaign spending under the McCain-Feingold Act.

A lower court found the film’s purpose was political speech, while Citizens United argued the film was nonpartisan and not an electioneering communication.

Today’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturned the lower court ruling in favor of Citizens United.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, in the majority opinion, said: “Some members of the public might consider Hillary to be insightful and instructive; some might find it to be neither high art nor a fair discussion on how to set the Nation’s course; still others simply might suspend judgment on these points but decide to think more about issues and candidates. Those choices and assessments, however, are not for the Government to make.”

David Bossie, president of Citizens United, called the decision a “complete victory” for the group.

“This is a monumental day for Citizens United,” he said. “So we have been waiting a long time for this day.”

Critics of the decision who are saying it will “shake the core” of our Democracy are guilty of “tremendous hyperbole,” Bossie said. Corporations aren’t all the size of the Exxon Mobile Corp. Some corporations are run by lone individuals, he said.

Not everyone welcomed the ruling. Nationally, two leading national campaign finance reform organizations, Common Cause and Public Campaign, criticized the decision, saying it will “enhance the ability of the deepest-pocketed special interests to influence elections and the U.S. Congress.”

“This decision means more business as usual in Washington, stomping on voters’ hope for change,” said Nick Nyhart, president and CEO of Public Campaign. “Congress must take on the insider Washington money culture if it wants to make the changes voters are demanding.”

Washington, DC, based attorney Tom Josefiak, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission that was the target in the Citizens United case, called the decision a landmark day for the First Amendment and free speech.

“In issuing its sweeping Citizens United opinion today, the Supreme Court reversed decades of its own precedent prohibiting corporate independent expenditures and recognized once and for all that the First Amendment right of free speech applies to everyone, including corporations,” he said.

Josefiak, who also formerly served as chief counsel for the Republican National Committee, said the ruling allows corporations to spend their funds on political issues as long as they do so independently.

Opposition to Personhood Amendment Puts Nevada Anti-Abortion Groups in Unusual Company

By Sean Whaley | 5:28 pm November 18th, 2009
CARSON CITY – It isn’t every day that Nevada anti-abortion groups find themselves on the same side as Planned Parenthood and the ACLU in a political dispute, but that is what happened this week in regard to the proposed “Personhood Nevada” ballot initiative.

If approved by voters, the state constitutional amendment being pushed by a conservative Nevada group would define “a person” as anyone having a human genome. The goal is to protect all human life, from conception to death, by prohibiting abortion and assisted suicide.

The wording of the measure has been challenged in Carson City District Court by the ACLU of Nevada and Planned Parenthood for being too vague.

On Tuesday, two anti-abortion groups, Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum, announced their opposition to the measure, which was filed in October by Richard Ziser, chairman of a group called Nevada Concerned Citizens. The measure, which would require nearly 100,000 signatures to get on the ballot, is modeled after similar proposals pushed by anti-abortion advocates in other states.

Don Nelson, president of Sparks based Nevada Life, said being on the same side of the abortion debate as Planned Parenthood is just an unfortunate circumstance.

“They are against the petition because they want to destroy the pro-life movement,” he said of Planned Parenthood. “We are against it because we want to save the pro-life movement.”

Nevada Life embraces the concept of the personhood movement, but not the strategy of putting a measure on the ballot, Nelson said.

The Personhood Nevada initiative is misguided because it runs contrary to current U.S. law as embodied in Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. As a result, it will be struck down in an inevitable legal challenge and so not stop even a single abortion, he said.

It could also give activist judges in states where it may be approved by voters the chance to make rulings that could weaken existing protections designed to limit abortions, Nelson said.

The number of abortions has come down in the U.S. in the past two decades despite a huge population increase, the result of successful efforts by Nevada Life and Nevada Eagle Forum and similar groups in changing public opinion, he said.

Rather than spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an imitative fraught with legal problems, the money could be better spent electing anti-abortion candidates to elective office, Nelson said.

The opposition of the two groups should make it more difficult for Ziser to qualify the Personhood measure for the ballot, he said.

Lee Rowland, northern coordinator for the ACLU of Nevada, said the opposition of the two groups did come as a surprise. But the concerns are similar, she said. The ACLU legal challenge is based on the belief that the initiative is so vague and open to interpretation as to make it impossible for voters to know what they are actually voting on.

“It is certainly heartening that even groups who are firmly pro-life believe that this particular initiative is vague and misleading and could lead to a poor interpretation that the voters could never expect,” Rowland said.

Elisa Maser, president & CEO of Nevada Advocates for Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said voters have the right to know exactly what they are voting on and the proposed initiative does not make it clear what the full impact would be.

Ziser could not be reached for comment on the announcement by the two groups.

The group has until May to qualify the measure for the ballot. Voters would have to approve it twice, in 2010 and 2012, before it could take effect.