ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation Active Direct Representation or Advocacy Cases


Voting Rights

Frank v. Walker, 11-CV-1128 (E.D. Wis.)

The Wisconsin legislature passed a law requiring voters to show one of a very limited number of forms of photo ID in order to vote. It is one of the most restrictive of such laws in the nation. Such restrictions suppress participation in elections, especially for low-income persons, disabled persons, older adults, and young people and people of color. The lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty and pro bono attorneys in the U. S. District Court’s Eastern District of Wisconsin. The lawsuit claims the law violates the Equal Protection clause of the 14th Amendment, the 24th Amendment (prohibiting poll taxes), and includes a claim under the Voting Rights Act.  


Youth Rights and Equal Education

ACLU of Wisconsin, et al. v. Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights)

Milwaukee’s private voucher schools fail to provide adequate services to students with disabilities, resulting in discriminatory segregation of such students in the public school system. The civil rights complaint was filed by the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, Disability Rights Wisconsin and pro bono attorneys in the federal Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The complaint outlines how the voucher system violates Title VI by discriminating against students with disabilities.


Environmental and Racial Justice

MICAH & Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin v. Gottleib, 12-CV-553 (W.D.Wis.)

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) have approved a $2 billion reconstruction and expansion of the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee. WisDOT explicitly refused to consider transit expansion (or transit in any way) as part of this proposal. This will further widen the already large gap between transit-dependent communities of color and disproportionately white suburban commuters. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation was one of the organizations that have complained about the government’s decision-making and reporting process, as well as how the project would exacerbate segregation and disparities in transportation access for low-income people to jobs.  On August 6, 2012, on behalf of the Milwaukee Innercity Congregations Allied for Hope (MICAH) and the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation and Midwest Environmental Advocates filed the complaint in the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin requesting a review of whether the state complied with administrative procedures of the National Environmental Policies Act.


Federal Highway Administration Complaint (Federal Highway Administration, Office of Civil Rights)

The process for determining how $6.25 billion of federal revenue should be spent to rebuild and expand freeway systems failed to adequately involve minority and low-income communities, and failed to adequately address the impact of proposed freeway expansion on issues affecting those communities (such as employment, housing, and health and pollution issues), in violation of statutes and U.S. Dept. of Transportation rules on civil rights and environmental justice. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation along with Midwest Environmental Advocates filed a complaint with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and called for an investigation of the WisDOT transportation plan. In August, 2012 the FHWA found WisDOT “deficient” in Title VI compliance and imposed a corrective action plan.


Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission complaints

In February 2008, the Southeast Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC) approved construction of an interchange at Pabst Farms in Oconomowoc. In making this decision, SEWRPC failed to conduct required Title VI civil rights and environmental justice analyses, ignoring, among other factors, that Waukesha County had voted to cut bus routes within days of saying it would pay more than $1 million for the interchange. SEWRPC’s decision allowing accelerated construction of the interchange has a discriminatory effect on communities of color, particularly given the residential racial segregation in the region.


Fair Housing and Racial Justice

Thomas v. Village of Shorewood Hills, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development

The Village of Shorewood Hills, outside Madison, has sought to block construction of an affordable tax-credit housing development on the side of a vacant office building known as Pyare Square. After the Village Plan Commission approved the project, the Village Board rejected it in February 2010, apparently in response to complaints from citizens about the effect of low-income housing and renters having “different values.” The board’s rejection may have been motivated by impermissible considerations and will have an impermissible discriminatory effect on racial minorities, especially African Americans. In rejecting this housing, the Village Board made housing unavailable on the basis of race in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation worked with a neighborhood plaintiff to advocate for family-supporting housing units in future developments and for Shorewood Hills to remain under a Housing and Urban Development compliance agreement for future affordable units.


Free Expression and Association

Perzan v. City of Glendale

In 2011, Bayshore Town Center mall and the City of Glendale police suppressed the expressive activity of people peacefully collecting signatures on petitions and people peacefully protesting the business practices of a Bayshore merchant on the sidewalks along the major public streets surrounding the mall. In at least one case, Glendale police arrested and issued a citation to a protester.  Bayshore and the police justified the ban on expressive activity on these sidewalks by claiming they are the private property of the mall. However, courts have held that technical private ownership does not convert what is otherwise a public sidewalk into a no-protest zone.  Where sidewalks, such as these, connect to other public sidewalks and have bus stops and other features that mark them as public pedestrian thoroughfares, they remain a “traditional public forum” where expressive activity may not be banned. A First Amendment lawsuit was scheduled to be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, but by May 29, 2012, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation issued a statement announcing that an agreement had been reached that sidewalks around Bayshore are public for a for speech and assembly. We have a commitment from the Glendale City Attorney and the Glendale Police Department that police will not interfere with First Amendment activity on the perimeter sidewalks surrounding the mall.


Police, Prisons and Criminal Law Reform

Flynn v. Doyle (Health Care at Taycheedah Women’s Prison, 06-C-537 (E.D. Wis.)

The Wisconsin prison system provides grossly deficient health care to prisoners in its care. The ACLU’s investigation has found that the system especially fails women. In February 2000, a 29-year-old asthmatic prisoner collapsed and died gasping for air in Taycheedah’s cafeteria after repeated requests for medical help. In June 2005, an 18-year-old suicidal prisoner hanged herself in her cell while supposedly “in observation” in the mental health unit at Taycheedah, which provides no inpatient care and serves only to isolate and punish the most vulnerable women. Unlike the women at Taycheedah, men with severe mental health issues may be assigned to the Wisconsin Resource Center, an inpatient psychiatric facility that provides round-the-clock care and individualized treatment for male offenders. The breakdown of the understaffed, underfunded and dangerously dysfunctional health care system in Wisconsin’s prisons contributes to enormous and unnecessary human suffering. In 2006, the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation, the ACLU’s National Prison Project and supporting attorneys from the Jenner and Block lawfirm filed a lawsuit against the State of Wisconsin for violations of Eighth Amendment prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment, the Equal Protection guarantee against sex discrimination, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawsuit was settled in December 2010 and the ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation continues to monitor prison conditions and improvements such as the opening of the Wisconsin Women’s Resource Center and other staffing.


Christensen et al. v. Sullivan, 1996CV1836 (Milwaukee County Circuit Court)

To remedy overcrowding and inadequate medical care for people who are incarcerated, since 2001 the Milwaukee County Criminal Justice Facility has been under a consent decree that settled a 1996 class-action lawsuit. The ACLU of Wisconsin Foundation along with the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee are monitoring conditions at the Milwaukee County jail and are working to remedy the lack of adequate medical and psychiatric staff and the dangerous and unsustainable incarceration conditions at the jail.


City of South Milwaukee  v. Kester, 2010-CV10262 (Milwaukee County Circuit Court)

In late April 2010, Todd Kester, his partner and his partner’s two sons moved from their condominium in West Allis to a home they had purchased in the City of South Milwaukee. On May 17, 2010, the South Milwaukee police department sent Mr. Kester a letter demanding that he move out of his new home and threatening him with daily fines of up to $1000 if he failed to do so.  The basis for this letter was a City residency ordinance, enacted in 2007, which prohibits people convicted of certain sex offenses from living within 1000 feet of a school or other places where children congregate. Mr. Kester had been convicted of one of the enumerated offenses in 2000, but is determined by a psychologist to be a low risk for re-offense and has had no criminal convictions (other than operating a vehicle without a valid license) since that time. On June 31, 2010, the City filed a complaint seeking a declaration that Mr. Kester is a “nuisance” and an ordered that he move out. Mr. Kester was not given an opportunity to contest a police determination that he was a nuisance. The ordinance violates substantive and procedural due process rights protected by the 14th Amendment, the constitutional prohibition on ex post facto (or retrospective) penalties, the constitutional prohibition on double jeopardy, the right to equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment, and the fundamental rights to travel and intimate association. Moreover, the ordinance is preempted by state statutes that closely regulate sex offenders released from prison. Finally, Mr. Kester is not a threat to his neighbors, and therefore the City cannot prove he is a “nuisance,” as required by the ordinance. The ACLU of Wisconsin and supporting attorneys with the Hurley Burish & Stanton law firm are appealing a court’s decision allowing the residency restriction to be applied.