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POINT OF VIEW Defending rights in Florida after this election

Like many Americans on Nov. 8 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 policies that, if enacted, would be an all-out attack on the rights of Americans.

He said he would:

  • end a woman’s right to abortion
  • amass a force to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants
  • institute an aggressive surveillance program targeting Muslim-Americans
  • reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture
  • change our nation’s libel laws to go after critics in the media.

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 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: challenging any government abuses of rights and liberties.

People understand this about the ACLU. That’s why, since the election, the ACLU has received an unprecedented outpouring of support. We are now hard at work putting that support to work.

The reverberations of this election will be felt not 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 Trump’s rise to the presidency. Laws targeting individuals based on their status as immigrants violate the fundamental right to fair and equal treatment. Immigrants in Florida are now a punching bag for opportunistic politicians seeking to make cheap political points. We will stand up for Florida’s immigrant community against discrimination.

We are prepared to fight back against attacks on women’s access to abortion and reproductive care. President-elect Trump has said he would appoint justices who would reverse 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 now before the Florida Supreme Court challenging a mandatory waiting period imposed by the Legislature before a woman can receive an abortion.)

We must prevent the election results from being misinterpreted to derail the momentum for criminal justice reform. A recent study commissioned by the James Madison Institute and the Charles Koch Institute found that 72 percent 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.

Ultimately constitutional values prevailed. Together, we will prevail again.


Eds: Howard L. Simon is executive director of American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

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