New York Civil Liberties Union

New York Civil Liberties Union

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is an civil rights organization in the United States. Founded in 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.

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 and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers. It works through litigation, legislation, community organizing and public education.

The NYCLU has eight offices across 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. 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.


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.[1] The NYCLU has been a vocal critic of the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices for years. In 2010, it filed class action litigation challenging the NYPD’s practice of keeping in an electronic suspect database the personal information of people who were stopped and/or frisked and arrested or issued a summons, but whose cases ended in dismissal. The NYCLU estimates some 100,000 New Yorkers are in the class. The NYCLU also sued the NYPD in 2007 for access to the Police Department’s stop-and-frisk database to allow for an independent analysis for signs of racial profiling. The NYCLU’s challenge succeeded, and the NYPD disclosed its database in 2008.

DASA (Dignity for All Students Act)

The Dignity for All Students Act aims to halt the rampant[citation needed] 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. Gov. David Paterson has 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 pushes 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 the law firm 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.[2] 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.[3] Governor Paterson signed the bill into law on August 31, 2010.[4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7]

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.[8][9]

Republican National Convention (RNC)

The NYCLU sought to protect the rights of peaceful protestors at the RNC in New York City during the summer of 2004. The NYCLU urged the city to allow protestors to demonstrate in close proximity to the RNC. It fought against regulation of constitutionally protected expression, against police barricades and pens, and against the NYPD’s surveillance and infiltration of political groups. In November 2003, the NYCLU filed three federal lawsuits challenging a series of NYPD practices used to police large demonstrations that were expected to be used at the RNC. During the last week of August 2004, thousands of protestors were arrested and charged with minor offenses, most of which were subsequently dropped. The NYCLU continues to question the legitimacy of these arrests. After the RNC, the NYCLU engaged in federal litigation to uncover the full scope of the police presence at the RNC, and to challenge the mass arrests and detentions at the Convention. In 2007, a federal judge ruled that the City could not shield NYPD documents on the RNC from public view. The organization proceeded to post these documents on its website.

Immigrants’ rights

The NYCLU advocates for the rights of immigrants, refugees and non-citizens, challenging unconstitutional laws and the myths upon which they are based. The organization fights against English-only laws, which aim to penalize New Yorkers who do not speak English fluently. The NYCLU also targets anti-day laborer laws, which seek to prevent undocumented immigrants from making a living. In September 2009, the Town of Oyster Bay on Long Island passed one such ordinance to prevent day laborers from soliciting work on streets, sidewalks and other public spaces. The NYCLU filed a lawsuit challenging this lawsuit on May 18, 2010 with the ACLU and LatinoJustice PRLDEF. Just two days later, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction, blocking enforcement of the law. In addition to these efforts, the NYCLU has launched a statewide campaign calling on Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform that respects the rights and dignity of immigrants and citizens alike.

Kings County Hospital

In May 2007, the NYCLU, 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.

Lown v. the Salvation Army

The NYCLU fights to protect religious freedom in New York State. When news reports disclosed that The Salvation Army, an organization which receives government funding to provide social services, began to require employees who administer government-supported social services disclose their religious affiliation, and agree to the organization’s mission to “preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” the NYCLU filed suit to protect the employees’ rights and ensure the charity did not proselytize in its delivery of government social services. The case was partially settled with a landmark agreement that New York City, Long Island and New York State would monitor the organization to ensure that it does not impose religion on recipients of government-funded social services.

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 U.S. 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 done by NYCLU


In 1954, an NYCLU lawsuit resulted in the New York Court of Appeals declaring the state's Loitering Law unconstitutional.

In 1957, the NYCLU defended Robert Shelton, a New York Times copywriter found in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer questions about past membership in the Communist Party.

In 1957, the New York State Court of Appeals acquitted two Puerto Rican nationalists arrested for picketing on behalf of Puerto Rican independence outside the United Nations; the NYCLU entered the case as amicus.

In 1957, the NYCLU called on then-Governor W. Averell Harriman to conduct a statewide investigation into prison officials' use of wiretapping devices in prison interview rooms.

In 1958, the NYCLU argued in an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court that New York State Security Risk Law denies public employment based upon a "nebulously defined ideological tendency."

In 1958, an NYCLU public-education campaign lead the Board of Hospitals to lift a ban on New York City hospitals' providing family-planning advice and distributing contraceptives.


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 1990, in the first anti-gay violence case brought against employees of the U.S. government, the NYCLU and ACLU filed suit against Drug Enforcement Administration agents for beating gay men.

In 1990, the NYCLU defended right of Daily News workers to picket outside the newspaper’s offices to protest hiring of non-union replacement workers.

In 1991, the NYCLU challenged exclusion of abortion services from a prenatal care program; the New York Court of Appeals opinion recognizes for first time the right to reproductive choice under the New York State Constitution.

In 1992, a court order in an NYCLU class action case filed on behalf of psychiatric patients required that upon admission to emergency rooms, patients must be provided appropriate care and treatment.

In 1993, the NYCLU challenged the New York City Board of Education’s requirement that public schools’ HIV/AIDS education must focus on abstinence; the commissioner of education overruled the board.

That same year, four decades of NYCLU advocacy culminated[citation needed] in then-New York City Mayor David Dinkins signing a City Charter amendment that creates an independent Civilian Complaint Review Board to monitor police.

Also that year, a court decree required auditing of the NYCLU’s Willowbrook clients to ensure they receive adequate care in non-institutional settings.

That same year also, the NYCLU joined the New York City Board of Education to defeat a legal challenge to condom distribution as a component of high school HIV/AIDS education programs.

In 1996, when a New York City employee was fired for talking to the press, the NYCLU successfully argues in federal court that the city’s gag rule is overly restrictive and unconstitutional.

In 1997, the NYCLU brought an age discrimination lawsuit on behalf of 81 candidates denied positions with the NYPD because they are older than 35.

In 1998, the NYCLU undertook major education reform litigation, seeking to enforce state constitutional guarantees to a sound education, as well as federal anti-discrimination law.

In 1999, then-New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought to censor an art exhibit considered offensive[by whom?] at the Brooklyn Museum of Art by withholding funding. The NYCLU, as amicus, participated in a successful First Amendment challenge.


In 2001, the NYCLU filed suit in the Albany County Supreme Court against the state in an effort to ensure that all New York students receive a proper education.

In 2002, the NYCLU won a lawsuit, which stated that it was illegal for the NYPD to stop a taxicab demonstration, reaffirming the First Amendment rights of all New Yorkers.

That same year, the NYCLU hailed a Federal District Court ruling that a federal death penalty law would be unconstitutional.

Also that year, the NYCLU lauded a U.S. District Court decision, which ruled that a law banning wearing masks in public was unconstitutional.

That same year also, the NYCLU filed the suit Picture the Homeless v. City of New York. In this case, the NYCLU argued that the NYPD was targeting homeless people for arrest. The city settled the case in 2003. New policy dictates that the NYPD must not engage in selective enforcement of the law against the homeless.

In 2003, the NYCLU supported legislation to protect the personal information of city employees.

Also that year, the NYCLU declared that a federal ban on abortions would endanger New York women.

That same year, the NYCLU settled a lawsuit with the New York City Department of Education to protect the privacy rights of public school students. The lawsuit arose after a city school forced a group of students to endure physical exams, and to submit the doctor’s report to the school.

In 2004, in the weeks leading up to the Republican Nation Convention, the NYCLU opened a “protecting protest” storefront.

In 2005, the NYCLU filed suit on behalf of a Rochester woman, requesting benefits for her wife, whom she had married legally in Canada. In a historic outcome, the ruling led to New York State recognizing out-of-state marriages between lesbian and gay couples.

Also that year, the NYCLU sued New York City in an effort to halt the suspicion-less searches that the NYPD was conducting on subway passengers. The organization argued that this policy was a gross violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In 2006, the NYCLU lauded a Court of Appeals decision that protected undocumented workers by providing them the right to sue their employers for pay if injured on the job.

That same year, the NYCLU urged state officials to stop New York phone companies form collaborating with the National Security Agency.

In 2007, the Defense Department settled a lawsuit with the NYCLU, protecting the privacy of high school students from military recruiters.

Also that year, the NYCLU and the ACLU filed the lawsuit Jarrar v. Harris et al. This suit challenged a case of discrimination by JetBlue and TSA employees against an American citizen who was wearing a shirt with Arabic writing on it. The organizations argued that this constituted a violation of the First and Fifth Amendments, and several antidiscrimination laws. The two parties reached a settlement in 2008.

In 2008, the NYCLU hailed the demise of a Suffolk County law which would have required contractors to verify the working status of their employees.

That same year, a federal court of appeals decision upheld the decision that struck down the provision of the PATRIOT Act that prevented recipients of National Security letters from speaking out about the demands made of them.

In 2009, the NYCLU files Media Alliance v. City of Troy. This case challenges the city’s decision to close down an arts center, purportedly on building code violations, just after a controversial exhibit was opened there.

Also that year, the NYCLU files J.L. v. Mohawk Central School District. This case dealt with the failure of the school district to protect a gay student from violent threats, physical abuse and other sorts of harassment. As part of a settlement, the school district agrees to implement reforms to protect students from harassment and bullying.

See also

  • The New York Foundation


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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