Kentucky ACLU

Erica Peterson

After more than a decade, Kentucky resident Guy Hamilton-Smith voted this year for the first time in the state. Even though he didn’t vote in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, sending his ballot through the mail was still an emotional moment.

“Not being able to vote for many years was like a really big reminder that in very important and meaningful ways, I was not a member of my community,” he said.

Hamilton-Smith was convicted of possessing child pornography in 2007 when he was 22. He hasn’t been under supervision in 10 years.


WFPL news

For many in the Ohio Valley, voting is a choice, a right they are free to exercise if they want to. But for Jackie McGranahan and the more than 175,000 other formerly disenfranchised Kentuckians, this primary election is special. It’s her first chance to vote since 2008. 

She won't be going to a voting booth. Elections are a bit different this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and most voting in Kentucky is happening by mail. But even though she couldn’t go to the polls with her friends or be handed her ‘I Voted’ sticker, that didn’t stop McGranahan from savoring the moment of voting.

“I filled out the absentee ballot. I signed my name and I waited for my postman to come so I could hand it to him directly from my porch to know that my vote will be counted, that I have a voice,” McGranahan said.


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A new report says black Kentuckians are more than nine times as likely than whites to get arrested for marijuana possession.  That’s much higher than the national average, according a study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

The study from the ACLU found the commonwealth ranks second in the nation for the largest racial disparities in arrests for marijuana possession.  That’s based on arrest data from 2010 to 2018, which updates the ACLU's 2013 report The War on Marijuana in Black and White.  Nationally, blacks are more than three times as likely to go to jail than whites.

Keturah Herron, a policy strategist at the ACLU of Kentucky, says law enforcement disproportionately targets black communities while sending hundreds of thousands of people into the criminal justice system at a high cost.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

A federal judge has ordered the state of Kentucky to pay more than $150,000 in legal fees stemming from a lawsuit against the state Transportation Cabinet. 

The state must pay for work performed by attorneys for the ACLU of Kentucky and the Freedom from Religion Foundation.  The two groups represented Kenton County resident Ben Hart. 

Hart, who is an atheist, filed a lawsuit in 2016 after the Transportation Cabinet denied him a personalized license plate that read “IMGOD.”  The Division of Motor Vehicles said the message was “not in good taste.” 


Kentucky LRC

Racial disparities are the common thread among the issues the ACLU of Kentucky plans to focus on addressing in the 2020 legislative session.

The three priority areas are probation and parole reforms, learning more about the demographics of Kentucky’s incarcerated juveniles, and implementing changes that will help more women of color survive pregnancy and the postpartum period. In each of those categories, statistics show African Americans suffer more negative impacts than whites.

Kate Miller, who heads up advocacy at ACLU-KY, said her organization could do better at focusing on race in this context.

Ryan Van Velzer

Acts of civil disobedience against pipeline operations in Kentucky would be considered a felony under legislation filed ahead of the 2020 regular session.

The measure comes less than a month after one person was killed and six more were injured in a large pipeline explosion south of Danville, Kentucky. It also comes shortly after Louisville Gas & Electric began pursuing eminent domain actions to build a natural gas pipeline in northern Bullitt County.


Ryland Barton

On the same day Gov. Matt Bevin ceremonially signed four new abortion-related bills into law, a three-judge panel heard oral arguments Thursday in a case debating the legality of a state law that requires abortion providers have a written agreement with a hospital to transfer patients in case of an emergency. That law has been held up in courts since 2017.

A federal judge struck down the law late last year, but the state appealed that decision. Now it’s being considered by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Former Republican State Representative Addia Wuchner, who was present during the oral arguments and supports the law, said requiring a transfer agreement sets a basic standard of care for people seeking abortions. It kicks into effect if there’s an emergency like hemorrhaging.

Lisa Gillespie

Rows of silver and pink plastic packages sit on the bathroom counter inside Bean, a Louisville coffee shop. Each package carries these words: emergency contraception.

The medication? It’s called Preventeza, from the company that also makes Vagisil. It was on the market for less than a year and didn’t do well, and now the company has donated $2 million worth of the pills to advocacy groups in Kentucky, Indiana and other states. 

These “morning after” pills have made their way into places like Bean, as well as community centers in eastern Kentucky, festivals in Lexington — even the trunks of ride-share drivers.


ACLU Seeks To Block Fetal Heartbeat Measure In Kentucky

Mar 18, 2019
ONA News Agency/Wikimedia Commons

Abortion-rights defenders opened a new legal fight against Kentucky on Friday to try to block one of the country’s most restrictive abortion measures, which would mostly ban the procedure once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Hours after Kentucky’s Republican-dominated legislature passed the so-called fetal heartbeat bill, the American Civil Liberties Union was back in federal court in Louisville to challenge the measure. The legislation won final passage late Thursday and was sent to the state’s anti-abortion governor, Republican Matt Bevin, who signed it Friday.

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The Kentucky Senate has voted to ban doctors from performing abortions if they believe the person seeking the procedure wants it because of the fetus’ race, sex or disability. The measure now heads to Gov. Matt Bevin for final approval.

Within minutes of the bill’s passage, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it would sue to block it.

Heather Gatnarek, a staff attorney at the ACLU of Kentucky, said the bill would interfere with a person’s right to decide whether to end a pregnancy.

Ryland Barton

A federal court in Louisville has begun hearing arguments over a new set of abortion restrictions that passed out of the Republican-led Kentucky legislature earlier this year.

The only abortion provider in the state is suing Gov. Matt Bevin over the measure, which requires doctors to induce fetal death before performing “dilation and evacuation” abortions — the most common procedure for women seeking to end their pregnancies in the second trimester.

School systems across Kentucky are making plans ahead of a national school walkout on Wednesday to protest gun violence. 

Organizers of the Women’s March have called for a 17-minute walkout at 10:00 a.m., one minute for each of the 17 victims killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14.

Warren County Schools Superintendent Rob Clayton says he supports students and their right to march in support of tighter gun laws.  He told WKU Public Radio that students won’t be punished as long as their activism is approved by their school principal.

david4senate.com

The Kentucky chapter of the ACLU is asking Kentucky Educational Television to adopt more inclusive rules related to who it invites to appear on its televised debates.

The Courier-Journal reports that the legal director for the Kentucky ACLU sent a letter to KET saying the statewide broadcaster might be running afoul of federal law due to changes it made to it rules regarding debates.

A copy of the rules sent to WKU Public Radio by KET stated that candidates invited to appear at its U.S. Senate debate must have accepted at least $100,000 in contributions for the current election. Another rule says that those invited must have at least 10 points of support in a public opinion survey conducted by an independent pollster.