COVID-19 & Civil Liberties in RI
The ACLU of RI continues to monitor the government's response to COVID-19 and its impact on civil liberties. Our related actions (detailed below and to the right) are motivated by the following principles:
- Government responses should be based on science & public health.
- Any response plan must protect the health, safety, and civil liberties of all.
- We need to pay particular attention to the most vulnerable people in our society, including people who are detained and incarcerated.
- Government transparency and the right to vote are fundamental to our democracy – especially in times of crisis.
Page last updated October 5, 2020.
Click a topic to scroll down to that section.
- INCARCERATED & DETAINED PEOPLE
- VOTING RIGHTS
- RIGHTS of PEOPLE with DISABILITIES
- DUE PROCESS & UI BENEFITS
- 4TH AMENDMENT RIGHTS
- STUDENTS' RIGHTS
- OPEN GOVERNMENT
- COURT CLOSURES
- THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY
- More than half of the total ICE detainees at Wyatt have been conditionally released due to a class action lawsuit we filed.
- In April, we filed a successful emergency lawsuit securing the release of three immigrants being detained at the Wyatt Detention Center who were at high risk for serious illness or death in the event of COVID-19 infection.
- We wrote to officials at both the Dept. of Corrections (DOC) and the Wyatt Detention Center, calling on them to develop evidence-based, proactive plans for the prevention and management of COVID-19. That letter is here.
- We wrote to the DOC requesting that officials start making public bi-weekly reports documenting COVID-19 cases, testing and other data. Wyatt had already been court ordered to do this. Click here for the letter we sent.
- Our class action lawsuit led to the suspension of mail ballot witness/notary requirements for the September and November elections.
- In June, we filed a lawsuit successfully challenging Rhode Island’s ballot qualification process in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
- For more information on voting rights in RI amidst the pandemic, click here.
- A large group of RI organizations, including the ACLU of RI, sent a letter to Governor Raimondo demanding that she issue a clear directive to prohibit discriminatory treatment of people with disabilities in accessing medical treatment during the pandemic. The groups also sent a follow-up letter to the Department of Health.
- We also sent letters to the RI Department of Health successfully urging them to clarify the “Reopening RI,” COVID-19 screening tool governing access to public accommodations including restaurants. The tool initially failed to account for the existence of previously diagnosed disabilities.
- On June 3, the DLT agreed to take interim action to address frozen unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in response to our class-action lawsuit challenging the agency's actions in summarily suspending the benefits for hundreds of people - without any notice or explanation.
- An Executive Order from Governor Raimondo gave police the power to stop cars with ANY out-of-state license plates coming into Rhode Island. Police exercise of this power raised extraordinarily serious constitutional concerns, and the ACLU called on the Governor to amend or repeal the EO in question. Our blog post detailing on our position was also published as an op-ed in the Providence Journal. Related police stops have since ceased.
- Following our objections, South Kingstown favorably amended a recent executive order barring gatherings of more than 15 people for any reason.
- In response to concerns raised by the ACLU and other advocacy organizations, as well as attorneys specializing in special education law, Education Commissioner Infante-Green recently issued guidance to school districts ensuring that students with disabilities who have been disadvantaged by remote learning obtain necessary in-person instruction.
- The ACLU of RI conducted a review of school district tech privacy policies in the state. The review found that many school district policies on this issue allow for remote access to school-loaned computers’ microphones and cameras, and third-party programs used for remote learning that are installed on both loaned devices and personal computers allow school officials to view weeks of browsing activity. The ACLU has urged school districts to amend their practices and strengthen privacy rights for students.
- We issued a statement regarding the Governor's announcement of a voluntary contact tracing app.
- In response to news reports that the Department of Health is sharing with law enforcement the addresses of people who have COVID-19, we sent a letter expressing grave concern and urging the DOH to cease this information-sharing.
- In June, we sent a letter to Senate President Ruggerio and House Speaker Mattiello calling on them to adopt procedures to allow members of the public to testify remotely (not just submit written testimony).
- In March, Governor Raimondo issued an executive order suspending certain provisions of both the Open Meetings Act and the Access to Public Records Act. In response to an ACLU and Common Cause of RI letter calling on the Governor to revise the order, her office has since issued additional guidance to state agencies and municipalities that incorporates almost all of the recommendations proposed. As a follow up, the ACLU sent a letter to municipal leaders in RI urging them to ensure public bodies under their jurisdictions abide by the new standards for transparency.
- When the EO suspending provisions of the APRA failed to expire after more than two months, seven open government organizations sent the Governor a letter calling on her to repeal the order in the interest of the public's right to know. As a result, all provisions of the EO, except for one that allows the Department of Health extra response time, have now expired and not been renewed.
- The ACLU continues to monitor the state's actions related to quarantining and related to RI's technological approach to contact tracing. In April, we wrote the state on behalf of one couple with homes in both RI and NY who travel back and forth every few weeks for chemotherapy treatments, and who face quarantine every time they return to Rhode Island. The letter raises concerns about the lack of due process procedures to challenge a quarantine order as well as the state's failure to have the infrastructure in place to ensure that people quarantined have access to food and other necessities.
- The courts are currently open for both emergency and some non-emergency court matters. For specific information, visit the RI Judiciary website.