This was another supremely challenging year for all of us. COVID-19 continued to disrupt—and end—lives, voter suppression, abortion bans and attacks on LGBTQ rights escalated, and insurrectionists came unthinkably close to overturning our free and fair election. Existential threats to our democratic institutions and constitutional ideals called for a powerful response, and the ACLU and NYCLU stepped up, as always, to defend our civil rights and liberties with every means at our disposal.
Despite the resounding defeat of the Trump presidential bid, the perils to our democracy and the threats to our hopes and dreams for a fair and just society persist. And Black and Brown New Yorkers continue to suffer disproportionately from systemic inequality. In the face of this, we came together to achieve a number of hard-won victories, including some that have been decades in the making. These victories advance racial justice and lay the groundwork for even more progress in the future. We have much still to do to restore and strengthen democracy in New York and beyond, and our work has never been more vital—or more promising. Each year, we rededicate ourselves to eradicating inequality and demanding justice, particularly for the most vulnerable among us, while building a better, fairer, more inclusive society.
Throughout this report, you’ll read about our many groundbreaking legal and legislative victories, meet some of our extraordinary partners and staff, and get a look at our ambitious plans for 2022.Read more
The NYCLU faced another supremely challenging year with ingenuity, potency, and persistence. Despite the ongoing pandemic, we worked with our many partners to secure a host of legal and legislative victories in the areas of criminal legal system reform, LGBTQ rights, marijuana legalization, reproductive autonomy, voting rights, and police transparency. By parlaying recent wins into the passage of 15 new NYCLU-supported bills, we made remarkable progress in the defense and expansion of civil rights and civil liberties for all New Yorkers. Some of our major victories from 2021 include:
The Gender Recognition Act allows people to select M, F, or X gender markers on state IDs and birth certificates and makes the process for changing a name or gender marker smoother while requiring public and private entities to honor them.
We supported legislation that would improve transparency and access to health care for vulnerable New Yorkers negatively impacted by the secret removal of categories of care from regional hospitals.
The repeal of the “Walking While Trans Ban,” a 1970s-era loitering law, ends the ability of police to harass Black and Brown transgender women, nonbinary people, and immigrants merely for being in public, and seals prior convictions and violations.
We filed state Division of Human Rights complaints to end the practice of drug testing pregnant people without consent and supported legislation that would require informed consent before drug testing pregnant New Yorkers.
The Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act establishes a comprehensive policy to legalize cannabis while creating a framework for expunging past convictions and dedicating tax revenues to community reinvestment funds.
The Survivors of Trafficking Attaining Relief Together (START) Act brings justice to survivors of sex and labor trafficking by creating pathways to vacate convictions and removing barriers to relief.
We won a key ruling that enjoined Jefferson County Jail from refusing to provide constitutionally protected medical care to incarcerated people suffering from opioid use disorder.
The Less is More Act revamps the parole system by preventing most people accused of technical parole violations from being put behind bars.
The HALT Solitary Confinement Act bans long-term solitary and segregated confinement, requires more daily out-of-cell programming, and creates alternatives to isolation.
We won a ruling that thwarted a police union lawsuit attempting to prevent the release of a Schenectady police officer’s disciplinary records, and we’ve filed lawsuits against police departments in five New York cities for obstructing the release of misconduct records following the repeal of Section 50-a.
We filed a motion in support of a lawsuit brought by the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau that forced the Rensselaer County Board of Elections to provide an early voting site accessible to the county’s largest concentration of voters of color.
The governor signed a bill that amended the state’s criminal code so that the voting rights of those with felony convictions are automatically restored once they’re released on parole.
Seek Justice: We filed 30 lawsuits and amicus briefs in support of civil liberties, and reviewed 1,127 legal requests for referral or further investigation.
Stand United: We brought together 92,000 members and donors with 10,500 volunteers across New York’s 62 counties.
Take Action: We rallied 317,000 e-activists, nearly 116,400 social media followers, and 10,500 volunteers to get involved through more than 70 opportunities for action, including 54 protests monitored by 120 NYCLU-trained protest monitors (more than double the previous year); text-banking sessions that reached nearly 12,000 voters in the lead-up to the June primaries; and nearly 40,000 emails sent to lawmakers, resulting in 15 bills being pushed through the statehouse.
The right to vote is fundamental to a functioning democracy. In the face of antidemocratic skullduggery and an unceasing pandemic, the NYCLU has continued to lead efforts to make voting easy and equitable, educate voters about their rights, and clear obstacles that keep voter registration and turnout rates distressingly low across the state. While we have made progress in pushing improvements to New York’s confusing and outdated voting infrastructure, we have much to do to achieve truly equal access to this sacred constitutional right.Read more
The NYCLU has always fought to protect and advance LGBTQ+ rights, reproductive rights, and the rights of pregnant people in the face of injustice. Assaults on civil rights and civil liberties inevitably hit hardest the most vulnerable New Yorkers—low-income residents, women of color, the LGBTQ+ community, those with disabilities, young people—and they remain at risk of discrimination and lost opportunities in employment, education, housing, and health care.Read more
The advancement of civil rights and civil liberties depends on the fundamental transformation of law enforcement’s role in society, a more humane criminal legal system, and an end to mass incarceration. Throughout 2021, our Smart Justice campaign and other advocacy efforts resulted in important victories related to greater police transparency and accountability, the decriminalization of sex work, restrictions on the cruelest forms of confinement, and parole and marijuana reform, all with racial justice at their core. The NYCLU’s legal and legislative work has been essential to pushing through long-sought reforms that will lead to even more substantive changes in the years ahead.Read more
Privacy violations by tech companies and the government cause a range of harms to New Yorkers. From student surveillance and police spying to surreptitious data collection and digital discrimination, advanced technologies have only become more invasive, with disproportionately negative impact on communities of color. This past year, the NYCLU has supported legislation to prohibit reverse location and reverse keyword searches and warrants, pressured the courts to review the discriminatory use of facial recognition technology by the Department of Corrections, and called out the nonconsensual collection of data from students using city-provided devices.Read more
The New York Civil Liberties Union’s 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 Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers. In pursuit of these principles, we fight for the dignity of all people, with particular attention to the pervasive and persistent harms of racism.