Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

For Immediate Release

Contact

Jen Nessel, Center for Constitutional Rights, (212) 614-6449, jnessel@ccrjustice.org

Press Release

Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Secretive ALEC Meeting

Ask Court to Find Arizona Legislators in Violation of State’s Open Meeting Law
WASHINGTON -

Today, lawyers and advocates from Puente, Mijente, Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance, Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the People's Law Firm filed a lawsuit against Arizona lawmakers who are participating in closed meetings of the corporate-led American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). ALEC, which brings together legislators, corporate leaders, conservative activists, and lobbyists to draft and promote model legislation across the country, is holding its annual States & Nation Policy Summit December 4 – 6, 2019, in Scottsdale, Arizona.

The complaint filed today asks the court to find that attendance at the closed-door meetings for the purpose of deliberation on legislation with corporations and lobbyists by lawmakers who comprise a quorum of multiple committees of the Arizona legislature violates the state’s Open Meeting Law. The complaint further asks for all notes and materials from the secretive meetings to be made accessible to the public and for legislators be enjoined from attending these meetings in the future.

“The groups filing this suit today are asking the court for nothing more than transparency in the way Arizona’s laws are made,” said Dominic Renfrey, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “ALEC’s pay-to-play model strikes at the very heart of democratic law-making. Unsurprisingly, its people of color and those on the margins that suffer the most from ALEC’s attacks.”

Carlos Garcia, co-founder of the Phoenix-based Puente, said, “About 10 years ago around this time, SB1070 was being drafted at an ALEC meeting like the one happening in Scottsdale. A racist agenda was drafted and made into law impacting the state of Arizona and the country forever. Thousands of families have been separated because of it. In response to this racist law and racist organization we have built a movement to defend and assert our rights.”

ALEC provides a ‘pay-to-play’ membership system, where its corporate and activist conservative members pay high fees in return for closed-door meetings with lawmakers to deliberate, draft, and vote on “model bills,” which are later introduced by ALEC state lawmakers across the country. ALEC boasts that approximately one third of all state lawmakers are members. They are required to sign “loyalty oaths” to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.” Between 2010 and 2018, ALEC’s “model bills” were introduced nearly 2,900 times, and more than 600 became law.

Arizona’s Open Meeting Law states that, “[a]ll meetings of any public body shall be public meetings and all persons so desiring shall be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings.” Further, “[a]ll legal action of public bodies shall occur during a public meeting.” The lawsuit argues that, because the 26 Arizona lawmakers who will be attending the December ALEC meeting compose quorums of legislative committees, ALEC’s closed-door deliberations and drafting of proposed laws amount to secret decision-making by a public body, in violation of the Open Meeting Law.

The filing comes 10 years after the 2009 ALEC meeting where hard-right anti-immigrant former state senator Russell Pearce introduced to ALEC members what would later become Arizona’s infamous SB 1070. The law granted authority to law enforcement to racially profile Latinx people in the state. Similar laws were soon adopted in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama, and South Carolina.

“The fight against SB 1070 in Arizona shaped the national immigrant rights movement and led to the formation of Mijente,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente Senior Campaign Organizer. “This fight is deeply personal to us, and ALEC represents everything we work to dismantle – they have criminalized and incarcerated our people by crafting laws that promoted mass incarceration and promote the use of ankle shackles; they have separated our families, eroded union power, suppressed voters’ rights, and picked away at environmental protections, all while protecting white supremacy, guns, for-profit prisons, and corporations. As long as ALEC holds power to destroy our communities, our work is not finished. And today we’re asking Latinx across the country to demand more of their representatives and ask them to cut all ties with ALEC.”

Advocates point out that marginalized communities, particularly communities of color, have been disproportionately affected by laws coming out of ALEC, including Stand Your Ground laws, such as the Florida law at issue in the murder of Trayvon Martin; voter ID laws that attorneys say have made it more difficult for people of color to vote; legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights; and “critical infrastructure” laws that have criminalized protests by Indigenous people and other water protectors and against oil and gas companies.

“ALEC is the means by which some of our lawmakers continue to misprioritize corporate interests and property rights over the people,” said Jamaar Williams of Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “Enough is enough. Our lawmakers are accountable to the people, and the policy that guides our behavior and directs our resources must reflect this, anything else is unacceptable.”

For more information on today’s lawsuit, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.

See also: several national civil rights organizations released a report on ALEC’s harm to communities of color yesterday: “ALEC Attacks: How evangelicals and corporations captured state lawmaking to safeguard white supremacy and corporate power.”

###

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. CCR is committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

EPA Urged to 'Finish the Job' After Latest Move to Protect Bristol Bay From Pebble Mine

"Local residents, scientists, and the broader public all agree that this is quite simply a bad place for a mine, and it is past time for the EPA to take Pebble off the table permanently," said one activist in Alaska.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Zero Tolerance for Corruption': Grijalva, Porter Demand Answers on Alleged Trump Pardon Bribery Scheme

The Democrats believe a real estate developer donated to a Trump-aligned super PAC in exchange for the pardons of two other men.

Julia Conley ·


Millions of Americans Lack Adequate Health Coverage, But the Pentagon Has a New Nuclear Bomber to Flaunt

"This ominous death machine, with its price tag of $750 million a pop, brings huge profits to Northrop Grumman but takes our society one more step down the road of spiritual death," peace activist Medea Benjamin said of the new B-21 Raider.

Brett Wilkins ·


Betrayal of Railway Workers Ignites Working-Class Fury Toward Biden and Democrats

"Politicians are happy to voice platitudes and heap praise upon us for our heroism throughout the pandemic," said one rail leader. "Yet when the steel hits the rail, they back the powerful and wealthy Class 1 rail carriers every time."

Jessica Corbett ·


With GOP House Control Looming, Pascrell Calls for Swift Release of Trump Tax Records

"Donald Trump tried to hide his tax returns from our oversight but after 1,329 days we have finally obtained the documents," said the New Jersey Democrat. "We should review and release them."

Kenny Stancil ·

Common Dreams Logo