Civil Rights Groups Sue Over Secretive ALEC Meeting

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.

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“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.”

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