Crafting Laws in Secret With Corporations and Conservative Activists Violates Open Meetings Law, Lawsuit Says
September 1, 2020, Phoenix, AZ – Today, attorneys representing leaders from Arizona’s social justice community urged an Arizona court to reject an attempt by 26 state lawmakers to dismiss a lawsuit filed against the lawmakers for attending a secretive meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The lawsuit alleges the 26 Arizona legislators violated the state’s Open Meeting Law by attending private closed-door meetings at ALEC’s Nation and States Policy Summit, held at a private spa in Scottsdale, Arizona in December 2019. This is a case that strikes at the heart of Arizona’s Open Meeting Law and the principles of transparency and democratic accountability it is designed to protect.
Advocates describe ALEC as a “pay-to-play” club for corporations and conservative political activists, who pay ALEC substantial membership fees in return for exclusive private access to state lawmakers. Between 2010 and 2018, ALEC’s “model bills” were introduced nearly 2,900 times, and more than 600 became law. ALEC members are required to sign “loyalty oaths” to “put the interests of [ALEC] first.” Advocates note that ALEC has been responsible for some of the most notorious state laws targeting marginalized people, and in recent months was behind protests demanding an end to the COVID-19 lockdown as well as pushing for immunity for corporations whose workers contract the disease at work.
“Our lawmakers are doing dirt in the dark and they want us to look the other way,” said Jamaar Williams of Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro. “In the dark is where they plot violence on our bodies. In defense of Black lives, we need to shine a big bright light on those who claim to support law and order but break their own rules with impunity.”
The lawsuit argues that the attendance of a majority of members of several subcommittees from Arizona’s legislature at a closed-door ALEC meeting, where draft laws are typically developed and considered, violates the state’s Open Meeting Law. This law requires meetings of legislative committees be open to the public. Without public scrutiny, lawyers say, the public lacks vital information about potential legislative action, and other important considerations such as financial incentives. The lawsuit asks the court to make public all notes and materials from the secretive meetings, and for legislators to be enjoined from attending these meetings in the future.
“ALEC has created laws that are inhumane, and are rooted in the system of white supremacy and capitalism,” said Jovana Renteria, Co-Director of Puente Human Rights Movement states. “From education to detention centers, they are engaged in creating a skeleton for laws that criminalize people of color for their profit. In our fights towards human rights for all, we must end corporate greed.”
Many of the most infamous laws that have emerged out of ALEC in the past decade have disproportionately impacted communities of color. These include Arizona law SB 1070, which criminalized being in public without the required documentation, leading to profiling of Latinx people by law enforcement, which benefited ALEC’s corporate members that run private immigration detention centers.
“ALEC has crafted laws that have criminalized and incarcerated our people, promoted mass incarceration and the use of ankle shackles,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, Mijente Senior Campaign Organizer. “ALEC has separated our families, eroded union power, suppressed voters’ rights, and picked away at environmental protections, all the while protecting white supremacy, guns, and for-profit prisons for the members of its corporate club. We continue our legal fight to stop ALEC’s secret lawmaking and we ask all Latinx people to join us to demand our lawmakers cut all ties with ALEC.”
Other harmful laws ALEC has developed include Stand Your Ground laws, which was the Florida law at issue in the murder of Trayvon Martin, voter ID laws that have made it more difficult for people of color to vote, “critical infrastructure” laws that have criminalized water protectors protesting construction of oil and gas infrastructure, and legislation targeting the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement supporting Palestinian human rights.
“Corporations collaborating secretly with conservatives draft self-serving legislation that expands corporate power and appeases the right-wing mega donor class including anti-Palestinian laws that have sprung up in over half the states in this country,” said Jamil Naser at the Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance (Phoenix). “We need to root out the corporatization of our legislative process if we are truly to be a free and transparent democracy.”
“Instead of ALEC using the time since this case was filed to change how it operates to uphold democracy, we see that it has tried to push this case aside, while it has been busy inciting protests against COVID lock-down measures,” said Dominic Renfrey, Advocacy Program Manager at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The groups bringing this lawsuit will continue to fight because they know from experience that the more ALEC organizes lawmakers to write laws in private with corporations, the more likely it is that Black and Brown communities from will suffer.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights and the People’s Law Firm on behalf of Puente, Black Lives Matter Phoenix Metro, Mijente Support Committee, and Arizona Palestine Solidarity Alliance.
For more information on ALEC’s role in crafting and enacting legislation that has significantly and disproportionately harmed communities of color, read the report, “ALEC Attacks: How evangelicals and corporations captured state lawmaking to safeguard white supremacy and corporate power.”
For more information on the lawsuit, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.