Post 3: How The ACLU of Utah Creates Change

When I first told people of my summer internship at the ACLU of Utah, many envisioned the experience as working at a large corporation inside a massive building. However, the Utah affiliate is actually a small and intimate place where the eleven people who walk in the door every day take on the workload just like any other ACLU office. Of course, don’t let its small size fool you. Everyone works diligently and passionately to advocate for anyone living or visiting Utah. The staff, board of directors, legal panel, members, and volunteers all come together to pursue effective change in a place everyone calls home. 

As an intern, I’ve had the opportunity to work on many different aspects of the ACLU of Utah’s mission to create necessary change in Utah. I’ve researched different social justice topics such as LGBTQ rights and the reproductive rights of minors, and I’ve worked in the intake department. Each month, the ACLU of Utah receives about one hundred complaints asking for help on a wide range of legal concerns. Dedicated to responding to every complaint, I read or translated complaints, conducted research on the given legal problem, and discussed the issue further with the staff attorneys to craft a response. Depending on the situation, the ACLU of Utah follows a rubric to determine which cases should be taken in-house and which should be diverted to another attorney or legal resource. When I would discuss potential litigation projects with ACLU attorneys, we would always need to determine if the potential lawsuit could create a large enough impact in order to instigate reform.  

Each of these small steps—reading each complaint, conducting research on specific issues, discussing case details with ACLU attorneys—add up to determine the scope of a given case and whether it has the potential to affect policy or change the status quo. Moreover, Marina Lowe, the legislative and policy counsel for the ACLU of Utah, works at the Utah Capitol to encourage positive legislation to move forward or to stop harmful legislation from becoming law. Her role is to influence the legal and policy process before the need for “cease and desist” letters and lawsuits arises. The ACLU of Utah strives to inform the public about the bills proposed during the Utah legislative session and their analysis of important U.S. Supreme Court decisions. By coordinating with the media, the ACLU of Utah can broadcast important news or information in order to engage advocates or simply to update the public.

Image of the Utah Capitol, or the “Hill”; Courtesy of ACLU of Utah
Marina Lowe testifying in front of the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee to stop HB 260– a bill that rolled back Fourth Amendment protections for law enforcement searches of prescription drug records. It failed on the Senate floor! Courtesy: ACLU of Utah, Feb. 15, 2018.

As all of the other legal interns seek to become fully knowledgeable about current ACLU of Utah litigation, Margie Nash, the staff paralegal, organizes weekly “brown bag” lunches. These events allow interns to meet and learn from ACLU of Utah staff members and legal staff from allied organizations. I really enjoy these lunches because it’s a time to host an informal presentation in a stress-free environment. By exposing us to other professions and organizations, the ACLU of Utah expands our options for social justice work in the future. Some of these lunches include speakers from the Disability Law Center, legal director John Mejia, and legislative and policy counsel Marina Lowe. I can’t wait for the next brown bag lunch!

– Anna Greenberg