Colorado Rights Blog

Nathan Woodliff-Stanley By: Nathan Woodliff-Stanley 3.6.2015

Colorado Civil Liberties on the Brink: Why Your Vote Matters

(This entry also appears on the Huffington Post at

Emboldened by some of last November’s election results, Colorado legislators have flooded this year’s legislative session with bills that would roll back civil rights and civil liberties in our state.  The ACLU of Colorado and our allies inside and outside of the Capitol have been successful so far in stopping the most outrageous attacks, but just a tiny shift in a few key races last November would have left Colorado in a very different place, where these bills would have been much harder to defeat and our whole state might have been sent backwards by decades.

Despite the clear will of Colorado voters to protect women’s reproductive rights last November, legislators have introduced at least eight bills this session to limit or ban abortion and other reproductive rights for women, including the same fetal personhood notion that voters just rejected. Thanks to dogged resistance from the ACLU of Colorado and our statewide partners, these bills have so far all been defeated.

In the House of Representatives, three “right-to-discriminate” bills were introduced that, if passed, would eviscerate long-standing protections against discrimination. The lawmakers pushing these bills claim they are about religious freedom and freedom of expression, but they were written so broadly that they would actually give any person or business in Colorado wide license to discriminate against anyone for any reason, violating equal protection rights and creating a hostile climate for customers.  Fortunately, many members of the business community, including the Denver Metro Chamber and several small business owners, have lined up alongside faith leaders and social justice organizations to rebuke these dangerous attempts to legalize discrimination.

At least ten other bills that were introduced this year were designed to repeal or roll back other civil liberties, by attacking voting rights, repealing worker protections, or singling out transgender Coloradans for special discrimination.  Again, the ACLU of Colorado has rallied our allies to fight back against every attack, so that the freedoms and protections that we’ve worked so hard to advance over the years will not be eroded.

One especially difficult battle right now is over a ploy by members of the Joint Budget Committee to undercut and essentially defund a law passed in 2013 by the full legislature to allow immigrant Coloradans access to drivers’ licenses.  Legislators who did not support that law do not have the votes to repeal it, but they are attempting to use their new positions of power to deny funding that is generated by the program itself, not by taxpayers, all to the harm of thousands of families and the safety of our roads, just to make a political point.

The margins between advancing, losing, or just holding ground in civil liberties are very narrow in a state like Colorado.  Voters would do well to pay attention to what goes on in the legislature and to take seriously the threat of legislation that may sound outrageous or laughable now, but that would be anything but funny if a few more races had tipped toward politicians who don’t respect civil liberties.  In some cases, the threat is real even in the current legislature, so your voice matters now to help hold the line against bad bills that target our rights.  At the same time, the ACLU is always willing to work across political lines, and there are still good opportunities for progress in this legislature on issues such as privacy and criminal justice reform.  The ACLU’s alignment is with civil liberties, not political parties. More information about this legislative session can be found at the ACLU of Colorado legislative update page.

Your voice and your vote are needed, this year and every year.  If you did vote last November, thank you, because it matters.  Just look at some of the states where voting rights, reproductive rights and protections against discrimination are under heavy attack and remember–there but for a handful of votes goes Colorado.



  • Anthony Martinez is 84-years-old and suffering from renal failure, as well as other serious medical conditions including dementia. He is currently incarcerated in the Sterling Correctional Facility, site of one of Colorado’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks with almost 600 active COVID-19 cases. He and his family are understandably terrified that he will catch the virus and die.

    In the midst of this public health crisis, incarcerated people as vulnerable as Anthony, could and should be immediately released to safely live out their remaining years with family.

    Read more about Anthony Martinez and other at-risk incarcerated people. 

  • Ronald Johnson is pre-diabetic, suffers from asthma and high blood pressure, and regularly uses an inhaler to breathe. His age and respiratory ailments put him at risk of serious illness and death if he contracts COVID-19. With over hundreds of active cases in Colorado’s prisons, his family fears he will not make it out alive. His daughter, Amber, says, “In prison, he can’t protect himself and he can’t social distance. My deep fear is that my dad will die in prison. That is an awful, traumatic reality to consider. My chest is tight just thinking about how quickly it spreads and how vulnerable he is.”

    Governor Hickenlooper shortened his sentence following testimony from family, friends and correctional officers advocating for his early release. Yet, he is still eight years away from parole. While he remains in prison, COVID-19 continues to spread. Ronald’s three siblings, four children and four grandchildren are desperate for his release.

    Read more about Ronald Johnson and other at-risk incarcerated people.

  • Tuesday Olson knew her pregnancy was in trouble and tried to access hospital care as soon as possible. But there was a problem: she was in jail. This is her story.
  • It’s time to end the death penalty in Colorado. Family members who lost loved ones to murder speak out against an unjust and broken system.