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Altschiller Calls Out ACLU-NH Defense of Graphic, AI-Generated Child Porn

New Hampshire’s ACLU is siding with the producers of AI-created child sex abuse images over New Hampshire’s kids, critics say, opposing legislation to ban deepfake child porn in New Hampshire.

And at least one Democratic state senator says siding with criminals and against victims is nothing new for the progressive organization.

“It has been my experience in working for laws that protect crime victims the ACLU has not necessarily been a partner in protecting the rights of the people who have been harmed by criminals so much as protecting the rights of the criminals,” said Sen. Deb Altschiller (D-Stratham). “I have yet to have a criminal justice bill that they have embraced.”

Altschiller is the prime sponsor of SB564, which “expands the definition of ‘child’ under the child sexual abuse images statute to include those images that are portrayed to be a person under the age of 18 and are thus indistinguishable from a child.” She testified before the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee on Wednesday, and that’s when she first learned of the ACLU’s opposition to her legislation.

ACLU-NH Legal Director Gilles Bissonnette

Gilles Bissonnette, ACLU-NH’s Legal Director, did not testify in person. Instead, he submitted a written statement revealing his organization’s position: AI-generated child sex abuse images are protected speech under the First Amendment.

“These images are protected by the First Amendment and Part I, Article 22 insofar as they are neither produced using minors nor do they appear to depict a specific, identifiable person,” Bissonnette wrote.

Altschiller told the committee this expanded definition is needed as the scourge of child sex abuse image trafficking is colliding with the rise of easily available AI programs that can create new, realistic images, sometimes using the images of real children.

“Once something is out there, you can’t unring the bell,” Altschiller said.

New Hampshire State Police Sgt. Hawley Rae also testified on behalf of Altschiller’s legislation, arguing that people who consume child sex abuse images are statistically more likely to engage in abuse IRL (“In Real Life.”) 

New Hampshire already has a problem with people trafficking these types of abusive images, and the potential for abusers using deepfake technology to make new abuse images from the photos of real children should be sobering, Rae said.

“Kids are vulnerable, especially in the social media world, and I can only assume this will be a problem in the AI world as well,” Rae said.

Bissonnette’s objection to the bill is founded on prior court rulings that hold child sex abuse images created without using real children are protected. The 2002 United States Supreme Court decision in Ashcroft v. Free Speech  Coalition and the 2008 New Hampshire Supreme Court decision in State v. Zidel both found that child sex abuse images that did not depict real children are allowed.

“SB564 presents serious constitutional concerns under Ashcroft and Zidel because it sweeps within its scope images that are not limited to depictions of an ‘identifiable’ (meaning ‘recognizable as an actual, specific person’) minor who was actually victimized,” Bissonnette wrote.

Rep. Terry Roy (R-Deerfield) said neither the Ashcroft nor Zidel courts were dealing with the reality of the new dangers children face today.

“The Ashcroft court didn’t have to contend with the AI technology at all,” Roy said.

Interestingly, the ACLU’s hardline “free speech” absolutism on child porn doesn’t apply to political speech Bissonnette and his organization find objectionable. The ACLU-NH’s policy today is to decline to defend free speech that “denigrates [marginalized] groups” and “impedes progress toward equality.” That includes refusing to defend the free speech rights of allegedly right-wing groups whose “values are contrary to our values” and whose words might offend the “marginalized.”

The ACLU’s guidelines state, “As an organization equally committed to free speech and equality, we should make every effort to consider the consequences of our actions.”

What about the “consequences” of graphic, violent child porn, critics ask.

Given the advances in technology, Rep. David Meuse (D-Portsmouth) said failing to act now could have dire consequences for New Hampshire’s children sooner rather than later.

“I feel that composite images today are so realistic … they’re virtually indistinguishable from an image of a real child. These images just create a market for more images,” Meuse said. “The very fact that a market for this type of material exists, if we continue to allow that market to exist, real children are going to be harmed.”

The committee voted unanimously to approve the bill, moving it closer to a full House vote.

Court Tosses Progressive Challenge to State’s New Voter Integrity Law

A New Hampshire judge tossed a lawsuit from progressive organizations challenging the state’s new “affidavit ballot” law, designed to prevent voter fraud by ensuring every voter provides ID.

As soon as Gov. Chris Sununu signed the new law, known as SB418, last year, partisan organizations like 603Forward, Open Democracy Action, the ACLU, and several progressive activists filed suit. They were represented by former Hillary Clinton campaign attorney Marc Elias, best known for his role in the now-debunked “Russia Collusion” dossier scandal.

Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Charles Temple ruled Friday none of the organizations or individuals challenging the law have a case.

Under the new law, voters who register on Election Day without state-required ID are given an affidavit ballot, which is not counted until their identity is verified. The voters are also given a packet of information, including a prepaid overnight envelope, in order to assist them in proving their identity.

Rep. Ross Berry (R-Manchester), chair of the House Election Law Committee, said the court made the right call.

“The court’s dismissal of these lawsuits is a resounding victory for common sense protections of our democratic process,” Berry told NHJournal. “Before SB418, any person could walk into any voting location on Election Day, register to vote without producing any ID or proof of residency, and be handed a ballot. This system was ripe for abuse — and we know it was abused. For example. a former Democrat poll worker voted in the morning, went to his car, put on a wig, then registered as a woman, and cast a second ballot.”

New Hampshire Democrats have long opposed voter ID requirements, and all four members of the federal delegation have voted to let the federal government override states’ voter ID laws.

The plaintiffs, including former Rep. Manny Espitia and progressive activists Dan Weeks and Louise Spencer, argued the law misuses taxpayer money, forcing the Secretary of State’s Office to pay for the information packets, envelopes, and postage. Temple rejected their argument, writing that the state spending money on stamps does not equal a significant constitutional violation.

“These minimal expenditures bear little to no relationship to the merits of the plaintiffs’ claims,” Temple wrote.

Espitia declined to comment when reached by NHJournal.

Organizations like 603Forward tried claiming SB 418 was forcing them to engage in preparing new voters to deal with the law and diverting resources and funds they would have used for other purposes. Temple, again, did not buy that argument, writing the groups failed to identify any actual constitutional rights that were being denied because of SB 418. 

Lucas Meyers with 603Forward declined to comment. 

Chris Ager, chairman of the New Hampshire GOP, applauded the ruling, saying Granite Staters who want secure elections can rest easy.

“This decision is a big step forward in the ongoing effort to ensure the integrity of New Hampshire’s elections,” Ager said. “New Hampshire Republican legislators took the lead on this very important issue. I applaud the court’s decision to further secure our elections for all who cast a ballot. The vast majority of Americans and Granite Staters want voter ID and secure elections, and that’s what New Hampshire Republicans are delivering.”

Secretary of State Dave Scanlan, whose office was a defendant in the case, tried staying above the fray when reached for comment. 

“Judge Temple’s decision is clear and speaks for itself. We have no additional comment,” Scanlan said.

The SB 418 lawsuit is open to appeals, and it is not yet known if the plaintiffs will bring their case to the state Supreme Court or if they will file a motion asking Temple to reconsider his decision first.

ACLU Sides With Schools Over Parents in Transgender Lawsuit

New Hampshire moms and dads lose the right to parent their children once that child enters a public school, according to the New Hampshire ACLU.

The state’s largest civil liberties organization is standing with the Manchester public schools and against a local mom suing the district over a policy that directs staff to lie to parents about the sexual and gender behavior of their own children while at school.

“Schools and parents are natural partners in advancing the education and well-being of their students. At the same time, schools must control the learning environment for the benefit of all students,” the ACLU’s brief stated.

The mother, known as Jane Doe in her lawsuit, is appealing her case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after Hillsborough Superior Court Judge Amy Messer ruled parents ultimately do not have the right to direct how their children are to be educated in public schools.

“(T)he right to make decisions about the care, custody, and control of one’s child is not absolute,” Messer wrote.

Republicans have responded by filing a Parents Bill of Rights in the legislature, a measure that polls show has overwhelming support among Granite State voters.

Jane Doe’s attorney, Richard Lehmann, said Wednesday the ACLU is backing a policy that flies in the face of the constitutional rights of parents.

“Manchester has taken the position that parental rights should not pass the schoolhouse door,” Lehmann said.

Jane Doe stated in her original complaint that she found out in the fall of 2021 her child was using a different pronoun and gender identity at school. The school’s name was withheld in court documents to protect the child’s identity. 

The mother spoke with the school staff, including the student’s guidance counselor. The mother made it clear she wanted her child to be called by the name and pronouns the child had at birth while in school, according to the lawsuit.

Even though the staff she spoke to initially agreed, the mother soon received an email from the school principal stating that, due to district policy, the mother’s instructions were being overridden. The principal stated the policy required school staff to keep such matters secret from parents if the child so chooses, according to the lawsuit. Even if staffers agree to use the child’s true gender identity when speaking with the mother, they would be obligated not to tell the mother if the child wished to be identified as something else.

The policy states teachers and staff are not to tell anyone about a child’s gender identity without the express consent of the child. School employees are also directed to use the child’s biological pronouns and given name when talking about the child to people who do not know about the nonconforming gender identity.

While the ACLU traditionally supports individual citizens in the face of government action, in this case, it is siding with education officials at the government-run school. Their brief claimed school staff often knows things about children their parents do not, and that staffers should not be required to tell parents anything unless the student agrees.

“To force a disclosure by the school that in all likelihood would otherwise come directly from the student voluntarily once the young person is ready, or when parents raise questions about their own observations with the young person, would be the very insertion into family relationships to which the plaintiff-appellant objects,” the ACLU wrote.

That schools-over-parents stance is also held by the New Hampshire Democratic Party. Chairman Ray Buckley claims if parents are informed about the behavior of their children “some kids will be beaten to death.” (There are no known incidents in New Hampshire of a child being beaten to death by a parent over their sexual or gender behavior.)

Lehmann agrees with the ACLU that schools do need a certain amount of autonomy, but said the ACLU and the Manchester School District are ignoring the fact that parents are the primary educators for their children, a role enshrined in the New Hampshire Constitution.

“(The schools) have to control the learning environment while adhering to all the other constitutional norms that permeate our society, including parental rights,” Lehmann said.

Lehmann said a law affirming the rights of parents could clarify the matter. New Hampshire Republicans tried and failed to pass a parental bill of rights during the last legislative session. The proposal died after Gov. Chris Sununu signaled he would veto the bill over concerns raised by New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella about the privacy and safety of students.

A new Parents Bill of Rights, sponsored by House Speaker Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry) and Senate Majority Leader Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry) is currently before the legislature.

Judge Clears Way for Manchester Homeless Sweep

Backed into a corner by a steady stream of negative press over the city’s homeless crisis, Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig got the legal go-ahead to clear a downtown homeless encampment.

Craig announced the evictions earlier this month in response to public outcry over the encampments downtown, with the original plan to clear the streets by Tuesday. However, the New Hampshire ACLU filed for a temporary restraining order to block the city from removing the homeless people, halting Craig’s plans.

On Tuesday, Superior Court Judge John Kissinger ruled the city can remove the approximately 50 homeless people from the sidewalk as the encampment represents a danger to the community at large.

Kissinger cited recent deaths, as well as close to 400 calls for police service at the camp, including assaults and drug overdoses.

“Considering the grave risks to public health and safety posed by the ongoing presence of the encampment on public sidewalks in downtown Manchester and the availability of safe alternatives for the people living in the encampment, a temporary restraining order is not justified,” Kissinger wrote.

Craig announced Tuesday the camps will be cleared Wednesday, with space being made available through a partnership with the YMCA to create a women’s shelter at the former Tirrell House. That space is the result of Gov. Chris Sununu’s intervention at the state level.

The city is also opening a temporary warming shelter with cots at the William B. Cashin Activity Center.

“City employees and non-profit partners have been working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of both the individuals experiencing homelessness in Manchester and the community at large,” Craig said in a statement released Tuesday afternoon.

Craig’s staff did not respond to NHJournal when asked if there would be enough space for all the homeless people being evicted.

Stephen Tower, a staff attorney with New Hampshire Legal Assistance, expressed disappointment in Kissinger’s ruling and cast doubt on Craig’s ability to adequately shelter the people she is evicting.

“Without a plan to immediately relocate and provide a higher level of shelter and services, this eviction will only perpetuate the cycle of chasing these houseless individuals from place to place, alienating and endangering them further,” Tower said.

Gillies Bissonnette, legal director with the New Hampshire ACLU, did not respond to a request for comment.

Also on Tuesday, Sununu sent a pointed response to a recent letter from Craig and seven other Democratic mayors attempting to shift the blame for their communities’ homeless problems onto the state. Craig, Nashua Mayor Jim Donchess, Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier, Franklin Mayor Jo Brown, Dover, Mayor Bob Carrier, Somersworth Mayor Dana Hilliard, Claremont Mayor Dale Girard, and Laconia Mayor Andrew Hosmer blamed Sununu in their Jan. 3 letter for not doing enough.

“The state has always and will continue to be open to meaningful collaboration on this issue with your cities and other municipalities across the state,” Sununu wrote. “However, politically motivated letters merely muddy the water and make that mutual goal of collaboration more difficult to achieve.”

Sununu’s letter recounted the millions of dollars the state has already put into dealing with homelessness and housing.

• $100 million for InvestNH to make rapid investments in more affordable housing
• $20 million for families in crisis through this winter
• $4 million to build statewide healthcare access for individuals experiencing homelessness
• $4 million for emergency shelter bed capacity and expansion in addition to our typical$2.9 million annual general fund appropriation
• $2.25 million for the landlord incentive program
• $1 million for winter warming shelters

Meanwhile, Sununu has repeatedly noted Craig and the other mayors are sitting on a combined $73 million in unspent federal funding that could be used on homeless shelters and services.

Alderman Joseph Kelly Levasseur said if Manchester residents want someone to blame, they should look to the other communities around the state, many with Democratic mayors, who have the resources to shelter some of the state’s homeless but are content to see them shunted off to the Queen City.

“Manchester is the dumping ground for the rest of the state,” Lavasseur told NHJournal. “If every community took just two or four people into their towns, the relief they could provide — not only to the city of Manchester but also these homeless persons — would be incredibly powerful. This has to be a state-wide issue dealt with by all towns, counties, and cities in New Hampshire.

“Manchester cannot continue to do this on its own; and provide our property owners and taxpayers the level of comfort, safety, and quality of life they deserve.”