There are advantages to working for the ACLU of Illinois, advantages that often are manifest in the quiet courage and simple decency of the people that one meets. One such person is Stanley Ligas.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to spend the day in a federal courtroom, observing a "fairness hearing" examining an agreement that a group of plaintiffs -- represented by a number of public interest groups including the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois -- have negotiated with the State of Illinois. At issue in the case is Illinois policy that forces persons with developmental disabilities to live in larger institutions when they would flourish better in smaller, community-based settings -- like a small group home or apartment.

The hearing was long, passionate, and (at times) chaotic. But, for me, the highlight came toward the end of the day, when Stanley Ligas and his fellow plaintiff David Ciccarelli got their chance to speak.

Stanley spoke about his desire to simply live on his own. He noted that he holds a job -- at Popeye's Chicken -- and how he balances his own checkbook. Despite the fact that he has asked repeatedly for the opportunity to live on his own, the State has denied him (and thousands of others) that opportunity, keeping Stanley housed in a large institution.

Stanley reminds me again the importance of our work to insure choice for those persons who are unnecessarily institutionalized. Yes, such institutionalization violates constitutional rights and federal law. But, in the end, it is a human story about people who just want to live in a place of their own, eat when they want and what they want, and make decisions about their own life. Sometimes it is just that simple.

One more personal note -- at the end of the long day (just after 6:00 p.m.) Stanley sister and his nephew approached my colleagues from the ACLU of Illinois to thank them for their work on behalf of Stanley. Watching that scene -- and the real appreciation they expressed -- reminds me of how inspiring simple human dignity can be. It also is a reminder of how fortunate I am to be working here at the ACLU of Illinois.