Formation of the American Union Against Militarism and the National Civil Liberties Bureau
Crystal Eastman, AUAM Executive Secretary, undated photo Source: "ACLU History," How Stuff Works website (accessed Apr. 15, 2011)
Roger Baldwin, Director of AUAM and NCLB, undated photo Source: "History of the ACLU," ACLU of Eastern Missouri website (accessed Apr. 15, 2011)
"In 1915 the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) was formed to prevent United States involvement in World War I with Crystal Eastman serving as executive secretary. Roger Baldwin became executive director in 1917. Immediately upon United States entry in World War I, the AUAM was inundated with requests for aid to protect free speech, assembly and press which were threatened with political restriction imposed upon U.S. entry into the war and to defend the rights of conscientious objectors. A separate organization was needed to safeguard these rights, and thus the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB) was established in the autumn of 1917 with Roger Baldwin as director."
Ben Primer, PhD "American Civil Liberties Union Records: The Roger Baldwin Years," Princeton University Library website, May 6, 1996
Jan. 20, 1920
American Civil Liberties Union Is Formed
On Jan. 20, 1920, the NCLB was renamed the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) with Roger Baldwin and Albert DeSilver as Co-Directors. The ACLU had a "Statement of Purpose" which proclaimed that "all thought on matters of public concern should be freely expressed, without interference. Orderly social progress is promoted by unrestricted freedom of opinion." The ACLU dedicated itself to "an aggressive policy of insistence" to support First Amendment rights.
The original national committee of the ACLU included Chairman Harry Ward and members Crystal Eastman, Felix Frankfurter, Jane Addams, Helen Keller, Arthur Garfield Hayes, and Norman Thomas.
A. Mitchell Palmer giving a speech, undated image Source: iconicphotos.wordpress.com (accessed Jan. 17, 2011)
"Subsequent to World War I, the ACLU concentrated on labor's right to organize. In the absence of federal labor legislation, states frequently enacted laws restricting union organizing. In the 1920s, Attorney General [A. Mitchell] Palmer arrested hundreds of immigrant union organizers and activists under the allegation that they were anarchists and terrorists. The Palmer raids led to the deportation of hundreds of immigrants and their families and affirmed the ACLU founders' beliefs that the Bill of Rights applied to more than just conscientious objection to war. In the 1920s and 1930s, the ACLU defended union activists and opposed the anti-civil libertarian restrictions that had stemmed from World War I."
ACLU's First Permanent Affiliate Is Founded in Southern California
Author Upton Sinclair is arrested for "criminal syndicalism" in 1923 Source: "History: 1923-1940," ACLU of Southern California website (accessed May 9, 2011)
"In 1923, striking San Pedro longshoremen were banned from holding public meetings by the Los Angeles Police Department. At a rally protesting the ban, [author of the 1906 best-seller The Jungle, Upton] Sinclair and five friends tried to read aloud the First Amendment of the Constitution in support of the workers' right to free speech and assembly. Though the police warned them to 'cut out that Constitution stuff,' they continued and were arrested and charged with criminal syndicalism, or agitating to overthrow the government...
In the wake of the San Pedro strike, Sinclair, already a member of the newly-founded national ACLU in New York, helped to form the first ACLU affiliate... in Los Angeles."
Scopes Trial: ACLU Combats Tennessee Anti-Evolution Law
Attorney Clarence Darrow, standing right, argues the case for plaintiff John T. Scopes The trial was moved outside due to extreme Summer heat. Source: "Tennessee v. John T. Scopes," flickr website, July 20, 1925
On Mar. 21, 1925, "Tennessee governor Austin Peay signs into law the Butler bill, outlawing the teaching of 'any theory that denies the divine creation of man and teaches instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.'"
With William Jennings Bryan representing the prosecution and Clarence Darrow heading the ACLU's defense team, "the State of Tennessee v. John Thomas Scopes, comes before Judge John T. Raulston" on July 10.
On July 21, 1925, "after nine minutes of deliberation, the jury returns a verdict of guilty. The judge imposes a fine of $100 on the defendant and John Scopes speaks for the first time, vowing to 'to oppose this law in any way [he] can.'"
"Darrow and the ACLU challenge the Butler Law before the Tennessee Supreme Court [on Jan. 15, 1927]. The court overturns John Scopes' conviction on a technicality -- because the judge, not the jury, set the fine. But it allows the anti-evolution law to remain on the books."
ACLU's First Supreme Court Case: Gitlow v. People of the State of New York
The ACLU's first Supreme Court case, Gitlow v. People of the State of New York decided on June 8, 1925, "involved Benjamin Gitlow, a founder of the Communist party, who had been convicted under the 1902 New York Criminal Anarchy law. At issue in his appeal was the question of whether his pamphlet, The Left-Wing Manifesto, was constitutionally protected speech...
The Court affirmed [7-2] Gitlow's conviction and upheld the constitutionality of the Act. But conservative Justice Edward T. Sanford held that 'for the present purposes we may and do assume that freedom of speech and of the press... are among the fundamental personal rights and 'liberties' protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from impairment by the states."
Congressional Committee Report Finds ACLU "Closely Affiliated" with Communism
In Jan. 1931, the Special Committee to Investigate Communist Activities in the United States, headed by Congressman Hamilton Fish (R-NY), issued the Fish Committee report. The report found the ACLU to be "closely affiliated with the communist movement in the United States, and fully 90% of its efforts on behalf of communists who have come into conflict with the law... Roger N. Baldwin, its guiding spirit, makes no attempt to hide his friendship for the communists and their principles."
HUAC Chairman Declares No ACLU-Communist Connection
Congressional Representative Martin Dies, Jr. (D-TX), Chairman of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC), "clears" the ACLU of Communist connections. Congressman Dies stated: "This Committee found last year... there was no evidence that the American Civil Liberties Union was a Communist organization."
1940 Resolution: ACLU Bars Totalitarian Supporters from Leadership Positions
"On February 5, 1940, the [ACLU] board and the National Committee adopted a resolution barring from ACLU leadership positions anyone supporting totalitarianism.
The 1940 Resolution, as it came to be known, declared that... [s]upport for civil liberties 'is inevitably compromised by persons who champion civil liberties in the United States and yet who justify or tolerate the denial of civil liberties by dictatorships abroad' [and that] it was 'inappropriate for any person to serve on the governing committees of the Union or on its staff, who is a member of any political organization which supports totalitarian dictatorship in any country... And, within this category we include organizations in the United States supporting totalitarian governments of the Soviet Union and of the Fascist and Nazi countries'...
The 1940 Resolution provoked an immediate upheaval. [ACLU Chair and Marxist] Harry Ward resigned and was replaced as chair by the fervently anti-Communist John Haynes Holmes... The two California affiliates, along with Chicago and Massachusetts, led a move to rescind the resolution...
When the ACLU board asked [Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, ACLU Co-founder and Communist party leader, and Stalin supporter,] to resign, she refused... [and] asserted that the ACLU board had no right to bar her for her 'political beliefs and affiliations'... [On May 8, 1940, the ACLU board voted 10-9 to remove Flynn from the board.] The antitotalitarian resolution was abolished in 1968, and her supporters... won her posthumous reinstatement to the board in 1976."
ACLU Split Over Executive Order 9066 - Japanese Internment
Japanese boys at a barbed wire fence in the Manzanar Relocation Camp, undated photo Source: "Asian Pacific American Heritage Month," Rockford Public Schools website (accessed June 7, 2011)
In response to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066(73 KB) , dated Feb. 19, 1942. The order directed the Secretary of War "to prescribe military areas in such places... from which any or all persons may be excluded."
Although the order makes no reference to Japanese-Americans, by late spring of 1942 over 100,000 Japanese-Americans were evacuated to 10 relocation centers throughout the south and west.
The ACLU was "very much divided over the executive order... There were essentially two factions. The first, which included Roger Baldwin, Norman Thomas, John Haynes Homes, and Arthur Garfield Hays, questioned the constitutionality of the executive order. The second faction, which included Morris Ernst, did not want the ACLU to come out against the executive order... There were also a few board members who favored the internment program. One board member compared the Japanese-American detention to a public health quarantine for measles."
Diane GareyDefending Everybody: A History of the American Civil Liberties Union, 1998
Dec. 18, 1944
ACLU Aids Japanese-American in Korematsu v. United States
Fred Korematsu as a young man, undated photo Source: "Excerpts from a Brief Biography," Asian American Bar Association website (accessed May 12, 2011)
"Fred Korematsu was sentenced to jail after refusing to participate in the forced relocation of more than 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps as dictated by an executive order [Executive Order 9066(73 KB) ] from President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Korematsu, aided by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), unsuccessfully sued the government for violating his constitutional rights. And after losing a petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals, the ACLU took Korematsu's case to the Supreme Court, where Justices sided with the government in a 6-to-3 vote [Toyosaburo Korematsu v. United States, Dec. 18, 1944]. In his opinion, Justice Hugo Black argued that the government's decision did not violate their constitutional authority, nor the 14th Amendment. Nearly four decades later, California professor Peter Irons uncovered documents revealing the government hid information that showed that Japanese Americans were not actually security threats, prompting a San Francisco federal judge to overturn Korematsu's conviction. The Supreme Court's controversial decision, however, remains [as of June 8, 2011]."
Malin Becomes ACLU Executive Director and ACLU Expands
In 1950, Roger Baldwin stepped down as Executive Director. "Baldwin's successor, Patrick Murphy Malin, had been an economics teacher at Swarthmore since 1930, but was also vice-director of the Intergovernmental Committee for Refugees in World War II..., president of the National Council on Religion in Higher Education, and a consultant to the State Department on foreign affairs...
He ran a tight, efficient, productive office, and did a brilliant job of increasing membership - the ACLU had about eight thousand members in 1950 and more than thirty thousand in 1955."
Diane GareyDefending Everybody: A History of the American Civil Liberties Union, 1998
ACLU Opposes Loyalty Oaths
"To compel political conformity, a mania for loyalty oaths swept the country. [By 1953] there were oaths in thirty-nine states, the federal government, and many local governments. Most resembled the 1947 Taft-Hartley Act, which required labor union officials to swear 'I am not a member of the Communist party or affiliated with such party'...
The ACLU affiliates led the opposition to the oaths in Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, Illinois, and California...
There were only occasional court victories: The [US Supreme] Court overturned an Oklahoma loyalty oath on narrow grounds in 1952 [Wieman v. Updegraff, Dec. 15, 1952], and the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld an ACLU challenge to a state loyalty oath for political candidates [Imbrie v. Marsh, 1950]."
Brown v. Board of Education: End of School Segregation
May 17, 1954 Russell Daily News (Russell, KS) headline announcing the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education Source: "Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas," Library of Congress website (accessed June 20, 2011)
"Throughout the 1950s, ACLU affiliates in New York, Illinois, California and elsewhere fought racial segregation on a variety of fronts - challenging housing discrimination, interracial marriage bans and police abuse, with varied success. Yet the South remained a steadfastly segregated society in which blacks and whites attended separate schools, used separate water fountains and toilets, swore on separate Bibles in court, and sat in different parts of movie theaters in which blacks sat in the upper balconies of public theaters while whites sat on the main floor. One of the most famous cases to emerge from this era was Brown v. Board of Education, the [May 17] 1954 landmark Supreme Court decision that struck down the doctrine of 'separate but equal' and ordered an end to school segregation.
The NAACP's [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People] Thurgood Marshall, who later became the first black Supreme Court Justice, was the lead lawyer overseeing a series of cases leading up to the Brown decision. The ACLU consulted with Marshall on his strategies and filed amicus briefs in the major Supreme Court cases, including Brown."
ACLU "Fighting for Racial Justice," ACLU website (accessed June 8, 2011)
ACLU Publishes "Secret Detention by the Police" Study
"In the early 1950s, the ACLU of Illinois began a campaign against illegal detention by local police and other law enforcement agencies in the state. In 1959, the organization published a study entitled Secret Detention by the Chicago Police, which exposed the police practice of arresting suspects and holding them for 17 or more hours, moving them out of reach of attorneys and beating them in hopes of eliciting a confession. The report had an enormous national impact, and copies were requested by police departments across the country as well as by Supreme Court Justices William O. Douglas and Tom Clark. The report was considered influential in a landmark Supreme Court ruling in the next decade, Escobedo v. Illinois [June 22, 1964], which held that the police cannot continue to interrogate a suspect after he has indicated that he wants to consult with his attorney."
ACLU "90 Years of Protecting Your Liberty," ACLU website (accessed June 8, 2011)
Operation Abolition, House Un-American Activities Committee Documentary, and Operation Correction, ACLU's Response Documentary
Operation Abolition (top) and Operation Correction (bottom), 1960 Source: "Operation Abolition and Operation Correction," Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University website, Oct. 19, 2010
"Operation Abolition, a 1960 documentary produced by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (a.k.a. House Un-American Activities Committee or HUAC), focused on an incident on May 13, 1960 when the Committee convened in San Francisco’s City Hall. While the committee met, students protested in the hallways and outside the building, leading to clashes with the police and the arrest of 64 students. Operation Abolition shows footage of the incident taken from subpoenaed San Francisco TV station newsreels, using that footage to allege that the students were Communists and/or instigated by Communist agents...
Operation Correction shows the same footage as Operation Abolition, interspersed with added commentary by Ernest Besig, the Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California. Through his narration, Besig illustrates what he believes are the film’s inaccuracies, misrepresentations of the incident’s chronology, and propagandistic points."
John DeLooper, MLIS "Operation Abolition and Operation Correction," Seely G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University website, Oct. 19, 2010
Pemberton Succeeds Malin as Executive Director
"Jack Pemberton succeeded Malin as executive director in 1962. During [Pemberton's] tenure, the ACLU at long last took the lead in dismantling the Red-hunting apparatus of the late 1940s and 1950s, winning cases before the U.S. Supreme Court that made it impossible for the congressional investigating committees to function, sharply limiting security checks, and invalidating loyalty oaths. Many of these cases were brought by the state affiliates of the ACLU, but, under Pemberton, they had the support of the national office's legal department and it director, Mel Wulf."
Aryeh NeierTaking Liberties: Four Decades in the Struggle for Rights, 2003
June 19, 1961
ACLU Files Brief in Mapp v. Ohio: Extending Federal Exclusionary Rule to States
Dollree Mapp at court with her attorney A.L. Kearns, undated photo Source: "Dolly Mapp," truTV website (accessed May 13, 2011)
Mapp v. Ohio "arose when an Ohio woman, Dollree Mapp, refused to allow local police to enter her home without a warrant... Police eventually tricked their way into the house with a false warrant and... charged Mapp with possessing 'lewd and lascivious' material...
While Mapp's defense attorney cited the 1914 Weeks case [Weeks v. United States, that the federal government could not rely on illegally seized evidence to obtain criminal convictions in federal court] in seeking to dismiss the charges, he failed to argue that this constitutional prohibition against using illegally obtained evidence should be applied in a state court. However, an influential brief filed by the ACLU of Ohio made just this point...
[On June 19,] 1961, citing the ACLU's arguments, the Supreme Court reversed Mapp's conviction and adopted the exclusionary rule as a national standard."
ACLU "90 Years of Protecting Your Liberty," ACLU website (accessed June 9, 2011)
Mar. 18, 1963
Gideon v. Wainwright: Guaranteed Right to an Attorney
"[On Mar. 18, 1963] the Supreme Court handed down yet another landmark ruling in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, holding that the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial guaranteed all defendants facing imprisonment a right to an attorney, not just those in death penalty cases.
The case was argued by future Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, with support from the ACLU, which urged the Court to overturn the conviction of Clarence Gideon, a petty thief from Florida who had been forced to defend himself after being denied a lawyer. With the assistance of a lawyer, Gideon was acquitted on retrial, and states were required for the first time to provide free legal counsel to indigent defendants."
ACLU "90 Years of Protecting Your Liberty," ACLU website (accessed Feb. 25, 2011)
Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC) Is Created
"The ACLU made its greatest contribution to the entire civil rights movement by providing lawyers to handle the huge number of cases, averting a serious crisis in legal representation. Mel Wulf, the ACLU’s legal director at the time, searched the South for cooperating attorneys. He found that 'those working for civil rights do so in an underground atmosphere.' ACLU Executive Director Jack Pemberton decided the ACLU should step into the breach.
[In 1964] the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC) was formed and became the main instrument of the ACLU’s activities. Henry Schwarzschild, its director, kept a desk at the ACLU office and from there recruited lawyers and raised money."
ACLU "A Bond Forged in Struggle," ACLU website (accessed Feb. 22, 2011)
June 13, 1966
Miranda v. Arizona: Reading of Rights Upon Arrest
Ernesto Miranda (right) with attorney John J. Flynn (left), in Phoenix in 1967 Source: Liane J. Jackson, "Turning Miranda 'Upside Down'?," ABA Journal website, Sep. 1, 2010
"1965: ACLU of Arizona agrees to represent Ernesto Arturo Miranda, a laborer from Mesa who was convicted on rape charges based on his own confession under police interrogation. ACLU attorney Robert J. Corcoran asks John J. Flynn and John P. Frank, who worked for one of Phoenix's largest law firms, to represent Miranda...
[June 13,] 1966: In a victory for the ACLU, the U.S. Supreme Court releases its landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona, ruling [5-4] that a police officer upon arresting a person must read them their rights to counsel and to remain silent, called a Miranda warning."
ACLU of Arizona "Accomplishments: ACLU of Arizona: 1959-Present," ACLU of Arizona website (accessed June 9, 2011)
Defense of Dr. Spock Splits ACLU on Civil Disobedience Policy
Dr. Benjamin Spock (center, front) leading a march to the United Nations to demand a cease-fire in Vietnam in 1965 Source: "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Movement 1954-1985" PBS website (accessed May 18, 2011)
"Early protests against the war prompted the ACLU to review its policy on free speech and civil disobedience...
The civil disobedience issue exploded after the January 1968 indictment of noted pediatrician and author Dr. Benjamin Spock, Yale chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., and three other anti-war activists on charges of advocacy to violate and participation in violating the draft laws. The ACLU's legal director Mel Wulf immediately announced that the Union would defend any of the 'Boston Five' who desired assistance.
That announcement outraged the Union's moderates because Wulf did not have authority from the ACLU's board to extend the offer. In their view, defending Spock and the other indictees would require the Union's lawyers to argue a host of issues with no relation to traditional civil liberties, such as the legality of the war and draft, and the commission of war crimes by American troops."
At a June 1968 Biennial Conference, ACLU board members voted for a new civil disobedience policy which "reiterated that the ACLU would not defend a person who violated a valid law, even as a form of protest, although the Union had great respect for the noble intentions often motivating civil disobedience. The board's ability to reach a consensus on that policy illustrated how much the Spock conflict--considered 'the major internal controversy in the ACLU in the past 30 years' --arose because of different attitudes toward the Vietnam War and the organization's image, rather than disagreements about the underlying civil liberties principles."
Allen Rostron, JD "Inside the ACLU: Activism and Anti-Communism in Late 1960s," New England Law Review, Winter 1999
ACLU Announces Opposition to Vietnam War
"In the wake of the invasion of Cambodia in April [April 30, 1970] and the Kent State massacre in May [May 4, 1970], pressure to oppose the war became overwhelming. Most of the ACLU's leaders fiercely opposed the war... Despite resistance by a few moderate holdouts arguing 'that ACLU should defend those whose civil liberties have been abridged but that no statement about the war in Indochina itself should be made by an organization which is non-political,' the board approved a statement [during a June 1970 meeting] declaring that the Vietnam War 'had a highly detrimental effect on civil liberties.'
The statement contained a brief checklist of civil liberties deprivations attributable to the war, such as conscription, curtailed academic freedom, inhibition of dissent and free expression, the Kent State shootings, urban neglect, and military domination of public policy. The board then voted to condemn the war as a violation of the Constitution, as well as civil liberties, based on the President's usurpation of the power to declare war... The ACLU's Executive Director Jack Pemberton acknowledged that the board's decision to oppose the war marked a 'major departure' from the organization's traditional role."
Allen Rostron, JD "Inside the ACLU: Activism and Anti-Communism in the Late 1960s," New England Law Review, Winter 1999
Aryeh Neier Appointed Executive Director
"Aryeh Neier's appointment in [Oct.] 1970 as the ACLU's executive director marked the advent of the 'new' ACLU. Neier consolidated what had been developing over the past five years: the new civil liberties issues, direct legal representation, and grant-funded special projects...
Neier wasted no time transforming the ACLU... Reliance on grant-funded 'special projects' became a major element of the new ACLU under Neier. The Prisoners' Rights Project, the Reproductive Freedom Project, and the Voter Rights Project became the centers of legal expertise on their respective subjects."
ACLU Files Amicus Brief Opposing Injunction of Pentagon Papers
July 1, 1971 New York Times headline announcing the Supreme Court decision in New York Times v. United States Source: "Wikileaks: The Afghanistan War's 'Pentagon Papers?'," Center for the Study of the Presidency & Congress website (accessed June 20, 2011)
"The issue of a free press captured national attention once again during the Vietnam Era, when the Nixon Administration notoriously obtained a court order barring The New York Times and the Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers - hundreds of pages of secret government documents detailing American involvement in the Vietnam War. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court in New York Times v. United States, where the ACLU filed an amicus brief opposing the injunction on free speech grounds. In a ruling that is considered a landmark for freedom of the press, the Court ordered publication of the papers by the Times and others to resume in June 1971."
ACLU"90 Years of Protecting Your Liberty," ACLU website (accessed Mar. 14, 2011)
Nov. 22, 1971
Ruth Bader Ginsburg Key Figure in ACLU's Women's Rights Projects and Reed v. Reed
"In 1970, ACLU board members... called on the ACLU to abandon its emphasis on the Fourteenth Amendment as the best hope for women's rights and to endorse the ERA [Equal Rights Amendment]. The organization did so by an overwhelming majority and the next year defined women's rights as its 'top priority,' creating the Women's Rights Project.
The key figure in the ACLU's campaign was law professor [and future US Supreme Court Justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who, as one of three general counsels, shaped the ACLU brief in Reed v. Reed, the breakthrough women's rights case in the Supreme Court. Reed challenged the automatic preference for men over women as administrators of estates...The Court, however, did not go as far as the ACLU and women's groups wanted, holding that gender was not a 'suspect classification' demanding the same 'strict scrutiny' by the court as race did."
Nov. 5, 1973 TIME magazine cover on "The Push to Impeach" President Nixon Source: "The Push to Impeach," www.time.com (accessed June 20, 2011)
"The unfolding of the Watergate scandal in 1973 piqued controversy within the ACLU over what stance, if any, the organization would take. Two years earlier the southern California chapter had urged Richard Nixon's impeachment because of his handling of the Vietnam War. Now a growing number of affiliates followed suit... On September 29 the national board voted 51 to 5 to support impeachment proceedings. Executive Director Aryeh Neier and [New York ACLU's Executive Director Ira] Glasser drafted a full-page ad, costing $12,500, which ran in the New York Times on October 14, 1973. Thus the ACLU became the first national organization to urge the president's removal from office."
ACLU Defends Right of American-Nazi to March in Skokie, IL
Undated picture of Frank Collin, Leader of the National Socialist Party of America at the time of the Skokie trial Source: "National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie," www.docstoc.com, Nov. 6, 2008
"Defending unpopular minorities reached its high point when the ACLU decided to defend the right of an American Nazi [Frank Collin, leader of the National Socialist Party of America] to march in Skokie, Illinois, in 1977.
Initially rebuffed from marching in Marquette Park in Chicago, he sought permission to march in nearby suburbs. When Skokie requested a $350,000 bond, the ACLU was asked to contest the restrictions on free speech. Jewish residents composed almost half of Skokie's population and a significant number were survivors of the Nazi Holocaust...
Skokie then enacted three ordinances that banned, in part, symbols offensive to the community and material that incited hatred based on race, national origin, or religion. The [ACLU] Illinois chapter, with the national ACLU's endorsement, challenged the ordinances. The federal district court, granting an injunction, reaffirmed that the First Amendment precludes government from restricting expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.
Although prevailing at court, the ACLU's Skokie case [National Social Party of America v. Village of Skokie] raised national questions of how far freedom of speech should be protected when its consequences harmed those receiving the speech. The ACLU became the center of controversy itself, and thousands resigned their membership."
"Subsisting primarily on membership dues, the A.C.L.U. had made little sustained effort to raise larger donations. By the mid-1970's, its finances were precarious...
The crisis came to a head in 1977, with the organization's defense of the American Nazi Party's right to march in Skokie, Ill. Thousands of members resigned in outrage, and donations declined sharply. By 1978... the A.C.L.U. was almost $500,000 in debt."
Margalit Fox "Carol Pitchersky, 57, A.C.L.U. Official, Dies," New York Times, Oct. 23, 2004
Glasser Replaces Neier as ACLU Executive Director
"[Aryeh Neier] announced his resignation in the spring of 1978. There was an element of tragedy in his demise: He was unable to adapt to the demands of running the complex ACLU bureaucracy he had done so much to create...
New ACLU Executive Director Ira Glasser was one of the veterans of the 1960s who did adapt to the demands of the 1970s. Taking office in September 1978, he immersed himself in the ACLU's administrative morass. On his first day on the job he found the ACLU on the verge of bankruptcy."
Attorney General Edwin Meese III Calls the ACLU a "Criminals' Lobby"
At a May 11, 1981 speech to the California Peace Officers Association, Attorney General Edwin Meese, III said, "There has actually been the emergence, not only in California but throughout the nation of what might be described as a criminals' lobby...
[A law review article lists] some nine or 10 different organizations - the Prisoners Union, the ACLU and a whole group of others - that have now formed a consistent body of lobbying which is regularly opposed to law enforcement."
"Scopes II" - McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education: Creation Science and Evolution
"The 1981-82 federal court case McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education constituted a challenge to the state’s Act 590, which mandated the equal treatment of creation science in classrooms where evolution was taught. On January 5, 1982, U.S. District Court Judge William R. Overton ruled Act 590 unconstitutional in light of the establishment clause of the First Amendment. [Judge Overton determined] that creationism constituted a religious doctrine rather than a scientific theory...
For the trial billed as 'Scopes II' by the media, the ACLU divided its ten expert witnesses into two teams. The 'religious team' argued that 'historically, philosophically, and sociologically, creationism is a religious movement of fundamentalists who base their beliefs on the inerrancy of the Bible and that creation science is no more than religious apologetics,'... The 'scientific team'... presented arguments undercutting the supposed scientific basis for creationism. Thus, the plaintiffs sought to demonstrate that creationism was in fact a religious doctrine, the teaching of which violated the establishment clause...
When Judge Overton ruled against the constitutionality of Act 590, he took particular issue with Section 4(a) of the act, which defined creation science as positing the 'creation of the universe, energy, and life from nothing,' as well as explaining the earth’s geology 'by occurrence of a worldwide flood.' Such a definition, he argued, violated the establishment clause due to its naked references to events in the Book of Genesis. The state did not appeal the case."
ACLU Reverses Policy to Oppose Robert Bork Supreme Court Nomination
Former President Gerald Ford, left, introduces Supreme Court Associate Justice nominee Robert Bork, center, in 1987, at the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. At right is Sen. Robert Dole (R-KS)
Source: "Justice Stevens Retirement Portends Long, Hot Political Summer," Christian Science Monitor, Apr. 10, 2010
"The American Civil Liberties Union is dropping its 51-year-old policy against involvement in Supreme Court confirmation battles to join the effort to defeat the nomination of Judge Robert H. Bork...
[ACLU President Norman] Dorsen... said the Reagan Administration's description of Judge Bork as a mainstream conservative in the tradition of the late Justice Harlan was 'absolutely false'...
Since 1936, the A.C.L.U. has adhered to a policy of not taking a stand on any nomination, either to the judiciary or for positions in the executive branch. It suspended this bylaw in 1971, when its board voted to oppose President Nixon's nomination of William H. Rehnquist as an Associate Justice...
Under the new policy, the A.C.L.U. will oppose any Supreme Court nominee 'whose record demonstrates a judicial philosophy that would fundamentally jeopardize the Supreme Court's critical and unique role in protecting civil liberties in the United States.' Mr. Dorsen said that once the new policy was approved, the vote to oppose the Bork nomination was 61 to 3."
Linda Greenhouse, MSL "A.C.L.U., Reversing Policy, Joins the Opposition to Bork," New York Times, Sep. 1, 1987
July 21, 1988
ACLU Files Amicus Brief Supporting Oliver North in Iran-Contra Indictment
Oliver North testifies before Congress in July 1987 on the Iran-Contra affair
Source: "Iran-Contra Affair; Oliver North," www.britannica.com, July 1987
Former staff member of the National Security Council "Oliver L. North and two others indicted for their roles in the Iran-contra affair today gained an ally in their efforts to overturn the indictment: the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a legal brief filed in a Federal appeals court... the liberties union said the conspiracy indictment against the defendants must be dismissed on grounds that their testimony before Congress was being used against them in violation of the Constitution. The three testified under grants of limited immunity from prosecution.
'It is impossible not to conclude that defendants' testimony has been or will be used against them in violation of their Fifth Amendment rights' against self-incrimination, the organization said in the brief, which stated: 'The only appropriate remedy in this case is immediate dismissal of the indictment.'"
Philip Shenon "Civil Liberties Union Asks Court to Quash Iran-Contra Indictment," New York Times, July 21, 1988
ACLU's 1st TV Ad to Defend Against H.W. Bush's "Card Carrying" Comment
Actors Burt Lancaster. Jill Eikenberry, and Michael Tucker in two ACLU TV 1988 advertisements Source: "Card Carrying Members of the ACLU, 1988," Mudd Manuscript Library website, Oct. 5 2010
"Next week [Oct. 1988] Burt Lancaster will look out from television screens in Southern California and confess, 'I am a card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.'
The actor's declaration is part of the first television advertising campaign in the history of the American Civil Liberties Union, the 68-year-old civil rights organization that has found itself the target of attacks by Vice President Bush and other Republicans in this year's Presidential campaign...
The A.C.L.U.'s Southern California chapter has produced three television commercials and one radio spot starring Mr. Lancaster. In one, the actor makes a 'confession,' that he is a member of the A.C.L.U., referring directly to Mr. Bush's repeated comment, made derisively, that the Democratic Presidential nominee, Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, is a 'card-carrying member of the A.C.L.U.'"
Randall Rothenberg "A.C.L.U. Goes Hollywood in Countering Bush's Campaign of Derision," New York Times, Sep. 28, 1988
July 3, 1989
Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU: Christian Nativity Scene Violates the Establishment Clause
Christmas tree and menorah in front of the City-County Building of the city of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County in 1988 Source: "Religious Symbols in Public Places," University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law website (accessed Apr. 7, 2011)
"Two public-sponsored holiday displays in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union. The first display involved a Christian nativity scene inside the Allegheny County Courthouse. The second display was a large Chanukah menorah, erected each year by the Chabad Jewish organization, outside the City-County building. The ACLU claimed the displays constituted state endorsement of religion. This case was decided together with Chabad v. ACLU and City of Pittsburgh v. ACLU of Greater Pittsburgh...
In a 5-to-4 decision [in Allegheny County v. Greater Pittsburgh ACLU],the Court held that the creche inside the courthouse unmistakably endorsed Christianity in violation of the Establishment Clause. By prominently displaying the words 'Glory to God for the birth of Jesus Christ,' the county sent a clear message that it supported and promoted Christian orthodoxy. The Court also held, however, that not all religious celebrations on government property violated the Establishment Clause. Six of the justices concluded that the display involving the menorah was constitutionally legitimate given its 'particular physical setting.'"
Reno v. ACLU: Communications Decency Act Unconstitutional Restriction on Free Speech
"In an overwhelming victory for Internet free speech, the Supreme Court today ruled in Reno v. ACLU, that the federal Communications Decency Act (CDA) is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, affirming a lower court decision.
In a landmark 7-2 decision written by Justice Stevens, the Court ruled that the CDA places an 'unacceptably heavy burden on protected speech,' that 'threatens to torch a large segment of the Internet community.' Justice O'Connor, with Chief Justice Rehnquist, concurred with the judgment while dissenting in part along more narrow lines...
The ACLU's suit, filed on February 8, 1996, challenges censorship provisions of the law aimed at protecting minors by criminalizing so-called 'indecency' on the Internet. The government appealed the case to the High Court after a federal three-judge panel ruled unanimously last June that the law unconstitutionally restricts free speech."
ACLU "ACLU Hails Supreme Court Victory in Internet Censorship Challenge," ACLU website, June 27, 1997
ACLU Annual Income Tops $45 Million
"In 1978, the national ACLU's annual income was $3.9 million and the organization ran a small deficit. By 1999, annual income was an off-the-charts $45 million. The endowment fund has gone from $780,000 to a whopping $41 million."
Robyn E. Blumner, JD "ACLU National Director Retires for Much More Freedom," St. Petersburg Times, Sep. 3, 2000
Mar. 23, 2001
Former ACLU Leaders Contradict ACLU Stance on Constitutionality of McCain-Feingold Bill
"In a statement released by the Brennan Center for Justice today [Mar. 23, 2001], nine former ACLU leaders expressed their view that the pending McCain-Feingold bill is constitutional. The group signing the statement includes every past president, executive director, legal director, and legislative director of the ACLU. The statement concludes, 'Opponents of reform should not be permitted to hide behind an unjustified constitutional smokescreen.'
The position of former ACLU leaders directly contradicts the stance aggressively asserted by the ACLU in the debate over the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold legislation."
Amanda Cooper "Former ACLU Leaders Uniformly Agree on Constitutionality of McCain-Feingold," Brennan Center for Justice website, Mar. 23, 2001
Sep. 7, 2001
Anthony Romero Becomes New ACLU Executive Director
"Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's premier defender of liberty and individual freedom. He took the helm of the organization just four days before the September 11, 2001 attacks...
Romero is the ACLU's sixth executive director, and the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in that capacity."
ACLU "Anthony D. Romero," ACLU website (accessed Apr. 11, 2011)
Nov. 26, 2002
Libertarian and Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) Joins ACLU
Former Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) speaking, undated photo Source: "Exclusive Interview," American View website (accessed June 16, 2011)
"...Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., is heading over to the American Civil Liberties Union to work on informational and data privacy issues...
The firebrand conservative -- a gun rights advocate, anti-gay rights activist and prosecutor in the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton -- told Fox News on Tuesday [Nov. 26, 2002] that the collaboration is not as strange as it might appear at first blush...
The conservative Barr and the ACLU, known for its liberal stance on policy, have frequently been on the same page when it comes to privacy issues. Both opposed a national ID, the Justice Department's Carnivore Internet snooping system, the proposed 'Know Your Customer' banking regulation, and the controversial Operation TIPS citizen-spy program, which was legislated out of existence earlier this month...
ACLU representatives said that their collaboration with Barr illustrates the right-left union on privacy issues."
FOX News"Barr to Join ACLU," www.foxnews.com, Nov. 27, 2002
Jan. 12, 2003
Post-9/11 ACLU Membership Nears 330,000
ACLU advertisement titled "Patriot Act Truth #1" Source: "The True Meaning of the 'Patriot Act'," NetScientia Web Concepts website (accessed Apr. 8, 2011)
"16 months after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, rising concern about abuses of civil liberties has been credited for an unprecedented surge in ACLU membership.
The nation's best-known civil liberties group links the passage in 2001 of the USA Patriot Act, which greatly expanded government surveillance powers, and other governmental actions to a 20 percent increase in its membership since August 2001. There are now about 330,000 members of the ACLU, compared with 275,000 before Sept. 11.
Created in 1920 by a small group of activists in response to violations of civil liberties such as the jailing of opponents to World War I, the ACLU has seen other spikes in its membership over the decades. Its ranks grew during the civil rights and Vietnam War eras, the Watergate scandal, and the Reagan White House years.
But the increase since the Sept. 11 hijackings has been unprecedented, [ACLU Executive Director Anthony] Romero said."
Frank James "ACLU Membership Rises," Chicago Tribune, Jan. 12, 2003
Jan. 12, 2004
ACLU Files Amicus Brief on Behalf of Conservative Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh talks on his radio show "The Rush Limbaugh Show," undated photo Source: "Rush Limbaugh Radio Show," www.mediaite.com, May 28, 2011
"Talk radio host Rush Limbaugh probably never expected the American Civil Liberties Union to become one of his staunch supporters.
But the privacy rights group was on his side Monday when its Florida branch filed a 'friend-of-court' motion [amicus brief] on behalf of Limbaugh arguing state officials were wrong in seizing his medical records for their drug probe...
The ACLU contends that state law enforcement officers violated Limbaugh's privacy rights by taking possession of his medical records as part of their criminal investigation into the commentator's alleged 'doctor-shopping' to feed his prescription-drug addiction...
The motion, filed with the Fourth District Court of Appeal, claims the state encroached upon the Florida constitution's right to privacy when law enforcement officials confiscated Limbaugh's medical files."
Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union: Child Online Protection Act a Violation of Free Speech
"COPA [Child Online Protection Act], first signed into law in 1998, seeks to protect youth from objectionable material [including pornography] online by criminalizing internet transmission of material that is 'harmful to minors'...
The current court case, John Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union et al., stems from a suit brought against the U.S. Government by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other internet and civil liberties groups. The suit contends that the COPA is an unconstitutional infringement on the free speech and privacy rights of adults."
Oyez Project "Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union," Oyez Project website (accessed Apr. 11, 2011)
June 27, 2005
McCreary County v. ACLU: Ten Commandments Display Unconstitutional
Pulaski County courthouse display of ten historical documents, one of which is the Ten Commandments Source: "Displays Including the Ten Commandments," Liberty Council website (accessed Apr. 11, 2011)
"The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued three Kentucky counties [McCreary, Harlan, and Pulaski] in federal district court for displaying framed copies of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public schools. The ACLU argued the displays violated the First Amendment's establishment clause, which prohibits the government from passing laws 'respecting an establishment of religion'...
In a 5-4 opinion... the majority held that the displays violated the establishment clause because their purpose had been to advance religion. In the case of each of the displays, the Court held, an observer would have concluded that the government was endorsing religion. The first display for presenting the Ten Commandments in isolation; the second for showing the Commandments along with other religious passages; the third for presenting the Commandments in a presentation of the 'Foundations of American Law,' an exhibit in which the county reached 'for any way to keep a religious document on the walls of courthouses.'"
Oyez Project "McCreary County v. ACLU," Oyez Project website (accessed Apr. 11, 2011)
June 29, 2006
ACLU Files Amicus Brief Supporting Osama Bin Laden's Former Chauffer in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld: Challenging the Constitutionality of Military Tribunals
Salim Ahmed Hamden, Osama bin Laden's former chauffer, undated photo Source: "Tribunal Halted After Judge Rules System Unlawful," www.usatoday.com, Nov. 8, 2004
In Hamden v. Rumsfeld, the ACLU filed an amicus brief on the side of petitioner "Salim Ahmed Hamdan, Osama bin Laden's former chauffeur, [who] was captured by Afghani forces and imprisoned by the U.S. military in Guantanamo Bay. He filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court to challenge his detention...
The Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ... [found] that the establishment of military tribunals had been authorized by Congress and was therefore not unconstitutional."
On June 29, 2006, "...[T]he Supreme Court, in a 5-to-3 decision authored by Justice John Paul Stevens, held that neither an act of Congress nor the inherent powers of the Executive laid out in the Constitution expressly authorized the sort of military commission at issue in this case."
Oyez Project "Hamdan v. Rumsfeld" Oyez Project website (accessed June 17, 2011)
Jan. 16, 2010
US Military Release Bagram Detainee Names Based on ACLU FOIA Lawsuit
Map of location of Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan Source: "Red Cross Confirms 'Second Jail' at Bagram, Afghanistan," BBC News, May 11, 2010
"The American military released the names of 645 detainees held at the main detention center at Bagram Air Base, modifying its long-held position against publicizing detention information and taking a step toward making the system more open...
The release of the detainee list was prompted by a Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] lawsuit filed in September  by the American Civil Liberties Union, whose lawyers had also demanded detailed information about conditions, rules and regulations at the prison...
'Full transparency and accountability about Bagram requires disclosing how long these people have been imprisoned, where they are from and whether they were captured far from any battlefield or in other countries far from Afghanistan,' [Melissa Goodman, a lawyer for the ACLU] said...
Former detainees have described abusive treatment at the base, especially in the first two or three years it was in existence. In 2002, two detainees died after being beaten. In the last several years, detainees who have been released described improved living conditions but have criticized the detention system for having held them for long periods without charges or trial."
ACLU Supports Proposed Building of Islamic Cultural Center Near World Trade Center
ACLU bus advertisement in support of the Islamic Center near the World Trade Center Source: "Religious Freedom Bus Ad," ACLU website, Sep. 10, 2010
An Aug. 3, 2010 statement released by the ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) praises the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission for approving a proposal to build a 13-story Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site in New York City:
"We congratulate the Landmarks Preservation Commission for promoting our nation's core values and not letting bias get in the way of the rule of law... For those who have sought to ban the construction of the cultural center, we must remember that our precious ideals extend to all Americans, regardless of creed or color. We see the center as a monument to pluralism, symbolic of America's commitment to religious freedom."
ACLU "NYCLU and ACLU Applaud Approval of NYC Islamic Cultural Center for Upholding Values of Freedom and Tolerance," ACLU website, Aug. 3, 2010