A closer look at the ACLU


I’ve pointed to the American Civil Liberties Union as one of our best champions during the upcoming Trump administration. But who are they, exactly, and why am I throwing all the cash I can spare in their direction?

Time for some Q&A.

What is the ACLU?

They are a nonprofit organization, headquartered in New York, with offices in all 50 states. Website: aclu.org

What do they do?

They fight to protect civil liberties, especially the ones guaranteed by the Bill of Rights: freedom of speech and religion (1st Amendment), freedom from unwarranted search and seizure (4th Amendment), right to due process in court (5th Amendment), and so on.

How do they do that?

Well, they go to court a lot. Their team of lawyers will challenge any law or government action that they believe is unconstitutional. Since its inception, the ACLU has appeared before the Supreme Court more often than anyone except the Department of Justice. And they win more often than they lose.

They also talk to lawmakers, expressing concerns as necessary. And they publish materials to educate the public about the rights of all Americans.

How are they funded?

Entirely by individuals and private groups. They have never, and will never, accept government money — this helps them remain independent, and challenge the government without fear of having their funding removed.

How big are they?

They have about 100 staff attorneys, 2,000 volunteer attorneys, and 500,000 members (i.e., people who donate).

How long have they been around?

Since 1920. So, almost 100 years.

What kinds of things have they done in the past?

  • In the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925, it was the ACLU that recruited biology teacher John T. Scopes to challenge the state ban on teaching evolution in science classrooms.
  • After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the ACLU was virtually alone in opposing Japanese internment camps.
  • In 1954, the ACLU and the NAACP challenged racial discrimination in schools, leading to the famous Brown v. Board of Education decision that ended “separate but equal.”
  • More recently, the ACLU has fought against the Patriot Act, waterboarding, and the NSA warrantless surveillance program.

I’ve heard they’re a liberal organization. Is that true?

Yes and no. It depends what you mean by “liberal.”

Certainly they are nonpartisan — and I mean really nonpartisan, not just technically. They went after the Obama administration many times. Before that, the Bush administration. Before that, the Clinton administration. So they’re serious about holding accountable those in power, no matter who they may be.

They also have a policy of never formally endorsing or opposing any candidate for any office, although certainly they raise a lot more red flags if a candidate has a history of civil rights violations.

The ACLU has fought strongly and consistently for a woman’s right to have an abortion. If that issue is your main barometer for conservative vs. liberal, then certainly they’re liberal on that score.

They also oppose the death penalty, for a variety of reasons. And they’re against torture. Again, those tend to be more liberal stances.

On the other hand, they oppose gerrymandering, which is (or should be) a nonpartisan issue. And they oppose “big government” in the form of domestic mass surveillance, which is a conservative stance (at least by the traditional definition of “conservative”).

So I’d say, rather than picking one label or another, take a look at their stances on the issues — and their history — and decide for yourself.

…So basically, they’re a liberal organization?

Yeah, I’m not gonna lie, they are sorta liberal. But they’re very much an independent group. And as I said, they’ve opposed Democrats as well as Republicans on countless occasions, and will continue to do so.

Are they considered a charity?

No — the main ACLU organization is a nonprofit, but not a charity. They’re a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization, which primarily means they’re actively working with/against the government on issues. Donations are not tax-deductible.

There is also the ACLU Foundation, which basically does the same thing except minus the lobbying. Because of this difference, they’re a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, and donations to them are tax-deductible.

Are they gearing up to oppose the Trump administration if & when it’s necessary?

Oh hellz yes. In just the first 6 days after Trump was elected, the ACLU got 120,000 donations. (That’s donations, not dollars.) Their first big conference call post-election was delayed by 10 minutes because of the sheer volume of people calling in (I was one of them). The ACLU has already done extensive research on the legality and constitutionality of Trump’s major proposals, and they’re lawyered up and ready to go.

If you love the ACLU so much, why don’t you marry it?

Betsy said no.

But you really think these guys are among our top champions of liberty?

Yes I do.

What was that link again?


2 responses to “A closer look at the ACLU

  1. I think you need to educate yourself a bit more on the ACLU. There is always another side to every position and I hope you will take time to look at it and perhaps rethink giving your hard-earned dollars to this group.

    Regarding their “support” for free speech, they tend to scream loudest for liberal causes, but remain suspiciously quiet on others. As a so called “non-partisan” organization, their inconsistency concerns me.

    Examples are below:

    • To quote from your second link: “I’m a big, big supporter of the ACLU and I think they (normally) do amazing work protecting our civil liberties — even in situations where others might shy away.” Of course, like that writer, I don’t agree with all their decisions. I’d be hard-pressed to find any nationwide, 100-year-old organization whose decisions I agree with completely. But overall, they fit my thinking closely enough that I feel good about supporting them.

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