ACLU laying off 7 percent of its lawyers

As the punch line to an old joke about lawyers goes, it’s a good start. The American Civil Liberties Union, theoretically a non-ideological defender of the Constitution but in practice increasingly hard left, is running into financial difficulties and just announced (memo to staffers here)  layoffs for 7 percent of its lawyers.

Why the difficulties? It’s a little unclear, but Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit writes, “What I hear is that they’ve moved too far left, too fast, and it’s hurt their donations.” The organization itself cites something that happened 6 years ago in its memo – the ending of a $22 million annual grant from a family it does not identify, owing to their investment losses (presumably in the 2008 stock market crash). But six years is a lot of time to adjust hiring and other expenses to diminished income, not to mention scare up other donors.

And just five months ago, the ACLU trumpeted a grant of $50 million from George Soros’ Open Society Foundations, earmarked for reducing what it called “mass incarceration,” which on the surface would seem to mean ending the round up and jailing of people on a group basis. But of course, that doesn’t exist. What it means is:

The ACLU intends to cut that number [2.2. million people incarcerated] in half by 2020, with the most ambitious effort to end mass incarceration in American history.

"Reducing our nation's prison population by 50 percent may sound like a lofty goal. But Americans are recognizing that we can't arrest our way out of every social problem and, in fact, the overuse of our criminal justice system has been making matters worse," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. 

Of course, in tandem with the rising number of incarcerations has come a dramatic lowering of the crime rate. It seems pretty obvious that getting criminals off the street would do that. But to Soros and the ACLU, it is a problem.

But even that 50 mill is not enough to keep all the lawyers employed. And as you might expect from a group of people used to complaining about rights being violated, there is some complaining about their rights being violated.  The Above the Law website reports:

Here’s what some of our tipsters have said about the ACLU’s layoffs earlier this week:

  • “It was shocking because this is the ACLU. People were in tears and very upset. The news came out of nowhere. The email alluded to a ‘yearlong process of strategic planning,’ yet some of the people affected had been hired less than a year ago — which raises questions of incompetence on the part of ACLU leadership.”
  • “The ACLU had a mass layoff Monday and Tuesday. People are very upset. Affected workers were told to pack their belongings and immediately leave the premises. Morale is extremely low. Affected employees were not given any notice and some have expressed feeling blindsided.”

Another employee who was affected by the ACLU’s cuts spoke to Catherine Ho of the Washington Post, observing all too appropriately, “The very organization entrusted with protecting civil liberties didn’t even respect the civil rights of its own employees.”

Some of the employees who fell victim to Romero’s layoffs were hired as recently as a few months ago — despite the claim in his email of a “yearlong process of strategic planning” — which makes the situation reek of mismanagement. We also wonder if ACLU donors knew that mass layoffs were planned for this month — and whether they might have tried to help had they known.

The ACLU’s boss, Anthony Romero, is a somewhat controversial figure. An openly homosexual man with a hard left perspective, he has been criticized internally. New York Magazine wrote in 2007:

Though he doesn’t like to talk about it, he has come under intense fire from within his own organization. A number of very aggressive ACLU board members and other rights experts have pursued him with the kind of fervor usually reserved for the likes of Richard Nixon. The litany of their complaints is staggering. They charge him with unacceptable philosophical inconsistencies (Norman Siegel, the former head of the New York Civil Liberties Union, says Romero largely avoids Fox News, a peculiar stance for the head of a free-speech group), workplace policies unbecoming of a civil-liberties organization (staffers describe a “repressive, communist-like atmosphere” at headquarters, where discontent is “heavy, palpable, and widespread”), rank intimidation of dissidents (Romero is said to shake and scream), and dereliction of principle. Taken together, they seem to describe an agency adrift, or else hijacked by an impostor, someone not committed to its core principles.

That phrase “repressive, communist-like atmosphere” comes from a liberal publication. One thing is certain, there are not a lot of happy campers at the ACLU, and even big money donations from Soros have not been able to stem the decline in staffing