Dershowitz: Final nail in the coffin of the ACLU

Alan Dershowitz is one of the premier civil liberties attorneys in the country.  He is the author of Trumped Up: How Criminalizing Politics is Dangerous to Democracy and The Case Against BDS: Why Singling Out Israel for Boycott is Anti-Semitic and Anti-Peace

Dershowitz has been a longtime supporter of the American Civil Liberties Union.  It's been decades since the ACLU was a truly non-partisan organization dedicated to the maintenance of our constitutional rights.  But, as Dershowitz points out in this op-ed he penned for The Hill, the ACLU has now made it official policy to intervene in partisan politics.

A June 8 article in the New Yorker reveals that the ACLU, for the first time in its 98-year history, will spend millions of dollars on elections.  Dershowitz's musings on how far the ACLU has fallen are poignant.

Since its establishment nearly 100 years ago, the ACLU has been, in the words of the New Yorker, "fastidiously nonpartisan, so prudish about any alliance with any political power that its leadership, in the 1980s and 90s, declined even to give awards to likeminded legislators for fear that it might give the wrong impression."  I know, because I served on its national board in the early days of my own career.

In those days, the board consisted of individuals who were deeply committed to core civil liberties, especially freedom of speech, opposition to prosecutorial overreach and political equality.  Its board members included Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, right wingers and left wingers, all of whom supported neutral civil liberties.  The key test in those days was what I have come to call "the shoe on the other foot" test: Would you vote the same way if the shoe were on the other foot, that is, if the party labels were switched?

Today, the ACLU wears only one shoe, and it is on its left foot.  Its color is blue.  The only dispute is whether it supports the progressive wing of the Democratic Party or its more centrist wing.  There is little doubt that most board members today support the progressive wing, though some think that even that wing is not sufficiently left.  There is no longer any room in the ACLU for true conservatives who are deeply committed to neutral civil liberties.  The litmus test is support for hard-left policies.

I am old enough to remember when the ACLU supported the cause of civil liberties, regardless of which side was being threatened.  There was a dedication on the group's board to non-partisanship.

As Dershowitz points out, those days are long gone.

Anthony Romero, the current radical leftist who directs the ACLU, refers to those of us who favor the ACLU traditional mission as "the old guard."  The leading critic of the ACLU's newfound partisan mission is Romero's predecessor, Ira Glasser, who was the executive director of the ACLU from 1978 until 2001.  Glasser believes that this transformation in the way the ACLU has operated since 1920 "has the capacity to destroy the organization as it has always existed."

Glasser points out that some of the greatest violations of civil liberties throughout history have come from "progressive politicians, such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt who interned 110,000 Japanese-American citizens."  He worries, and I worry, that when the ACLU supports parties and partisan agendas, it will become less willing to criticize those it has supported when they violate civil liberties.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when the ACLU went off the rails.  I think it was in the 1990s, when the organization developed an institutional bias against conservative Christians, but it may have been before that.  It hardly matters.  An organization that stood on the front lines with black activists in the South during the 1960s and stood up for Nazis to demonstrate in Skokie, Ill. is now nothing but another special interest group closely allied with the Democratic Party.


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