The ACLU today: leftism and lies

In our last couple of postings, we’ve been preoccupied with the transformation of the American Civil Liberties Union from an objective defender of free speech and civil liberties into yet another partisan tool for the left. The most prominent critic of this development has been Alan Dershowitz, the high-profile – and liberal – lawyer.

Wendy Kaminer

But Dershowitz hasn’t been alone. In a June article for the Wall Street Journal, Wendy Kaminer – who, like Dershowitz, is a former ACLU board member – cited a leaked memo about the ACLU’s current guidelines for taking on free-speech cases. Under those guidelines, the organization takes into account “the potential effect” of speech limits “on marginalized communities” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” Kaminer shook her head over all this, arguing that such thinking amounts to “a demotion of free speech in the ACLU’s hierarchy of values.”

Megan McArdle

That wasn’t all. On June 26, the Washington Post website ran a piece by Megan McArdle headlined “The ACLU’s divided heart.” McArdle began by paying tribute to the ACLU’s history: “Born out of the prosecutions of antiwar speech during World War I, the American Civil Liberties Union has spent the succeeding decades litigating and lobbying to protect speech rights for everyone, from communists to Nazis. Without the ACLU, Americans wouldn’t have some of the most robust civil liberties in the world.” McArdle also made a point that cannot be considered anything short of vital: “If the ACLU steps back from speech cases, no other organization is ready to pick up the torch, in part because the ACLU is so synonymous with free speech that it attracts much of the donor interest and legal talent in this area.” McArdle then summed up the problematic new guidelines that Kaminer had written about in the Journal.

Nadine Strossen

One might have expected that the leaking of these guidelines to the public would have caused David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, to miss his stride. But he didn’t. Absurdly, he insisted that these kinds of considerations had entered into decision-making at the ACLU ever since its founding. Nonsense. Nadine Strossen, a former head of the ACLU who has been especially strident lately in her pretense that it’s the same organization it always has been (see, for example, her recent turn on Dave Rubin’s podcast), also stood her ground. But Ira Glasser, Strossen’s predecessor, called B.S. on her: “To deny that this departure from free speech policy is a departure is intellectually dishonest, an Orwellian smokescreen thrown up to obscure what they are doing.” McArdle agreed: the ACLU’s politically drenched new criteria are “inimical to the very ideals the ACLU was founded to protect.” Yep.

The corrupt new ACLU

We used to admire the ACLU. Some of us are old enough to remember the Skokie affair of 1977. Many Western countries ban Mein Kampf and any symbols of Nazism. Not the U.S. In that year, the American Nazi Party planned a march in the village of Skokie, Illinois. The village successfully sued in Cook County court for the right to ban the event.

Nazis in Skokie

That’s when the American Civil Liberties Union entered the picture. Taking the Nazis’ side, they took the case to the state appellate court and then to the state Supreme Court. Both courts refused to overturn the county court’s decision. So the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which in a famous ruling ordered that the Nazis be allowed to march.

For some of us, that ruling – as well as the ACLU’s role in bringing it about – was the ultimate reflection of the greatest of America. Not, of course, because the ACLU sided with Nazis or because the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Nazis, but because both the ACLU and the Supreme Court stood up for the First Amendment.

By their actions, both the ACLU and the High Court made clear their recognition that the whole point of free-speech protections is that innocuous speech doesn’t need protection. What needs protection is the most extreme kind of speech. To refuse to defend the right of even the most offensive people to speak their minds is to start down the slippery slope toward banning any kind of speech that anybody, anywhere might consider inappropriate.

Alan Dershowitz

Times have changed, alas. Many of the most influential people in American society are would-be censors for whom political correctness is a higher value than freedom. The ACLU, unfortunately, has shifted its position accordingly. No less impressive a personage than Alan Dershowitz, the world-famous lawyer who identifies as a liberal and who used to be on the ACLU’s national board, said so in an April 12 article for The Hill. The headline: “For ACLU, getting Trump trumps civil liberties.” Dershowitz explained: “over the last several years [the ACLU] has turned from being a neutral civil liberties organization to a left wing, agenda-driven group that protects its contributors and constituents while ignoring the civil liberties of Americans with whom it disagrees.”

Now and then, admittedly, the organization still runs to the defense of “a Nazi or a Klansman as an easy, pretend show of its willingness to protect the free speech of the most despicable racists.” But when it comes to threats to free speech on college campuses, where far-left thugs have increasingly used violent means in an effort to silence speakers with whom they disagree, the ACLU has chosen to keep its dainty hands clean. In fact, in Dershowitz’s view, it’s gone even further, “becoming a cheerleader for the violation of the civil liberties of those on the other side of the political spectrum.”

Michael Cohen

When FBI agents “raided the law office and hotel room of Donald Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen,” and possibly “seized material protected by the lawyer-client privilege, including communications between President Trump and his attorney,” the ACLU sat on its hands. “[I]f a similar raid had been conducted on Hillary Clinton,” observed Dershowitz, “had she been elected and a special prosecutor appointed to investigate her emails, the ACLU would have been up in arms.” Instead David Cole, the ACLU’s legal director, actually described the raids as a “sign that the rule of law is alive.” Never mind the fact that, to quote Dershowitz, the raids were naked “violations of the Fourth and Sixth Amendments.”

Why this disgraceful about-face by the ACLU? Simple: “Virtually every contributor to the ACLU voted against Trump, as I did.” And for the ACLU today, “getting Trump, trumps civil liberties.”

The ACLU, naturally, rejects these charges. We’ll get to that on Tuesday.