Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gratitude for a National Treasure

On Tuesday I received notice that the ACLU had created a new blog called “Blog Rights—Because Freedom Can’t Blog Itself.” I smiled as I thought about the controversial history of this group. Unless you are newly arrived from another planet, you’ve heard this organization attacked and ridiculed as a left-wing group that uses the courts to subvert the Constitution. Others—me included, and I suspect a growing number of Americans—believe the ACLU has been, and remains, a critical watchdog in protecting civil liberties and preserving the Constitution.

The reason I suspect the number of supporters is growing is that it is harder and harder to deny the assault on civil liberties and the Constitution by the Bush administration. While I am grateful for the ACLU’s attention to those matters in the present, my own reasons are also personal, going back many years to a time when some of my civil liberties were abrogated without recourse to due process.

There are many organizations working now to preserve our civil liberties and protect the Constitution, and I am grateful for them all; but the ACLU has a special history. Since it’s founding in 1920 it has been at the center of controversy and public debate around issues of free speech, abortion, the death penalty, illegal immigration, the war on terror, drug policies, civil rights, separation of church and state, and many more. The ACLU has gone before the U.S. Supreme Court more times than any other organization besides the Department of Justice.

Some of the cases taken by the ACLU have angered both the Right and Left and cost them members. Do you recall how in 1978 they represented the free speech rights of neo-Nazis in Skokie, Illinois? Or in 1997 they defended the First Amendment rights of anti-abortion protesters? Or in 2001 when nine former ACLU leaders opposed the National Office of the ACLU over the McCain-Feingold Bill, which revised the limits on political campaign contributions and expenditures? I doubt that anyone agrees with all of the positions they have taken, but I’m glad they are there, defending civil liberties and the Constitution. They take 6,000 cases a year!

In their new blog they will be addressing issues about which I am deeply concerned:
- The authorization of the use of torture by top Bush administration officials,
- The fight for due process at Guantánamo Bay,
- Warrantless wiretapping and domestic surveillance,
- The continued struggle to ensure equality and civil rights for all Americans.

blog opened with a symposium on “Torture and America” with a couple of bloggers I trust: Glenn Greenwald,, and Joan (McJoan) McCarter from DailyKos.

Check out the symposium and consider how grateful we all should be for the illustrious history—even when it made us mad—of the ACLU, a national treasure.

- Milo

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