Sunday, April 5, 2020
Book Celebrates ACLU Turning 100
One hundred years ago, the American Civil Liberties Union was formed. Every American owes them a form of gratitude, especially writers and publishers, both for the news media and book industry. Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases was recently published as a means to pay tribute to the great work of the ACLU.
We know some of the greatest hits by name:
· Brown v Board of Education
· Roe v Wade
· Miranda v Arizona
· New York Times Co. v Sullivan
· United States v. One Book called “Ulysses”
In collaboration with the ACLU authors Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman have curated a wonderful book about landmark cases from the ACLU’s celebrated century of history and victory.
Perhaps the authors, in the book’s introduction xxx best when they write:
“The history of the ACLU is one of struggle, combat, of marginalized people and unpopular causes, of troublemakers and conscientious objectors, the history of battle and strife. But it is always the history of the very best our country has to offer to its citizens and, by way of example, to the rest of the world: the strong, golden strand of the Bill of Rights and the ideals it embodies, often frayed, occasionally snarled, stretched at times to the breaking point, but shining and unbroken down all the years since 1789. The ACLU holds the government, the courts, and the nation to their avowed and highest standard, insisting on the recognition of the protections the Constitution affords to every American, no matter how marginalized, no matter how unpopular the cause, even if the people it protects sometimes despise the freedom it represents.”
So why do we need an ACLU? From the book’s foreword, written by David Cole, national legal director of ACLU, we see exactly why:
“Even a brief view of History demonstrates how far we have come. When the ACLU began in 1920, the Bill of Rights did not apply to State officials at all. it constrained only the federal government. Thus, state police arrests in searches do not violate the Fourth Amendment, no matter how abusive they were, and state legislators did not violate the First Amendment, even if they directly prohibited unpopular speech. Even as to the federal government, the Bill of Rights offered only limited protections. Speech could be suppressed as long as it had a “bad tendency” to lead to criminal conduct. Under such terms, communists, anarchists, union leaders, and dissidents were targeted and penalized for their political beliefs. newspapers were not protected from libel suits brought by government officials they had criticized in print. Despite the Fourth Amendment’s equal protection clause, “separate but equal” was the law of the land. Women could be barred entry into the legal profession on the ground that the entire sex was too sensitive to handle the work. Criminal defendants had no right to the assistance of counsel, and if police gathered evidence illegally, they could use it against the defendant at a trial. Practically the only constitutional right the Supreme Court recognized in the 1920s was the right of big businesses not to be subject to laws designed to protect workers and consumers from exploitation”.
The ACLU has challenged laws it sees as unjust. It helps define and declare what, if any, limits exist to things like free speech, due process, and various other rights that some may take for granted now.
It’s not easy for a nation to hold a mirror to itself, to examine its police, politicians and government agencies, and to determine what is right and face when many people become winners and losers depending on how moral a nation feels it needs to e.
The ACLU fights for human rights, often at the expense of institutions. Sometimes a victory on principle seems like a loss in the practical—and sometimes we are forced to confront what’s most important, even if it means that majority has to acquiesce to the minority.
Though the United States approaches its 244th birthday feeling confident that the Constitution will be upheld by all, we always find new challenges for new circumstances that upend our sense of good, fair, or decent. Who knows what awaits America, but I feel confident our civil liberties will continue to be protected by the ACLU.
To donate to, learn more about, or join the ACLU, please consult: www.ACLU.org.