In 1978, the ACLU successfully defended the right of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois, a community populated by Holocaust survivors. But in 2018, following the ACLU’s successful litigation to obtain a permit for white supremacists to march in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended in death and disaster, the ACLU issued new guidelines. Citing concerns about “limited resources” and “the potential effect on marginalized groups,” the organization cautioned its lawyers to take special care when considering whether to represent groups whose “values are contrary to our values.”
By “our values,” the ACLU was referring to the progressive causes it has championed with fervor and great fundraising success since the election of Donald Trump: immigrant rights, LGBTQ rights, reproductive freedom, and racial justice. Should its lawyers decide to take on a client espousing opposing views, the organization instructed them to engage in a public campaign “denouncing those views in press statements, op-eds, social media, and other available fora,” and “participating in counter-protests.” How, exactly, loudly disavowing their clients is consistent with lawyers’ duty to zealously represent them was not explained. Speaking as a criminal-defense lawyer, I don’t think it can be.
My dad was a card-carrying member of the ACLU. He wouldn’t want to be within 10 city blocks of these people now. I don’t either.
I don’t look to the ACLU to affirm my beliefs or those of my allies. On the contrary, I look to the ACLU to defend everyone, including my ideological enemies. To do that work, it cannot be beholden to any political party or ideology.
That’s exactly right. And it’s why the ACLU, despite a laudable history, deserves no one’s support now.