Letter to the Editor / ACLU – Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

By Roger C. Kostmayer

The NY Times recently had a front page article about the 100 year old non-profit, non-partisan American Civil Liberty Union, the gist of which was that, historically, the ACLU focused on helping almost anyone (radical left or radical right, neo-Nazis and Communists) who needed help preserving their right to free speech.  But in recent years, especially the last four, this service organization and its legal staff evolved and fought for clients with constitutional and criminal justice issues in addition to free speech cases.  The Times article overstated the internal generational debate by describing it as an “identity crisis”.

Like many service organizations that helped society and needy individuals for a century, the constitutional threats to our democracy changed, and so did those trying to protect democracy and our constitution in areas like voting rights, immigration rights and equal justice rights along with First Amendment rights.  It would be foolish for such a powerful and wealthy service organization to cling to the past and become an anachronistic one-trick-pony.

It’s true that it would be better if such organizations had a moral rudder, called a strategic raison d’être, to guide them as times and threats change, and in this case that guiding principle should be common sense protection of our constitutional democracy by helping individuals in need of legal and other support when struggling with constitutional issues.

(The author’s perspective in no way represents ACLU or its mission; it is the opinion of someone who respects most, but not all, of ACLU’s achievements.)