The ACLU unconvincingly denies accusations of “mission creep”

June 10, 2021 • 10:45 am

Three days ago I highlighted a New York Times piece, “Once a bastion of free speech, the A.C.L.U. faces an identity crisis“. (This was a news report, not an op-ed.) It obviously hit home at the ACLU, because on the organization’s website their legal director, David Cole, has written a long piece defending the ACLU against the accusation that it’s undergoing mission creep by moving from defending civil liberties to engaging in social-justice work.

Click on the screenshot to read.

Cole argues strenuously, and gives examples, that the ACLU is still actively engaged in defending civil liberties—often of people or groups despised by the Left, including the NRA, Milo Yiannopoulos, Donald Trump, and so on. He gives a list of five years of civil-rights lawsuits that the ACLU has brought—from 2017 to 2021.

And, as I’ve said before, he’s got a point here: the ACLU is indeed continuing its mission. My point, and the New York Times’s was that it’s diluting its classic mission by engaging in social justice work, which isn’t in itself bad, but because some of that social justice work is not even-handed but one sided in terms of rights. Further, there are many other organizations doing social-justice work, but only the ACLU (and now the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE), has the resources and chops to defend the civil liberties of the despiséd.

In other words, the ACLU is doing what the Southern Poverty Law Center has done: taken its classic mission and, by branching off into questionable social justice activities (damning Maajid Nawaz and Ayaan Hirsi Ali for the SPLC), diluted not just its mission, but also its credibility.

I’ve written at length about the dubious stuff the ACLU is engaged in; and here’s a partial list of posts:

The ACLU backs off defending free speech in favor of promoting social justice

New improved standards proposed for adjudicating sexual misconduct in college; ACLU opposes them for “inappropriately favoring the accused”

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

ACLU continues defending the right of medically untreated men who claim they’re women to compete in women’s sports

ACLU joins lawsuit allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports

My beefs fall into four areas.

First, the ACLU is on the side of diluting the changes in Title IX made by Betsy DeVos to guarantee a fair hearing to college students accused of sexual misconduct. Nearly all these changes brought college hearings closer to court hearings, at least in terms of guaranteeing fairness. As I’ve said, these changes are one of the few positive things accomplished by the Trump administration, and the ACLU should have favored them. Instead, as you see in one piece below, they were characterized as “inappropriately favoring the accused.”  If you read the changes, I suspect you’ll agree that the ACLU should have been in favor of them, not opposed to them.

Second, the ACLU is on a big-time movement to ensure that transgender women can compete on a level playing field (i.e., competing under their gender identity) with men in sports. This is a complex issue (see here for one possible solution), but becomes less complex with the ACLU’s claim that medically untreated transgender women (that is, biological males who have undergone neither surgery nor hormone treatment but claim a female identity) should be able to compete in sports against biological women. This is a very bad call as it’s the equivalent of biological men competing against biological women, and this violates the very reason why we separate men’s and women’s sport. Further, even with medically treated transgender women, there is an issue of fairness to biological women, since transgender women may retain strength, bone density, and muscle mass that gives them an average advantage over biological women. The ACLU’s kneejerk reaction here does not take into account the “rights” of biological women. It is an ideological stand that deviates far from the ACLU’s mission to assure civil rights for all.

Third, in tweets by ACLU branches and attorneys, they have favored censorship of books like Abigail Schrier’s, and accused cops of murder who were, by all reasonable accounts, doing their jobs. How is this fulfilling their mission of extending civil rights to all? (Chase Strangio is the ACLU staff attorney in charges of transgender issues.)

Fourth, as I discussed in a post a while back, the ACLU circulated a document in samizdat that explicitly said that they now have to consider diluting their mission when defending speech involves defending “hate speech”. As I wrote at the time (my words are indented in regular type; the ACLU’s words are indented further and italicized):

The ACLU is committed to the fundamental rights to equality and justice embodied in the Fourteenth Amendment and civil rights laws. See Policies #301-332. We are determined to fight racism in all its forms, whether explicit or implicit, and the deep-rooted institutional biases that continue to reify inequality. We are also firmly committed to fighting bigotry and oppression against other marginalized groups, including women, immigrants, religious groups, LGBT individuals, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. Accordingly, we work to extend the protections embodied in the Bill of Rights to people who have traditionally been denied those rights. And the ACLU understands that speech that denigrates such groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.

Note that they now claim that speech that denigrates groups—including religion!—can “inflict serious harms” and “impede progress toward equality”. Here is the beginning of the slippery slope of “hate speech”. Is criticism of the Vatican, or the excesses of Islam, sufficiently harmful that the ACLU will not defend it? What about religionists who demonstrate for the right of bakers and others not to serve gays?

And remember when the ACLU defended the Klan when it wanted to march through the Jewish suburb of Skokie, Illinois? Well, no more.

We recognize that taking a position on one issue can affect our advocacy in other areas and create particular challenges for staff members engaged in that advocacy. For example, a decision by the ACLU to represent a white supremacist group may well undermine relationships with allies or coalition partners, create distrust with particular communities, necessitate the expenditure of resources to mitigate the impact of those harms, make it more difficult to recruit and retain a diverse staff and board across multiple dimensions, and in some circumstances, directly further an agenda that is antithetical to our mission and values and that may inflict harm on listeners.

Yes this document, which was leaked and is now publicly available, is characterized by Cole this way in his post of yesterday:

I led a committee representing a wide range of divergent views within the ACLU in developing guidelines for selecting cases where they present conflicts between values that the ACLU defends. We reaffirmed in that document that “As human rights, these rights extend to all, even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists — and pursuant to ACLU policy, we will continue our longstanding practice of representing such groups in appropriate circumstances to prevent unlawful government censorship of speech.”

At the same time, we acknowledged the costs that can come with that representation, including to other interests and work of the organization, and outlined ways to address and mitigate the costs when we do decide to embark on that representation. That can mean making clear in public statements that we abhor the speakers’ views even as we defend their right to express them, supporting counter-protesters, and investing any attorneys’ fees we obtain in connection with the work to advance the views that the speaker opposed and that we support. Some saw even this document’s acknowledgment of the complexity of such work as an abandonment of principle, but we saw it as an honest effort to confront the challenge of being a multi-issue organization.

Read the document yourself, and see if you think that’s a fair summary. Their “mitigation of costs” completely ignores the implication in the document that they might reject cases that they’d normally take because it involves hate speech that can cause “harm”.

At any rate, there’s also been negative reaction from other quarters to what I saw as a fair report in the NYT (see this piece in The New Republic).  The TNR piece is misguided in the same way the ACLU’s mission creep is misguided: they do not prioritize free speech over hate speech.  You cannot pretend that free speech will never be construed as “hate speech”—it’s nearly always seen that way by the speech opponents.

But thank Ceiling Cat for organizations like FIRE whose principle of promulgating free speech in higher education has not been diluted.

h/t: Ginger K., Enrico

The ACLU loses its way

June 7, 2021 • 9:15 am

I was always a big fan of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), admiring their single-minded dedication to preserving our civil liberties, most notably those specified by the First Amendment. But they also saved my bacon when I took the government to court for drafting me illegally as a conscientious objector. When I went to they ACLU, they started a class-action suit (I paid nothing) that we won, resulting in the release from service of myself and several thousand other guys.

But about five years ago the ACLU went off the rails, at least in my view. Instead of defending civil liberties and free speech, they began to ponder whether free speech and social justice might be incompatible in some ways, with words actually constituting “violence” that could hurt minorities. The real derailing, resulting in today’s split ACLU, began in August, 2017, when the ACLU won the right for far-right groups to demonstrate in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia instead of outside the center city. That demonstration, of course, led to violence, right-wing marches complete with bigoted slogans, and, eventually, to a white-supremacist protestor driving his car into a crowd, killing Heather Heyer. But I don’t hold the ACLU responsible for the death, though some do.

Although the ACLU was already morphing from a civil rights organization into a social justice organization, the Charlottesville debacle made many members and administrators rethink their mission. And since then the transformation has been more rapid, as described in a New York Times article (click on the screenshot below). It’s not the social-justice mission I object to so much—though some of the ACLU’s stands, like wholeheartedly supporting the right of transgender women, even those medically untreated, to participate in women’s sports, are wrongheaded—but to the fact that there are dozens of organizations already fighting for all forms of social justice, while the ACLU was unique in the singlemindedness of its mission. Now, at least on campus, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is taking over its job, but without the same dosh or resources backing the ACLU.

Although I’ve written about this before, the article has a lot more “inside” quotes both for and against the new mission of the ACLU.

An intro (we’ve met Ira Glasser before):

The A.C.L.U., America’s high temple of free speech and civil liberties, has emerged as a muscular and richly funded progressive powerhouse in recent years, taking on the Trump administration in more than 400 lawsuits. But the organization finds itself riven with internal tensions over whether it has stepped away from a founding principle — unwavering devotion to the First Amendment.

Its national and state staff members debate, often hotly, whether defense of speech conflicts with advocacy for a growing number of progressive causes, including voting rights, reparations, transgender rights and defunding the police.

Those debates mirror those of the larger culture, where a belief in the centrality of free speech to American democracy contends with ever more forceful progressive arguments that hate speech is a form of psychological and even physical violence. These conflicts are unsettling to many of the crusading lawyers who helped build the A.C.L.U.

The organization, said its former director Ira Glasser, risks surrendering its original and unique mission in pursuit of progressive glory.

“There are a lot of organizations fighting eloquently for racial justice and immigrant rights,” Mr. Glasser said. “But there’s only one A.C.L.U. that is a content-neutral defender of free speech. I fear we’re in danger of losing that.”

And here’s the scary bits, which I put in bold:

One hears markedly less from the A.C.L.U. about free speech nowadays. Its annual reports from 2016 to 2019 highlight its role as a leader in the resistance against President Donald J. Trump. But the words “First Amendment” or “free speech” cannot be found. Nor do those reports mention colleges and universities, where the most volatile speech battles often play out.

Since Mr. Trump’s election, the A.C.L.U. budget has nearly tripled to more than $300 million as its corps of lawyers doubled. The same number of lawyers — four — specialize in free speech as a decade ago.

Some A.C.L.U. lawyers and staff members argue that the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and the press — as well as freedom of religion, assembly and petitioning the government — is more often a tool of the powerful than the oppressed.

“First Amendment protections are disproportionately enjoyed by people of power and privilege,” said Dennis Parker, who directed the organization’s Racial Justice Program until he left in late 2018.

To which David Cole, the national legal director of the A.C.L.U., rejoined in an interview: “Everything that Black Lives Matter does is possible because of the First Amendment.”

After Charlottesville, the ACLU began its shift, which I’m sure will go further. I wrote at the time about how the organization issued a memo beginning to back off defense of free speech. A quote from today’s NYT piece:

But longtime free speech advocates like Floyd Abrams, perhaps the nation’s leading private First Amendment lawyer, disagreed. The new guidelines left him aghast.

“The last thing they should be thinking about in a case is which ideological side profits,” he said. “The A.C.L.U. that used to exist would have said exactly the opposite.”

And the old ACLU was right. If you don’t keep freedom of expression as an inviolate principle, then speech is subject to the vagaries of not only who controls the government but also, like now, of which ideological views are considered acceptable. Right now we’re seeing this clash play out largely on college campuses, often through official ideological announcements as well as deplatformings, disinvitations, and cancellations of speakers. And this is where FIRE has picked up the torch, for the ACLU doesn’t get much involved. Even here the clash between free speech and offense has led to the University of Chicago’s violating its own principles of academic freedom and free expression.

While the ACLU continues to take traditional civil liberties cases, it’s now sometimes taken stands opposite to what it would done in the past. For example, Chase Strangio, the transgender ACLU staff attorney in charge of that part of the new mission, has called for censorship of Abigail Shrier’s book on gender dysphoria. Censorship—from the ACLU!

To wit:

And the ACLU opposed the Title IX changes made by the Trump administration (one of the few laudable things it did) assuring a fairer process in sexual-misconduct hearings in college.

Further, below you’ll see a tweet from the ACLU of Ohio not only jettisoning the presumption of innocence, but ignoring that the officer criticized here was trying to prevent a murder. It’s madness for the ACLU to issue a statement like this (yes, official tweets are statements) violating not only the known facts, but the principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” In fact, from what I know so far, the police officer acted correctly.

I mourn the new direction of the ACLU, but of course that’s the direction that everything is going. While the organization will still do good stuff involving social justice, it will also do questionable stuff, as we’ve just seen. And I can’t think of a single case in which their past defenses of the First Amendment have been deplorable.

If the First Amendment and free speech is to be preserved, it must be preserved for everybody, with a few exceptions already carved out by the courts. We don’t need more exceptions, especially to placate those who equate speech with violence.

Here’s a humorous prescription by Katie Herzog. I agree, though we don’t need an ACLU Jr., as there are already plenty of those organizations.

And here’s a list of my posts, with links, describing and mourning the ACLU’s new direction:

The ACLU backs off defending free speech in favor of promoting social justice

New improved standards proposed for adjudicating sexual misconduct in college; ACLU opposes them for “inappropriately favoring the accused”

The ACLU defends the right of biological men to compete in women’s sports

ACLU continues defending the right of medically untreated men who claim they’re women to compete in women’s sports

ACLU joins lawsuit allowing biological males to compete in women’s sports

h/t for Herzog tweet: Eli

How the ACLU got woke, became political, and changed its mission

April 1, 2021 • 1:00 pm

I’ve written before about the newish movie “Mighty Ira“, a documentary about former American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) head Ira Glasser and his involvement in civil-liberties litigation in the 1970s (see my posts here and here). I highly recommend the movie, as it’s not just about Glasser or the ACLU, but also involves baseball, Jackie Robinson, and William F. Buckley. If you’re into free speech or civil liberties, and want to see them defended as they should be defended, see the movie.

In the movie, Glasser makes an offhand comment or two about how the ACLU has changed direction since he was its head, and implies he doesn’t much approve of that change. This becomes clearer in the new Tablet article below, which expands on and details something I’ve said for a while: the ACLU, like the Southern Poverty Law Center, is going down the tubes. And they’re both disintegrating for the same reason: Wokeness, i.e., they’re abandoning their original mission to engage in political activities promoting aspects of “social justice” not connected with their avowed missions.

The ACLU long had a special place in my heart because they represented me for free when I discovered I’d been drafted illegally as a conscientious objector in 1972. With their help, we initiated a successful class action suit, and it got many COs who were in my predicament released from required service. (I’ve told this story before.)

Now, however, the ACLU is making noises about how free speech might not be all it’s cracked up to be. And they’re adopting a big-time transgender agenda headed by lawyer Chase Strangio, described below. With the latter, the ACLU is taking the distinctly odd position that medically unmodified biological men who identify as women should be treated for all purposes as biological women, including sports. (The “civil liberties” of the women who have to compete against these trans women are, of course, neglected.) The original mission of the ACLU was to defend the First Amendment, no matter how offensive someone’s free speech might be (ergo they defended the Nazis in the famous Skokie case). Now they’re engaged in dismantling Title IX and backing off on free speech.

Click on the screenshot to read:

A lot of the article recounts Glasser’s history in his days with the ACLU, and sketches what the movie is about, but there’s also some telling criticism of the organization itself as its changed its mission. This is what they’re up to now:

“My successor, and the board of directors that have supported him, have basically tried to transform the organization from a politically neutral, nonpartisan civil liberties organization into a progressive liberal organization,” Glasser says about Anthony Romero, an ex-Ford Foundation executive who continues to serve as the ACLU’s executive director. According to former ACLU national board member Wendy Kaminer in her 2009 book Worst Instincts: Cowardice, Conformity, and the ACLU, Romero and his enablers routinely engaged in the sort of undemocratic and unaccountable behavior practiced by the individuals and institutions the ACLU usually took to court, like withholding information (concerning a breach of ACLU members’ privacy, no less), shredding documents in violation of its own record-preservation and transparency procedures, and attempting to muzzle board members from criticizing the organization publicly. (“You sure that didn’t come out of Dick Cheney’s office?” remarked the late, great former Village Voice columnist and ACLU board member Nat Hentoff of this last gambit). Eerily prescient, Worst Instincts foreshadowed the hypocrisy and fecklessness that has since come to characterize the leadership of so many other, previously liberal institutions confronted by the forces of illiberalism within their own ranks.

In 2018, the ACLU spent over $1 million on advertisements likening Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh to Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein, essentially accusing him of crimes for which he was never tried or convicted. More egregious than their brazen political partisanship was the way in which the ads traduced the presumption of innocence, a bedrock of American jurisprudence and a principle the ACLU was founded to uphold. Asked why his organization was willing to further violate its tradition of political neutrality, Faiz Shakir, a Democratic Party operative then serving as the ACLU’s national political director, was brutally honest. “People have funded us and I think they expect a return,” he said. Glasser also points to the group’s decision to run a television advertisement supporting then-Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams as a telling sign of its transformation. “I mean, I love Stacey Abrams,” Glasser told me. “She has become my favorite political character in the country. But the ACLU has always stayed away from that. Nobody attacked Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan on their civil liberties violations more vigorously and strenuously than I did. But we always stayed away from political partisanship, and it was critical for the ACLU, virtually for all its history, to have standards that were as applicable to those most of us politically supported as to those who most of us politically opposed.”

I wrote about this incident in 2018, which was the first sign to me that the ACLU was backing off on a full-fledged defense of the First Amendment. The stand of the old ACLU resembled that of the University of Chicago’s Founding Principles: there was one overriding principle that trumped almost everything else: the fostering of a climate of free speech, thought, and discussion. Our Kalven Report made it another principle for the University to avoid taking stands on political, moral, and ideological issues, which were seen as compromising this primary mission by chilling the speech of dissenters. And that is precisely what the ACLU is doing now: allowing speech to be chilled, or even promoting, as does Chase Strangio with his censoriousness, the chilling of speech (see below).

More from Tablet:

Accompanying this influx of new members and money, however, were pressures for the group to become another run-of-the-mill #Resistance outfit. In 2017, the ACLU of Virginia had supported the right of white nationalists to rally in Charlottesville. But once the rally turned violent, the national ACLU circulated an internal document with new “case selection guidelines,” stipulating, “Speech that denigrates such [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harms and is intended to and often will impede progress toward equality.” Before agreeing to take a free speech case, the document continued, the ACLU would now consider “the potential effect on marginalized communities,” whether the speech advances the goals of speakers whose “views are contrary to our values,” and the “structural and power inequalities in the community in which the speech will occur.” A manifestation of the ACLU’s new approach can be seen in the decision by one chapter to intervene in a high-profile case at Smith College, where the group amplified bogus claims of racism leveled by a student against some of the school’s custodial and cafeteria staff.

That’s the Wokeness that’s bringing down the organization: “Free speech for all, so long as they’re not the Oppressor.” The ACLU didn’t used to consider whether speech was “contrary to our values,” for its principle was that regardless of the values of the members, the First Amendment must be defended for all speakers.

Finally, the machinations of ACLU lawyer Chase Strangio:

If the public face of the ACLU was Ira Glasser during the latter part of the previous century, today that honor can be claimed by a staff attorney named Chase Strangio. Named one of the 100 most influential people on the planet by Time magazine last year, Strangio is the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice. Like many activists consumed by this issue, he is uncompromising in demanding strict adherence to a set of highly contestable orthodoxies, and merciless toward anyone who dares question them. Two women who have—J.K. Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, and Abigail Shrier, author of a book about the role of “peer contagion” in the rising rate of teenage girls declaring themselves transgender—are “closely aligned with white supremacists in power,” Strangio declared on Twitter, offering not a shred of evidence for this claim. “Stopping the circulation of [Shrier’s] book and these ideas is 100% a hill I will die on,” he wrote, a rather bizarre position for an ACLU employee to endorse. Strangio later deleted the tweet, explaining that his intention was not to call for the government to ban Shrier’s book, but rather “to create the information climate for the market to be more supportive of trans self-determination than the alternative.”

There’s a lot more, and I’ve already excerpted a much more than I should have; but these passages especially resonate with me.  We need someone like Ira Glasser back, but good luck in finding any leader in these troubled days to support an uncompromising defense of the First Amendment.

But congrats to Tablet, which is doing some damned good reporting these days.

 

h/t: Robert