Each June, the sitting national Legal Director of the Civil Liberties Union comes to Boston to address the Boston legal community, and interested citizens, concerning the work of the ACLU nationally; on June 6 the new Director, Professor David Cole, spoke of the expansion of the ACLU base and the role of the Union under the present administration.
For reasons which at least within the liberal Massachusetts environment need not be restated, ACLU has been growing since the last election, with membership increasing from 425,000 to 1,600,000 nationally. Locally, Massachusetts chapter has increased from 16,000 to 73,000. The ACLU national staff of 100 lawyers in New York and about 200 in other states are handling about 1400 pending cases.
Hallmark cases, well known to all, include efforts to block the immigration ban; and, likely upcoming cases may involve contraception coverage under proposed revised national health care, voter suppression and banning overseas recipients of US health assistance (a massive program) from advising concerning abortion even from separate funds.
Cole believes that support for the ACLU is simply one aspect of a wide spectrum of reactions by citizenry to the Trump agenda relative to the above matters, as well as to economic penalties to sanctuary cities (Cole says such action is unconstitutional), efforts to roll back Roe v Wade, and AG Sessions’ efforts to roll back gender and voting rights protections and to re-instate draconian sentencing regimes for all drug crimes even not involving violence. He points to protests at airports, the women’s marches, resistance mounted by Silicon Valley CEOs and University presidents, and suits instituted by state AGs as consistent with growth in ACLU support.
Interesting side-light: Cole identified the NRA as one of the groups defending civil liberties that interest them, noting that the NRA is highly effective. Why effective? According to the NRA, because their civil rights are being threatened – an analogy to the reaction of ACLU in rising to protect their favorite civil rights.
Emphasizing the political neutrality of the ACLU, Cole did note his belief that the biggest issue was not any particular policy proposal but rather the attack on democratic checks on power by reason of demeaning courts and the press, characterizing Trump as “dismissive of basic constitutional principles.”