161 Facts About ACLU


Affiliates of the ACLU are active in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

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The ACLU provides legal assistance in cases where it considers civil liberties to be at risk.

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Legal support from the ACLU can take the form of direct legal representation or preparation of amicus curiae briefs expressing legal arguments when another law firm is already providing representation.

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ACLU was founded in 1920 by a committee including Roger Nash Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Walter Nelles, Morris Ernst, Albert DeSilver, Arthur Garfield Hays, Helen Keller, Jane Addams, Felix Frankfurter, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, and Rose Schneiderman.

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Many of the ACLU's cases involved the defense of Communist Party members and Jehovah's Witnesses.

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In 1940, the ACLU leadership voted to exclude communists from its leadership positions, a decision rescinded in 1968.

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The ACLU was involved in the Miranda case, which addressed conduct by police during interrogations, and in the New York Times case, which established new protections for newspapers reporting on government activities.

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ACLU is led by a president and an executive director, Deborah N Archer and Anthony Romero, respectively, in 2021.

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The ACLU is accredited by the Better Business Bureau, and the Charity Navigator has ranked the ACLU with a four-star rating.

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At its discretion, the national organization provides subsidies to smaller affiliates that lack sufficient resources to be self-sustaining; for example, the Wyoming ACLU chapter received such subsidies until April 2015, when, as part of a round of layoffs at the national ACLU, the Wyoming office was closed.

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ACLU affiliates are the basic unit of the ACLU's organization and engage in litigation, lobbying, and public education.

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ACLU is supported by a variety of persons and organizations.

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ACLU has been criticized by liberals such as when it excluded communists from its leadership ranks, when it defended Neo-Nazis, when it declined to defend Paul Robeson, or when it opposed the passage of the National Labor Relations Act.

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In 2014, an ACLU affiliate supported anti-Islam protesters and in 2018 the ACLU was criticized when it supported the National Rifle Association .

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ACLU developed from the National Civil Liberties Bureau, co-founded in 1917 during World War I by Crystal Eastman, an attorney activist, and Roger Nash Baldwin.

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ACLU wanted to change its focus from litigation to direct action and public education.

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The ACLU was directed by an executive committee, and it was not particularly democratic or egalitarian.

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ACLU leadership was divided on how to challenge the civil rights violations.

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The ACLU itself was banned from speaking in New York public schools in 1921.

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The ACLU, working with the NAACP, supported racial discrimination cases.

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The ACLU defended free speech regardless of the opinions being espoused.

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When 1925 arrived – five years after the ACLU was formed – the organization had virtually no success to show for its efforts.

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That changed in 1925, when the ACLU persuaded John T Scopes to defy Tennessee's anti-evolution law in The State of Tennessee v John Thomas Scopes.

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The ACLU became well known across America, and the case led to the first endorsement of the ACLU by a major US newspaper.

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The ACLU continued to fight for the separation of church and state in schoolrooms, decade after decade, including the 1982 case McLean v Arkansas and the 2005 case Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District.

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Leaders of the ACLU were divided on the best tactics to use to promote civil liberties.

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The ACLU went on to win additional victories, including the landmark case United States v One Book Called Ulysses in 1933, which reversed a ban by the Customs Department against the book Ulysses by James Joyce.

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The ACLU only achieved mixed results in the early years, and it was not until 1966 that the Supreme Court finally clarified the obscenity laws in the Roth v United States and Memoirs v Massachusetts cases.

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The ACLU, led by Morris Ernst, appealed her conviction and won a reversal, in which judge Learned Hand ruled that the pamphlet's main purpose was to "promote understanding".

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Success prompted the ACLU to broaden their freedom of speech efforts beyond labor and political speech, to encompass movies, press, radio and literature.

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The ACLU formed the National Committee on Freedom from Censorship in 1931 to coordinate this effort.

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In Stromberg v California, decided in 1931, the Supreme Court sided with the ACLU and affirmed the right of a communist party member to salute a communist flag.

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Baldwin proposed an expansion program for the ACLU, focusing on police brutality, Native American rights, African American rights, censorship in the arts, and international civil liberties.

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ACLU played a major role in passing the 1932 Norris–La Guardia Act, a federal law which prohibited employers from preventing employees from joining unions, and stopped the practice of outlawing strikes, unions, and labor organizing activities with the use of injunctions.

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The ACLU played a key role in initiating a nationwide effort to reduce misconduct within police departments, by publishing the report Lawlessness in Law Enforcement in 1931, under the auspices of Herbert Hoover's Wickersham Commission.

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In 1934, the ACLU lobbied for the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act, which restored some autonomy to Native American tribes, and established penalties for kidnapping Native American children.

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The ACLU's plan was to demonstrate that the "separate but equal" policies governing the Southern discrimination were illegal because blacks were never, in fact, treated equally.

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ACLU leaders were of mixed opinions about the New Deal, since many felt that it represented an increase in government intervention into personal affairs, and because the National Recovery Administration suspended antitrust legislation.

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ACLU took no official position on president Franklin Delano Roosevelt's 1937 court-packing plan, which threatened to increase the number of Supreme Court justices, unless the Supreme Court reversed its course and began approving New Deal legislation.

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ACLU's support of the NLRB was a major development for the ACLU, because it marked the first time it accepted that a government agency could be responsible for upholding civil liberties.

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Until 1937, the ACLU felt that civil rights were best upheld by citizens and private organizations.

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Cases that the ACLU supported included Lovell v City of Griffin ; Martin v Struthers ; and Cantwell v Connecticut .

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The ACLU supported their appeal to the Supreme Court, but the court affirmed the conviction, in 1940.

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The ACLU defended the Jehovah's Witnesses, and the charges were dropped.

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The ACLU proceeded to defend numerous pro-Nazi groups, defending their rights to free speech and free association.

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The ACLU benefited because affiliates from the Popular Front could often fight local civil rights battles much more effectively than the New York-based ACLU.

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The association with the Communist Party led to accusations that the ACLU was a "Communist front", particularly because Harry F Ward was both chairman of the ACLU and chairman of the American League Against War and Fascism, a Communist organization.

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When witnesses testified at its hearings, the ACLU was mentioned several times, leading the HUAC to mention the ACLU prominently in its 1939 report.

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The ACLU was one of the few organizations to protest against passage of the Smith Act in 1940, which would later be used to imprison many persons who supported Communism.

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The ACLU defended many persons who were prosecuted under the Smith Act, including labor leader Harry Bridges.

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ACLU leadership was split on whether to purge its leadership of Communists.

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The ACLU immediately protested to Roosevelt, comparing the evacuations to Nazi concentration camps.

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The ACLU was the only major organization to object to the internment plan, and their position was very unpopular, even within the organization.

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Not all ACLU leaders wanted to defend the Japanese Americans; Roosevelt loyalists such as Morris Ernst wanted to support Roosevelt's war effort, but pacifists such as Baldwin and Norman Thomas felt that Japanese Americans needed access to due process before they could be imprisoned.

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ACLU's suggestions went nowhere, and opinions within the organization became increasingly divided as the Army began the "evacuation" of the West Coast.

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West Coast offices had wanted a test case to take to court, but had a difficult time finding a Japanese American who was both willing to violate the internment orders and able to meet the ACLU's desired criteria of a sympathetic, Americanized plaintiff.

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The ACLU board threatened to revoke the San Francisco branch's national affiliation, while Baldwin tried unsuccessfully to convince Collins to step down so he could replace him as lead attorney in the case.

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ACLU supported the African-American defendants in Shelley v Kraemer, when they tried to occupy a house they had purchased in a neighborhood which had racially restrictive housing covenants.

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ACLU was internally divided when it purged Communists from its leadership in 1940, and that ambivalence continued as it decided whether to defend alleged Communists during the late 1940s.

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Some ACLU leaders were anti-Communist, and felt that the ACLU should not defend any victims.

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Some ACLU leaders felt that Communists were entitled to free speech protections, and the ACLU should defend them.

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The ACLU supported the appeals of several of the artists, but lost on appeal.

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The ACLU supported legal challenges to the blacklist, but those challenges failed.

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The ACLU was more successful with an education effort; the 1952 report The Judges and the Judged, prepared at the ACLU's direction in response to the blacklisting of actress Jean Muir, described the unfair and unethical actions behind the blacklisting process, and it helped gradually turn public opinion against McCarthyism.

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The ACLU chose to not represent any of the defendants, and they were all found guilty and sentenced to three to five years in prison.

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The ACLU issued a public condemnation of the Dennis decision, and resolved to fight it.

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The ACLU supported many of the Communists during their appeals but most convictions were upheld.

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ACLU challenged many loyalty oath requirements across the country, but the courts upheld most of the loyalty oath laws.

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Several ACLU leaders were sympathetic to the FBI, and as a consequence, the ACLU rarely investigated any of the many complaints alleging abuse of power by the FBI during the Cold War.

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ACLU, which had been controlled by an elite of a few dozen New Yorkers, became more democratic in the 1950s.

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In 1951, the ACLU amended its bylaws to permit the local affiliates to participate directly in voting on ACLU policy decisions.

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The ACLU later reversed their stance, and supported William Worthy and Rockwell Kent in their passport confiscation cases, which resulted in legal victories in the late 1950s.

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The national ACLU was divided on whether to defend employees who had been fired merely for pleading the fifth amendment, but the New York affiliate successfully assisted teacher Harry Slochower in his Supreme Court case which reversed his termination.

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Thereafter, the ACLU proceeded with firmer resolve against Cold War anti-communist legislation.

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The ACLU played a role in Supreme Court decisions reducing censorship of literature and arts, protecting freedom of association, prohibiting racial segregation, excluding religion from public schools, and providing due process protection to criminal suspects.

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The ACLU's success arose from changing public attitudes; the American populace was more educated, more tolerant, and more willing to accept unorthodox behavior.

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The Catholic church was a leading proponent of such laws; and the primary opponents were the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Congress.

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In 1948, the ACLU prevailed in the McCollum v Board of Education case, which challenged public school religious classes taught by clergy paid for from private funds.

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The ACLU won cases challenging schools in New Mexico which were taught by clergy and had crucifixes hanging in the classrooms.

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In 1962, the ACLU published a policy statement condemning in-school prayers, observation of religious holidays, and Bible reading.

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The ACLU participated in a lobbying effort against the amendment, and the 1966 congressional vote on the amendment failed to obtain the required two-thirds majority.

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However, not all cases were victories; ACLU lost cases in 1949 and 1961 which challenged state laws requiring commercial businesses to close on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath.

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In 1948, the New York affiliate of the ACLU received mixed results from the Supreme Court, winning the appeal of Carl Jacob Kunz, who was convicted for speaking without a police permit, but losing the appeal of Irving Feiner who was arrested to prevent a breach of the peace, based on his oration denouncing president Truman and the American Legion.

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The ACLU lost the case of Joseph Beauharnais, who was arrested for group libel when he distributed literature impugning the character of African Americans.

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The film The Miracle was banned in New York in 1951, at the behest of the Catholic Church, but the ACLU supported the film's distributor in an appeal of the ban, and won a major victory in the 1952 decision Joseph Burstyn, Inc v Wilson.

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ACLU lost an important press censorship case when, in 1957, the Supreme Court upheld the obscenity conviction of publisher Samuel Roth for distributing adult magazines.

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The NAACP took primary responsibility for Supreme Court cases, with the ACLU focusing on police misconduct, and supporting the NAACP with amicus briefs.

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In 1954, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in the case of Brown v Board of Education, which led to the ban on racial segregation in US public schools.

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The ACLU's fight against racism was not limited to segregation; in 1964 the ACLU provided key support to plaintiffs, primarily lower-income urban residents, in Reynolds v Sims, which required states to establish the voting districts in accordance with the "one person, one vote" principle.

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ACLU regularly tackled police misconduct issues, starting with the 1932 case Powell v Alabama, and including 1942's Betts v Brady, and 1951's Rochin v California .

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Some most well known ACLU successes came in the 1960s, when the ACLU prevailed in a string of cases limiting the power of police to gather evidence; in 1961's Mapp v Ohio, the Supreme court required states to obtain a warrant before searching a person's home.

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In 1964, the ACLU persuaded the Court, in Escobedo v Illinois, to permit suspects to have an attorney present during questioning.

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For example, when the ACLU represented New York City policemen in their lawsuit which objected to searches of their workplace lockers.

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The ACLU played a central role in all major civil liberties debates of the 1960s, including new fields such as gay rights, prisoner's rights, abortion, rights of the poor, and the death penalty.

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The ACLU published a breakthrough document in 1963, titled How Americans Protest, which was borne of frustration with the slow progress in battling racism, and which endorsed aggressive, even militant protest techniques.

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The ACLU provided legal help for the Freedom Rides in 1961, the integration of the University of Mississippi, the Birmingham campaign in 1963, and the 1964 Freedom Summer.

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The ACLU joined with other civil liberties groups to form the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee which subsequently provided legal representation to many of the protesters.

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In 1964, the ACLU opened up a major office in Atlanta, Georgia, dedicated to serving Southern issues.

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ACLU was at the center of several legal aspects of the Vietnam war: defending draft resisters, challenging the constitutionality of the war, the potential impeachment of Richard Nixon, and the use of national security concerns to preemptively censor newspapers.

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The New York affiliate of the ACLU appealed his 1965 conviction, but the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.

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The ACLU appealed her case to the Supreme Court and won a victory in Tinker v Des Moines Independent Community School District.

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ACLU defended Sydney Street, who was arrested for burning an American flag to protest the reported assassination of civil rights leader James Meredith.

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Non-war related free speech rights were advanced during the Vietnam war era; in 1969, the ACLU defended a Ku Klux Klan member who advocated long-term violence against the government, and the Supreme Court concurred with the ACLU's argument in the landmark decision Brandenburg v Ohio, which held that only speech which advocated imminent violence could be outlawed.

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The ACLU board was deeply split over whether to defend the activists; half the board harbored anti-war sentiments, and felt that the ACLU should lend its resources to the cause of the Boston Five.

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The board finally agreed to a compromise solution that permitted the ACLU to defend the anti-war activists, without endorsing the activist's political views.

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Some critics of the ACLU suggest that the ACLU became a partisan political organization following the Spock case.

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Also in 1968, the ACLU held an internal symposium to discuss its dual roles: providing "direct" legal support, and appellate support .

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ACLU supported The New York Times in its 1971 suit against the government, requesting permission to publish the Pentagon Papers.

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Administratively, the ACLU responded by appointing Aryeh Neier to take over from Pemberton as executive director in 1970.

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The ACLU helped develop the field of constitutional law that governs "enclaves", which are groups of persons that live in conditions under government control.

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ACLU initiated the legal field of student's rights with the Tinker v Des Moines case, and expanded it with cases such as Goss v Lopez which required schools to provide students an opportunity to appeal suspensions.

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The ACLU has defended the rights of individuals with mental illness who are not dangerous, but who create disturbances.

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The New York chapter of the ACLU defended Billie Boggs, a woman with mental illness who exposed herself and defecated and urinated in public.

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That changed in the late 1950s, when the ACLU began representing prisoners that were subject to police brutality, or deprived of religious reading material.

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In 1968, the ACLU successfully sued to desegregate the Alabama prison system; and in 1969, the New York affiliate adopted a project to represent prisoners in New York prisons.

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In 1972, the ACLU consolidated several prison rights efforts across the nation and created the National Prison Project.

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The ACLU's efforts led to landmark cases such as Ruiz v Estelle and in 1996 US Congress enacted the Prison Litigation Reform Act which codified prisoners' rights.

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In 1972, ACLU cooperating attorneys in Oregon filed the first federal civil rights case involving a claim of unconstitutional discrimination against a gay or lesbian public school teacher.

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In 1966 and again in 1968, activists within the ACLU encouraged the organization to adopt a policy overhauling the welfare system, and guaranteeing low-income families a baseline income; but the ACLU board did not approve the proposals.

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However, the ACLU played a key role in the 1968 King v Smith decision, where the Supreme Court ruled that welfare benefits for children could not be denied by a state simply because the mother cohabited with a boyfriend.

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In 1977, the ACLU took part in and litigated Walker v Pierce, the federal circuit court case that led to federal regulations to prevent Medicaid patients from being sterilized without their knowledge or consent.

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Right to privacy is not explicitly identified in the US Constitution, but the ACLU led the charge to establish such rights in the indecisive Poe v Ullman case, which addressed a state statute outlawing contraception.

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The New York affiliate of the ACLU pushed to eliminate anti-abortion laws starting in 1964, a year before Griswold was decided, and in 1967 the ACLU itself formally adopted the right to abortion as a policy.

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The ACLU led the defense in United States v Vuitch which expanded the right of physicians to determine when abortions were necessary.

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The ACLU successfully argued against state bans on interracial marriage, in the case of Loving v Virginia .

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The ACLU supported several measures, including the 1970 Fair Credit Reporting Act, which required credit agencies to divulge credit information to individuals; the 1973 Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which provided students the right to access their records; and the 1974 Privacy Act, which prevented the federal government from disclosing personal information without good cause.

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Critics blamed the ACLU for encouraging the Supreme Court to embrace judicial activism.

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The ACLU has defended American Nazis many times, and their actions often brought protests, particularly from American Jews.

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Fifty years after the Scopes trial, the ACLU found itself fighting another classroom case, the Arkansas 1981 creationism statute, which required schools to teach the biblical account of creation as a scientific alternative to evolution.

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In 1982, the ACLU became involved in a case involving the distribution of child pornography .

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The ACLU opposed the 2003 CAN-SPAM act suggesting that it could have a chilling effect on speech in cyberspace.

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The ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit, Kelly v Paschall, on their behalf, alleging that the arrests were unlawful.

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The ACLU contended that 15 percent of Hearne's male African-American population aged 18 to 34 were arrested based only on the "uncorroborated word of a single unreliable confidential informant coerced by police to make cases".

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Also in 2000, the ACLU lost the Boy Scouts of America v Dale case, which had asked the Supreme Court to require the Boy Scouts of America to drop their policy of prohibiting homosexuals from becoming Boy Scout leaders.

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In 2012, the ACLU sued the same library system for refusing to disable temporarily, at the request of an adult patron, Internet filters which blocked access to Google Images.

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In 2006, the ACLU challenged a Missouri law that prohibited picketing outside of veterans' funerals.

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The ACLU issued a statement calling the legislation a "law that infringes on Shirley Phelps-Roper's rights to religious liberty and free speech".

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ACLU argued in an amicus brief to the Supreme Court that a decision of the constitutionality of Massachusetts law required the consideration of additional evidence because lower courts have undervalued the right to engage in sidewalk counseling.

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In 2009, the ACLU filed an amicus brief in Citizens United v FEC, arguing that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 violated the First Amendment right to free speech by curtailing political speech.

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In 2021, the ACLU filed a brief siding with a school district that had a policy of using preferred pronouns for transgender students.

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In 2021, the ACLU responded to the criticisms by releasing a statement denying that they are reducing their support for unpopular First Amendment causes, and listing 27 cases from the years 2017 to 2021 where the ACLU supported a party holding an unpopular or repugnant viewpoint.

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In 2011, the ACLU started its Don't Filter Me project, countering LGBT-related Internet censorship in public schools in the United States.

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In 2021, the ACLU tweeted a quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the subject of pregnancy, replacing gender-specific words with bracketed gender-neutral words.

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The president of the ACLU later apologized for the changes to the quote, explaining that it was a good-faith mistake by the ACLU's media team, attempting to address the fact that there are people who seek abortions who do not identify as women.

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In 2021, the ACLU supported the position that the Second Amendment was originally written to ensure that Southern states could use militias to suppress slave uprisings, and that anti-Blackness ensured its inclusion in the Bill of Rights.

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The ACLU challenged many of the measures, claiming that they violated rights regarding due process, privacy, illegal searches, and cruel and unusual punishment.

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ACLU has been a vocal opponent of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, the PATRIOT 2 Act of 2003, and associated legislation made in response to the threat of domestic terrorism.

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In 2004, the ACLU sued the federal government in American Civil Liberties Union v Ashcroft on behalf of Nicholas Merrill, owner of an Internet service provider.

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In January 2006, the ACLU filed a lawsuit, ACLU v NSA, in a federal district court in Michigan, challenging government spying in the NSA warrantless surveillance controversy.

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In February 2008, the US Supreme Court turned down an appeal from the ACLU to let it pursue a lawsuit against the program that began shortly after the September 11 terror attacks.

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ACLU represents a Muslim-American who was detained but never accused of a crime in Ashcroft v al-Kidd, a civil suit against former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

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ACLU has criticized targeted killings of American citizens who fight against the United States.

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The ACLU responded by filing a lawsuit against the ban on behalf of Hameed Khalid Darweesh and Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, who had been detained at JFK International Airport.

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Besides filing more lawsuits than during previous presidential administrations, the ACLU has spent more money on advertisements and messaging as well, weighing in on elections and pressing political concerns.

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Several parents called the ACLU to complain, because they believed that the school was promoting a religious idea in the classroom and violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

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The ACLU, joined by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, represented the parents in a lawsuit against the school district.

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Jones and the ACLU wanted a compromise in which the LAPD is barred from enforcing section 41.

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In 2009, the Oregon ACLU opposed changing state law to permit teachers to wear religious clothing in classrooms, citing separation of church and state principles.

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In 2018, the ACLU conceived and ghostwrote an op-ed in The Washington Post in which Amber Heard accused her ex-husband Johnny Depp of domestic abuse, leading Depp to sue Heard for defamation over the op-ed in the 2022 trial Depp v Heard.

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The ACLU testified in the trial that they wrote the op-ed in exchange for a $3.

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In June 2020, the ACLU sued the federal government for denying Paycheck Protection Program loans to business owners with criminal backgrounds.

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