FAN 49 (First Amendment News) ACLU “2015 Workplan” sets out narrow range of First Amendment Activities
When the ACLU was founded in 1920, its focus was on freedom of speech. — Wikipedia
His expansive reading of civil liberties was arguably [Roger] Baldwin’s greatest contribution to American thought and practice. It helped to redefine American liberalism and democracy and was propounded in the very period when others subscribed to a much narrower interpretation of First Amendment rights. — Robert Cottrell, Roger Nash Baldwin & the American Civil Liberties Union (2000)
A few weeks ago I received the ACLU’s “2015 Workplan: An Urgent Plan to Protect our Rights.” The eight-page, single-spaced document was accompanied two-page letter from ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero and a contribution form. The Workplan began: “At the beginning of each year, ACLU attorneys and advocates construct a Workplan outlining the major civil liberties battles we are facing. I am proud to share this year’s plan with you.” In that regard he added: “Your passion, energy and financial support are crucial to our ability to meet the challenges ahead and change the lives of millions whose civil liberties are in jeopardy.”
Walter Nelles was the co-founder and first chief legal counsel of the National Civil Liberties Bureau and its successor, the American Civil Liberties Union. He was an ardent defender of free speech rights. His First Amendment cases included Gitlow v. New York (1925) and Whitney v. California (1927).
As an ACLU supporter and one who has had the honor of writing several ACLU briefs over the years, I read the 2015 Workplan with great interest. As I read the eight-page document I was surprised to find nothing more than a passing reference to the First Amendment — a mainstay of the ACLU since its founding. There was no highlighted listing of free speech rights in the categories of activities to be protected. The following categories and subcategories were listed in the 2015 Workplan:
Harriet Pilpel (1911-1991), Nanette Dembitz (1913-1989), and Nancy F. Wechsler (1916-2009) — Among others places, you will find their names on the cover of the ACLU amicus brief filed in the Supreme Court on September 9, 1963 in New York Times, Co. v. Sullivan.
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969) — ACLU lawyer Allen Brown argued the cause for appellant. With him on the briefs were ACLU lawyers Norman Dorsen, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Bernard A. Berkman.
On February 2, 2015 I sent an e-mail to Mr. Romero. I expressed my concerns re the virtual absence of any real and comprehensive commitment to securing First Amendment free expression rights in any variety of areas beyond the one stated. I just heard back from his office this past Monday, this after having sent a follow-up e-mail earlier that day. I was informed that Mr. Romero “intends to respond.”
I welcome Mr. Romero’s response, if only to explain why protecting our First Amendment freedoms did not receive greater and more expanded attention in the national ACLU’s 2015 Workplan, the one sent out for fundraising purposes. I will post his response once it arrives.
Update: See Howard Wasserman, “Declaring Victory?, PrawfsBlawg, Fe. 26, 2015.
→ Invitation to Anthony Romero re a Q&A on the First Amendment ←
Beyond his response, I extend a cordial invitation to Anthony Romero to do Question & Answer segment with me — much like the ones I have done with everyone from Professor Laurence Tribe to Judge Richard Posner — related to the ACLU and its views on protecting free expression rights under the First Amendment. I am sure our readers would have great interest in hearing from him.
THE COURT’S 2014-15 FREE EXPRESSION DOCKET Read More