Statement of David Cole, ACLU’s National Legal Director, responding to Wall Street Journal piece by Wendy Kaminer – June 21, 2018
For nearly one hundred years, the ACLU has been at the forefront of battles for free speech. We will continue to defend the speech rights of the unpopular, whether we agree with them or not. Ms. Kaminer’s concerns are refuted not only by the very document she cites, but by the ACLU’s actions in continuing to defend those who express views contrary to our own.
The ACLU has not changed its longstanding policy of defending speakers with whose views we strongly disagree. At this moment we are representing the outspoken anti-lgbt advocate Milo Yiannopoulos and a student group in San Diego penalized for publishing a satire of “safe spaces” that some students and faculty deemed offensive. We have defended the rights of anti-choice advocates, homophobic Westboro Baptist Church picketers, and of the Washington Redskins to trademark a name offensive to many Native Americans. Our representation of clients is not a blanket endorsement of their beliefs: we can defend in court those we openly denounce. We as the ACLU can do both and do both well.
We developed the case selection guidelines mentioned by Kaminer to address the conflicts between the many cases we consider, such as between privacy and women’s rights, gay rights and religious freedom, and speech and equality. To be clear, the guidelines do not dictate how and when we take cases, nor do they change our policy of representing those whose views we detest. They expressly reaffirm that free speech 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.
We didn’t make the guidelines public because they are internal case selection guidelines to be used by affiliates, if they so choose, to help them think through case selection in particular cases. It was an internal document for internal purposes. They had no public purpose. But now that they have been released and published by Ms. Kaminer through her WSJ piece, we are making them public. We have nothing to hide.