In the Post Trump era?
Free speech means?
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.”
Founded a century ago, the A.C.L.U. took root in the defense of conscientious objectors to World War I and Americans accused of Communist sympathies after the Russian Revolution. Its lawyers made their bones by defending the free speech rights of labor organizers and civil rights activists, the Nation of Islam and the Ku Klux Klan. Their willingness to advocate for speech no matter how offensive was central to their shared identity.
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….
A tragedy also haunts the A.C.L.U.’s wrenching debates over free speech.
In August 2017, officials in Charlottesville, Va., rescinded a permit for far-right groups to rally downtown in support of a statue to the Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Officials instead relocated the demonstration to outside the city’s core.
The A.C.L.U. of Virginia argued that this violated the free speech rights of the far-right groups and won, preserving the right for the group to parade downtown. With too few police officers who reacted too passively, the demonstration turned ugly and violent; in addition to fistfights, the far right loosed anti-Semitic and racist chants and a right-wing demonstrator plowed his car into counterprotesters, killing a woman. Dozens were injured in the tumult.
Revulsion swelled within the A.C.L.U., and many assailed its executive director, Anthony Romero, and legal director, Mr. Cole, as privileged and clueless.
The A.C.L.U. held wide-ranging discussions with its staff, and summary sheets of those gatherings captured the raw feelings within. One group demanded that the A.C.L.U. “no longer defend white supremacists.” Another said top leaders “are not to be trusted alone with making decisions on these delicate” questions.
The A.C.L.U. lawyers who defend speech acknowledged tension. “I don’t sleep or eat well when I take cases defending such clients, but this is who we are,” said Emerson Sykes, a Black lawyer who previously worked to represent those who struggle for free speech and assembly across Africa. “I have worked in countries where the government locks you up for speech.”
Other senior officials however pointedly distanced themselves from the Virginia affiliate, saying it failed to recognize the nature of its client.
“They got snookered,” said a longtime senior leader with the A.C.L.U. involved with many decisions over the years. “We don’t want to be in-house counsel for the N.R.A. or the alt-right.”….
Such reticence sounded like terra incognita to Norman Siegel, who led the New York group when Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani tried to block the Ku Klux Klan from rallying downtown in 1999.
The Klan was anathema to Mr. Siegel, but he fought like a cornered cat for its First Amendment rights. “Did I give anyone else a veto? No way,” he said. “I would have compromised my integrity.”
Mr. Siegel, who is white, drew support from the Black publisher of The Amsterdam News and from the Rev. Al Sharpton, a Black activist, who filed suit in support of the N.Y.C.L.U. Mr. Siegel recalled receiving a standing ovation from a Black audience.
“A woman came up and said: ‘You did the right thing. If Giuliani could shut down the Klan, he would do it to us,’” he recalled….
The linked piece focuses on ACLU Free Speech cases….But the organiztion handles much more…