American Civil Liberties Union

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American Civil Liberties Union
American Civil Liberties Union.JPG
President:Susan N. Herman
Executive Director:Anthony D. Romero
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The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) consists of two separate entities: the ACLU Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on litigation and communication efforts, and the American Civil Liberties Union which focuses on legislative lobbying and does not have non-profit status.

The ACLU's stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States."[1]

"The ACLU today is the nation's largest public interest law firm, with a 50-state network of staffed, autonomous affiliate offices."[2] "About 100 ACLU staff attorneys collaborate with about 2,000 volunteer attorneys in handling close to 6,000 cases annually."[2]


  • President: Susan N. Herman
  • Executive Director: Anthony D. Romero
  • Deputy Executive Director: Dorothy Ehrlich
  • Director of Washington Legislative Office: Laura Murphy
  • Director of Affiliate Support and Advocacy: Geri Rozanski
  • Legal Director: Steven Shapiro
  • Communications Director: Emily Tynes
  • Chief Development Officer: Mark Wier
  • General Counsel: Terence Dougherty

Rights of primary concern

  • First Amendment rights
  • Equal protection under the law
  • Right to due process
  • Right to privacy[3]

2012 elections

According to, American Civil Liberties Union spent $16,740 in the 2012 election cycle.[4]

Endorsed candidates

In the 2012 election cycle, the ACLU supported the following candidates:[5]


Top 5 largest American Civil Liberties Union expenditures in 2012[5]
Candidate Party State Office For Against Total Desired Result
Barack Obama Democratic Party N/A President $14,490 $0 $14,490
Kelda Helen Roys Democratic Party WI House $500 $0 $500
Lois Frankel Democratic Party FL House $250 $0 $250
Bill Foster Democratic Party IL House $250 $0 $250
Hakeem Jeffries Democratic Party NY House $250 $0 $250

Ballot measures

Role in ballot initiatives

The ACLU plays a role in ballot initiative campaigns in two primary ways:

  1. In some states, local chapters of the ACLU endorse or oppose specific ballot initiatives. Examples include California Proposition 21 (2000).
  2. The ACLU donated $61,562.50 to help fund Washington Initiative 1000 (2008).
  3. In some states, at times, the ACLU lends support to litigation efforts in support of initiative rights. Examples include ACLU v. Lomax.


The American Civil Liberties Union was founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin (along with several others including Crystal Eastman and Albert DeSilver).
The organization was started in response to the "Palmer Raids," a series of arrests by then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer in 1919 and 1920. These arrests took place without warrants and the thousands that were detained were brutally treated.[6]
The ACLU's mission is to defend the rights of the people as set forth by the U.S. Constitution. The organization has more than 500,000 members including 200 attorneys on staff and thousands of volunteers.[6]

Structure and leadership

National Board of Directors National Advisory Council
  • 83 members
  • Overall governing and policy-making body
  • Meets 4 times per year
  • Contains committees that study issues and make recommendations to the Board
  • 90 members, including prominent Americans of different fields
  • Advises the Board of Directors on issues
  • No decision-making power
  • Members participate in Board's committees


Self-described as the "largest public interest law firm," the ACLU is actually comprised of two distinct corporate entities: the ACLU and the ACLU Foundation. While the two organizations share office space and employees, the former is primarily concerned with legislative lobbying while the latter handles legal proceedings and correspondence.[7]

The largest governing bodies of the ACLU are the National Board of Directors and the National Advisory Council.[7]

Notable cases

The following tables display a selection of notable cases that the ACLU has been involved in, whether through representation or serving as an amicus curiae.

Name Court Majority author or presiding judge Summary
Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) U.S. Supreme Court Abe Fortas Two siblings and a friend were suspended from school for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. The Court overturned the district court's decision, finding that the students were entitled to free speech that did not impede the course of educational proceedings.
Buckley v. Valeo (1976) U.S. Supreme Court Decided per curiam The Federal Election Campaign Act as amended in 1974 was partially struck down by the Court, which found that unlimited spending in campaigns was protected by the First Amendment. The ACLU filed a brief on the petitioner's behalf arguing that unlimited monetary contributions to campaigns represents absolute free speech.
Reno v. ACLU (1997) U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens The Court struck down parts of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which regulated the transmission of online pornography as to prevent access by minors. The majority stated that the Internet is akin to the press in being afforded full First Amendment protection of speech, although the provisions against obscenity and child pornography could be still enforced.
Name Court Majority author or presiding judge Summary
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren The court overturned the ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson (1986), finding that racial segregation in public schools violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Loving v. Virginia (1967) U.S. Supreme Court Earl Warren An interracial couple was sentenced to one year in prison for violating Virginia's Racial Integrity Act of 1924. ACLU lawyer Bernard Cohen defended the couple. The Court found that the Virginia law violated the Equal Protection Clause.
Reed v. Reed (1971) U.S. Supreme Court Warren Burger The Court struck down an Idaho law giving preferential treatment to men in deciding executors of estates, saying that the Equal Protection Clause prohibits sex-based discrimination.
Name Court Majority author or presiding judge Summary
Roe v. Wade (1973)
Doe v. Bolton (1973)
U.S. Supreme Court Harry Blackmun The Court decided the cases the same day, ruling that the plaintiffs had their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights violated by state laws restricting abortion. The ACLU represented the plaintiff in the latter case.
Lawrence v. Texas (2003) U.S. Supreme Court Anthony Kennedy The Court overturned the ruling in Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), which upheld Georgia's anti-sodomy law on the grounds that a constitutional protection for sexual privacy was not present. The Lawrence ruling, based on the Fourteenth Amendment, effectively struck down all state-level anti-sodomy laws.
Safford Unified School District v. Redding (2009) U.S. Supreme Court David Souter The Court held that the Fourth Amendment rights of a middle schooler were violated when school officials strip-searched her for drugs.
Name Court Majority author or presiding judge Summary
Tennessee v. Scopes (a/k/a the Scopes Monkey Trial) (1925)
Scopes v. Tennessee (1927)
Tennessee Criminal Court
Tennessee Supreme Court
John T. Raulston
Grafton Green
John Scopes, a biology teacher, was charged with violating Tennessee's ban on the teaching of evolution. Scopes was convicted and fined $100; his trial served more as a high-profile ideological showdown between William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and ACLU lawyer Clarence Darrow (who infamously cross-examined Bryan) for the defense. Scopes and Darrow appealed unsuccessfully, but the conviction was overturned on a technicality: the county judge decided the fine, not the jury as prescribed.[8]
Wallace v. Jaffree (1985) U.S. Supreme Court John Paul Stevens The Supreme Court overturned Alabama's "moment of silence" law, intended for public school students to briefly undertake "meditation or voluntary prayer" on First Amendment grounds.
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005) United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania John E. Jones A district court ruled that the teaching of intelligent design in public schools violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.


The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization. In 2012, the ACLU raised a total of $100,895,742. The following graph shows the different areas of funding for the fiscal year.[9]


Additional reading

  • Cottrell, Robert C. Roger Nash Baldwin and the American Civil Liberties Union. New York: Columbia University Press. 2000.

Recent news

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See also

External links