The ACLU website says its formation came after the “Palmer Raids” on November 1919 and January 1920 and goes on to list historical accomplishments. “Palmer Raids” were a rounding up and deporting of perceived radicals by then Attorney General Mitchell Palmer. These raids grew from a federal fear after WWI, during a time called the, “Red Scare”, of communist radicals and anarchists living in the United States. The “RED SCARE”, at its peak during 1919-1920 arose from the Russian Revolution and anarchists’ bombings starting in 1917. The arrests from the Palmer Raids, violated constitutional rights of unlawful search and seizure along with abuse and inhumane conditions while in custody. However, there is no mention of Roger Nash Baldwin, well known co-founder of the ACLU or the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NLCB), a predecessor to the ACLU. The site does not even mention this Civil Rights champion at all. Most websites or entity founders with such history making events would have great accolades and sometimes still celebrate them, to this day, even after death. Could this be due to Baldwin being a conscientious objector and imprisoned for it or maybe that he was a proponent of communism and looked at by some as a leftist radical? I would like to share my research with you about the ACLU, how it began, its purpose, accomplishments and who its historical co-founder Roger Baldwin is and how he came to form the largest civil liberties non-profit organization in the United States with over 35 million members.
The ACLU officially organized January 19,1920 with founders Roger Baldwin, Helen Keller, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, Crystal Eastman, Walter Nelles, Morris Ernst, Albert DeSilver, Arthur Garfield Hays, Jane Addams, and Felix Frankfurter. However, that was not the beginning of its creation. What do I mean by that? Well, the beginning of the ACLU started with Roger Nash Baldwin, born 1884 in Wellesley, Massachusetts into a wealthy Unitarian family.
Even as a child Baldwin did service work to help others at his church and admired radicals of his time like David Thoreau and learned progressive thinking from his aunt and co-founder of National Urban League, Ruth Standish Baldwin.
After graduating from Harvard with a Master’s Degree in anthropology he went to work at Washington University as a sociology teacher. He later moved on to social work with juveniles in St. Louis, there he made friends with social reformers, including anarchist, Emma Goldman. His social work continues throughout his lifetime.
In 1917 as a member of the American Union Against Militarism (AUAM) the Civil Liberties Bureau (CLB), a legal division of AUAM, formed to protect conscientious objectors with Baldwin as head of it. Baldwin served a year in jail in 1918 for not registering for the draft, after that he separated from AUAM and continued heading the CLB and renamed it the National Civil Liberties Bureau (NCLB), changing its focus from litigation to direct action and public education. By 1920 Baldwin, Executive Director, renamed the CLB the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to fight for free speech, religious freedom, the right to a fair trial, the right to assembly, racial equality, and all protections in the First Amendment, for all persons needing their support. Soon after the ACLU aligned with the NAACP, to fight against the violence African Americans endured from the Ku Klux Klan.
By 1923 the ACLU set up its first permanent affiliate in Los Angeles, California after protesting with writer Upton Sinclair for free speech of striking Longshoremen of San Pedro banned from publicly speaking about worker’s rights.
It was 1925 when the ACLU defended John Scopes, State of Tennessee v John Scopes, a science teacher on trial for teaching Darwinism to his students. Mr. Scopes conviction was overturned in 1927 when ACLU challenged the law in Tennessee Supreme Court that forbade the teaching of evolution in state funded schools. This case brought national attention for the ACLU and was excellent public relations for the organization.
The ACLU also had a major part in passing the 1932 Norris-La Guardia Act, a federal law that stopped employers from impeding employees from joining unions and prevented courts from outlawing strikes, unions, and labor organizing with injunctions. The act also makes yellow-dog contracts (agreement to not join unions) unenforceable.
Another important case the ACLU helped with was Brown v Board of Education in 1954. The ACLU affiliates in the United States fought racial segregation all through the 50’s on issues such as housing discrimination, interracial marriage bans, police abuse with different successes, but the landmark case, Brown v Board of Education, where the Supreme Court put an end to school segregation was a landmark case that they filed the amicus briefs for.
In 1961 the ACLU filed briefs on Mapp v Ohio case for Dollree Mapp, convicted of possession of lewd and lascivious materials. Mapp initially refused to let police in her house without a warrant, but police tricked her into letting them in. Her attorney argued that the government could not convict her in federal court on illegally gained evidence, but the ACLU filed a brief that argued that it was her constitutional right and got the conviction reversed.
The case of a petty thief, Gideon v Wainwright, another landmark case, argued the Sixth Amendment right to fair trial, guaranteeing those facing prison time had a right to an attorney, not just death row cases. On retrial, the courts acquitted Gideon, and the courts required all states to give a lawyer for those who could not afford one.
A great contribution to the civil rights movement was in 1964, the ACLU organized Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC), a coalition of groups with lawyers for their Deep South civil rights work. Most attorneys were working civil rights cases under the radar and the LCDC became the center point for the ACLU’s civil rights.
One case that affected law enforcement is Miranda v Arizona in 1966. The courts held that defendants had a right from self-incrimination and they must be Mirandized, informing suspects of their right to an attorney and the right to remain silent, and ensure that they understood those rights before questioning. Without the Miranda warning and the understanding of it, any statements made by defendants would not be admissible in court.
During the Vietnam period the Nixon administration was known for getting court orders against the newspapers. They had applied for an injunction to keep the New York Times from publishing the Pentagon Papers, holding government secrets, but the courts denied their petition. The Supreme court upheld the newspaper’s First Amendment rights to freedom of press stating the First Amendment does not allow laws that curtail that right.
Since its beginnings the ACLU has argued the most women rights cases to the Supreme Court, then any other organization. Abandoning its focus on the Fourteenth Amendment and declaring women’s rights its priority, they fought for the ERA (Equal Rights Amendment) and formed the Women’s Rights Project. In writing the brief for the Reed v Reed case, they argued that automatic preference of men over women in estate law violated the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. For the first time since the creation of the amendment the court’s decision went against a state law saying it discriminated against women. The other important case involving women’s rights and privacy including the right to have an abortion was Roe v Wade. The fight for reproductive rights continues and in 1974 the ACLU formed the Reproductive Freedom Project, which works in litigation and legislative advocacy for reproductive choice and defends sex education and condom availability programs. To show their continued commitment to women’s rights 4 out of 7 top executives in the ACLU are women.
The ACLU however is not without its controversial cases also. The primary focus of this organization is to fight for rights and freedoms afforded us by the Constitution, its Amendment’s and the Bill of Rights and sometimes this has created controversy towards the ACLU from groups they represent or have represented in the past. The cases they fight for and represent are completely about the fight for their rights and have nothing to do with who they are or what they believe. The first controversial case that cost the ACLU many members, but in the end, it has proven their commitment to their organization’s principles.
In 1977 Cook County Illinois Courts refused to allow the NSPA (National Socialist Party of America) of having a march through the city of Skokie, where many holocaust survivors lived. An injunction was filed and the Illinois Appellate and Illinois Supreme Court both denied expediting the case or staying the injunction, so the ACLU appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Supreme Court remanded to Illinois Appellate Courts, which ended the injunction but would not allow the display of swastikas. The NSPA received permission from the city of Chicago alternately and marched there instead.
Another controversial subject that the ACLU has defended more than once is burning and desecration of the American Flag. Texas v. Johnson (1989), the Supreme Court held that a Texas law criminalizing the desecration or otherwise mistreatment of the flag unconstitutional under the First Amendment. After that Congress introduced the Flag Protection Act, another attempt to ban flag burning, the courts found that to be unconstitutional also. Other attempts to prosecute flag burning include United States v. Eichman, (1989) and United States v Haggerty (1989). The ACLU filed as amicus curiae in both cases and the courts affirmed.
Since its beginning the ACLU has fought for the freedoms that our founding fathers have written into our Constitution over 223 years ago by defending those denied their constitutional rights and freedoms. At times defending citizens has come with much controversy, as some issues are very political, and others are even offensive, but the ACLU is committed to defending these violations that impede justice and interpretation of the rights given to us in the constitution. For all their controversial cases the ACLU has defended there are many more that we, as citizens, benefit from them fighting the fight for our constitutional rights, and especially being a woman myself appreciate the positive changes made in the United States allowing women more equality and rights.
“ACLU – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.Com”. HISTORY.Com, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/aclu. Accessed 15 May 2018.
Fuller, Al. “The Real History Of The ACLU | The Other Half Of History”. Historyhalf.Com, 2010, http://historyhalf.com/the-real-history-of-the-aclu/. Accessed 7 May 2018.
“American Civil Liberties Union”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Civil_Liberties_Union. Accessed 9 May 2018.
“ACLU – Facts & Summary – HISTORY.Com”. HISTORY.Com, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/aclu. Accessed 15 May 2018.
“Roger Nash Baldwin”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roger_Nash_Baldwin. Accessed 5 May 2018.
“National Civil Liberties Bureau”. En.Wikipedia.Org, 2018, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Civil_Liberties_Bureau. Accessed 5 May 2018.
“Looking Back: Roger Nash Baldwin, Unitarian Co-Founder Of ACLU”. UU World Magazine, 2018, https://www.uuworld.org/articles/looking-back-roger-nash-baldwin. Accessed 9 May 2018.
“Roger Nash Baldwin Facts, Information, Pictures | Encyclopedia.Com Articles About Roger Nash Baldwin”. Encyclopedia.Com, 2018, https://www.encyclopedia.com/people/social-sciences-and-law/social-reformers/roger-nash-baldwin. Accessed 7 May 2018.
“Historical Timeline – ACLU Pros & Cons – Procon.Org”. Aclu.Procon.Org, 2018, https://aclu.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000024. Accessed 6 May 2018.
“The Supreme Court Historical Society – Learning Center – Women’s Rights”. Supremecourthistory.Org, 2018, http://supremecourthistory.org/lc_breaking_new_ground.html. Accessed 9 May 2018.
“ACLU History: Flag Burning”. American Civil Liberties Union, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/other/aclu-history-flag-burning. Accessed 8 May 2018.
“United States V. Eichman – ACLU Pros & Cons – Procon.Org”. Aclu.Procon.Org, 2018, https://aclu.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000547. Accessed 9 May 2018.
“Reasons To Oppose The Flag Desecration Amendment”. American Civil Liberties Union, 2018, https://www.aclu.org/other/reasons-oppose-flag-desecration-amendment. Accessed 15 May 2018.