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The American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, first arose following World War I. World War I had created a communist fear that swept across the United States. This was known as the Red Scare. As a result, legislators, specifically one named Mitchell A. Palmer, rounded up anyone who was part of the movement and were deemed “radicals”. This whole process became part of an event deemed “the Palmer Raids”.
Major civil liberty violations ensued, including arrests without warrant and deportations without trial. Facing up this huge issue, ACLU was born, mainly with a focus on freedom of speech. It was founded specifically in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, and Walter Nelles. The main purpose if the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties of all who have the right of them in the United States. Over its current existence of 94 years, the ACLU has accomplished much and has won many federal court cases. One of the most prominent trials in U.S. History was one of the ACLU’s first victories. The Scopes trial brought up the important issue of the teaching of evolution in schools. Tennessee legislature had passed a law banning the teaching of evolution in schools. The ACLU put biology teacher John T. Scopes up to break this law, and had him teach it. Eventually being prosecuted, the ACLU defended him with prominent lawyer Clarence Darrow. Although Scopes was convicted, the trial made national headlines and soon persuaded the public to change this law. The ACLU also had a part in Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, which was a case of racial segregation. With the NAACP, the case was won in favor of Brown and separate but equal facilities was ended in the United States forever.
The ACLU is a leftist organization that supports the liberal side of many issues. It states that any political party can be a member of ACLU, and only need to defend consistently the civil liberties of the people and the constitution. This appears to be a neutral take on political ideology. However, supporting civil liberties is something the Democratic party does more so than the Republican party. The legislation that they support is clearly a part of Democratic platforms. one such example is censorship and religion. The ACLU has, historically, fought for the separation of the Church and school. In multiple litigations, the ACLU has sued for the removal of the Ten Commandments on public land. One such litigation even sued for the removal of a Christmas Tree and a Menorah in New York City. The Republican party generally has a Christian following, which contrasts with the Democratic party, which has a large Atheist/non-affiliated following. Other litigations which suggests the ACLU favors the Democratic party concerns the death penalty. The ACLU is very anti-death penalty and has taken measures to stop it. They are involved in many different death penalty cases, as well as taking steps to spreading awareness through their education campaigns. The ACLU also fights heavily for LGBT rights. They have massive campaigns for the advocation of gay marriage and other constitutional violations of the LGBT community. On their website, they have ads for the hearing of supposed rights violations on LGBT rights. The ACLU also brought the very first case of gay marriage to court in 1971; Baker vs. Nelson was lost, but it kickstarted the fight for gay rights. The rights of the LGBT is one of the democratic party’s main party platforms; the ACLU again strongly supports a Democratic platform. The group also had close involvement in California Supreme Court lawsuit to legalize gay marriage in California. This case was ruled in favor of gay marriage but was overruled by proposition 8. They are currently working to reverse the effects of it. Again, the ACLU has a major Democratic party platform in its agenda. Overall, the group does not claim to affiliate any political party. However, their goals align perfectly with the Democratic party, so they must favor them.
An example of legislation that the ACLU supports is the decriminalization of marijuana. They make several arguments that the effects of legalization/decriminalization will reduce the “unacceptable” levels of prison crowding. ACLU also supports the abolition of the death penalty, gay rights, and prison system reform. In order to influence policies, the ACLU uses everything in its power to do so. This includes litigation, raising public awareness, lobbying, and media. They use any tool they can to influence. They mainly do things through litigation; if one’s court case involves civil rights, the ACLU will go to court for you to fight for your constitutional rights. They claim on their website that they “appear before the United States Supreme Court more than any other organization except the U.S. Department of Justice”. Just recently, ACLU went to court to sue Walmart for firing an employee for legally using medical marijuana in accordance with state law. This case, Casius vs. Walmart, was for a cancer patient with inoperable brain cancer. ACLU has gone to court for countless other cases that involve the violation of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The ACLU has its own website as well, complete with records of their past litigations, current events, and violations of civil rights in America. It also has different fact sheets on the issues they try to influence. The ACLU tries to lobby legislation as well. They have lobbied for most goals that they pursue. The ACLU mainly targets the Judicial Branch of the government, due to their heavy involvement in court cases. They fight at any level of the court, from at the bottom of civil rights violations to the most heavy violations in the Supreme Court. The ACLU is very successful in its court cases; more court challenges than less are won in favor of the defendant. They were successful in legalizing gay marriage in California until Prop 8 reversed the ruling. The ACLU has had other countless victories throughout history as well, including the Scopes trial and Korematsu vs. The United States. The success of the ACLU can be contributed to its influence; it has many members who pay dues, which give the interest group power. They currently have over 500,000 supporters, as well as 200 staff attorneys and thousands of volunteer attorneys.
The definite strength of the ACLU is its ability to defend those in court. The amount of cases it has won for civil liberties is very numerous; its efforts have definitely changed the course of history. Without it, the Scopes trial may have never happened. Brown vs. the Board of Education may have never stopped separate but equal facilities. The ACLU helped facilitate all of those civil rights victories and progression of society. They are available to many who get in court trouble whether it involves abortion or gay marriage or race issues. The only weakness of the ACLU is its lack of passing of major legislature. They so far have not won anything major for civil rights at the Supreme Court level; they have only upheld the Bill of Rights as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It is effective enough in achieving its agenda; as stated before, nothing new has been changed in the Constitution or been ruled differently than before. Gay marriage, abortion, and even freedom of speech are still issues today. However, there is not much more they can do. They were almost successful in legalizing gay marriage in California, but that was changed due to a statewide vote. Other than that, the ACLU does its purpose in a very adequate way. Many people whose rights were violated were evaluated in favor of the defendant in a court of law, supported by the ACLU.
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