A Major Dispute in the ACLU

A Major Dispute in the ACLU

For nearly a half century the American Civil Liberties Union functioned, to quote the late Elmer Rice, as “a nonpolitical, nonpartisan, nonsectarian organization whose sole purpose is the protection and perpetuation of those rights and liberties guaranteed by the Bill of Rights to every American.” By carefully refraining from taking sides on what Rice called “debatable questions of doctrine, dogma, propriety, or morality,” the ACLU established an enviable reputation as a politically disinterested but highly effective guardian of “the rights of the individual within the structure of the law,” an organization in which people of varying political views could work together for the common end of civil liberties.

Now, however, that reputation and the future effectiveness, if not the very survival, of the ACLU is threatened by a basic policy rift. On one side stand those, such as Professor Herman Schwartz, who believe that the time has come for the ACLU to “go beyond traditional civil liberties concerns to work for social and distributive justice” and what is called “a meaningful democratic participation.” On the other side stand those who subscribe with veteran civil libertarian Osmond Fraenkel to the view that  “to expand our interests in the area of `general welfare’ or social reform would deprive us of our unique position as protector of liberty for all and confuse us with the many reform organizations active in the field.”

 

...