Happy 100th Anniversary ACLU!

By Daniel Nardini

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - CommentaryThis year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) turns 100 years old. It is important to remember that the ACLU was formed in 1920 to help fight for those who did not have the money or the legal firepower to defend themselves in a court of law. The ACLU’s first case was in 1920, when they defended those Italian and Eastern European immigrants imprisoned during the infamous Palmer Raids. From 1919 to 1920, the U.S. Department of Justice under then U.S. Attorney General Alexander Mitchell Palmer conducted numerous federal raids against Italian anarchists and Eastern European (mostly Russian) immigrants at their meeting places and even in their own homes. The legal pretexts for these raids was to “save the country from Bolshevism.” As the ACLU pointed out, the raids were legally questionable, violated all the constitutional rights of the suspects, and many of them were imprisoned without due process. Many were illegally deported (sounds familiar?), and all of those who were still in prison were eventually released due to lack of evidence.

Fast forward to 1977, when the ACLU took up the case of the National Socialist Party of America to march in Skokie, Illinois. The plan by the National Socialist Party of America into Skokie, where the majority of its residents were Jewish and Holocaust survivors, was very clear. The Nazi Party wanted to wreak havoc and sow intimidation against people who had suffered horrendous atrocities at the hands of the Nazis in Germany. As much as the National Socialist Party of America was about as unpopular as unpopular could be, the ACLU pointed out that they still had a right to march since this was an exercise of free speech. The courts saw it the same way, and in the end the National Socialist Party of America was allowed to march through Skokie. Fortunately, they did not, but the ACLU had made an important point that regardless of who they were defending, exceptions could not be made to the freedom of speech as outlined in the U.S. Constitution because if one exception was made then more exceptions could be made to impinge on the freedom of people who could not otherwise defend themselves.

The ACLU today can be found in all 50 states, and will work to protect the rights of all; whether they are on the political left or the political right. They are there to enforce the U.S. Constitution whether the client is famous or has no money and resources. They are there to help the powerless, the poor, ordinary people like you and me. They are really the first true civil rights organization in U.S. history to fight for Americans and against injustice. On this 100th anniversary, I wish the American Civil Liberties Union a happy and wonderful 100th birthday!

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