Where’s the ACLU?

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

You always hear and see that phrase from right-leaning folks, typically when a white person, a Christian, or some other non-minority person is harmed in some way. I’m working on a column about why that criticism isn’t fair. But in researching it, I found a particularly nasty slagging of the organization that I thought I’d share with you. In the op-ed, published by a pretty prominent advocacy organization about one particular high-profile case, the authors write:

…we are horrified by the ACLU’s betrayal of political reality and plain common sense…

Long ago it defended the right of American neo-nazis to march through Skokie, a heavily Jewish suburb of Chicago.

The ACLU has also defended the right of such loathsome haters as the Ku Klux Klan to gather and speak….

Turning to the specific case their piece is about, the writers then argue that the ACLU’s position . . .

. . . is the equivalent not of guaranteeing individual Nazis the freedom to march, but instead of granting the Party itself the right to drive tanks down the street, guns ablazing.

It’s not the same as giving individual Klan members the right to hold a rally, but rather for the organization to do public lynchings as part of a terror campaign aimed at taking tangible power.

The writers also state that the authors of the First Amendment would be “horrified,” that the people the ACLU defended in this case are “anti-human,” and “the enemies of democracy.”

So take a guess where the op-ed appeared, and to which case the authors are reacting. Then check here to see how you did.

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65 Responses to “Where’s the ACLU?”

  1. #1 |  JOR | 


    Yes, yes they are. That’s sort of the point. “The people” (which ones? well, it goes for all of them) are going to organize on terms as close to their own as they can find, to pursue their own particular interests.

  2. #2 |  MPH | 

    I agree that the way a group of people choose to organize themselves should have no bearing on their ability to influence an election. I also agree that large corporations can have an unfair influence on an election, because they can draw money from outside the “election zone”. So how should these contradictory needs be met?

    Why not limit campaign contributions and ads to being funded ONLY by those who can vote for/against a particular candidate/referendum, regardless of how they’re organized? If you’re not in the same district as I am, why should you be allowed to influence the election of MY representative? We already do this at the national level, as foreign money is restricted in national elections. Why not just be consistent at the “lower” levels?

    If all the members of your local union shop/business cooperative/sewing circle are able to vote for/against a particular candidate, then you’re allowed to pool your money for/against that particular candidate. If your organization is spread out over multiple districts (say a county-wide union shop that has members in different county council districts), then you have to come up with a mechanism that ensures that money from a voter in a particular district is used ONLY for advocating for/against candidates/referendum from that district.

    This eliminates the influence of a large corporation over elections in districts in which the corporation has no presence, but still allows corporate/union/etc. participation in elections in which the employees/members/etc. are allowed to vote in.

    One final note. I see some of the preceding commenters seem to believe that “freedom of the press” means “freedom of news organizations”. It actually means “freedom to publish”. In the first amendment, the phrase “freedom of speech” is intended to protect our right to “verbalize” our thoughts, the phrase “or of the press” is intended to protect our right to publish our thoughts (200+ years ago the only way to publish was via the printing “press”). This was done because, as a previous commenter noted, the ability to disseminate an individual’s views verbally are rather limited, so being able to publish and distribute such views without government interference is very important. Today, we have many more ways to “publish” than the “press” (web pages, usenet, radio, TV, skywriting, etc.). Yet for some reason, we’ve got this idea that a “news organization” has some special protections under the constitution. The New York Times has no more right to print what it wants to than K-Mart does. Just because the NYT is in the business of printing what it calls “news”, does not, and should not, give it more or less protection to publish than K-mart, or, for that matter, me.

  3. #3 |  claude | 

    I dont trust many decisions that come from the RATS members of the court.

  4. #4 |  Highway | 

    Judas, if you’re so interested in ‘what already are’s’, then why don’t you seem to acknowledge that there already IS corporatism, that Citizen’s United doesn’t make any difference to those huge corporations, because they can buy their access *any time they want*, they don’t need an election. And if you silence TV ads and electioneering, then their guy will *stay* bought.

    Who is Julian Assange in trouble with? Big corporations? Hell no. He’s in trouble with the government itself. And why? At least partly because those big media corporations are in the pocket of the government (which is why they got special permission in the BCRA in the first place, because the Congress knew they wouldn’t be saying anything bad about them) and aren’t interested in things that actually show some truth about what goes on in government policy.

    Like it or not, things that effect corporations effect people. The GM bailout, whether I like it or not, was in the direct interests of thousands of people. Not just some big amorphous ‘GM’, but lots and lots of individual people. Going to war effects lots and lots of individual people. But if the mechanisms for being able to get an effective message out there about the interests that have a bearing on Joe and Alice and Eddie and a bunch of other people are more expensive than an individual can shoulder alone, why should they be prevented from using them? It’s still their personal message, it’s just a lot of people’s personal message, all given at the same time.

  5. #5 |  Marty | 

    campaign finance reform seems pointless to me- any laws or restrictions designed will be circumvented by the politicians and big spenders, anyway.
    my issue is with how powerful corporations (and govt) have become. the political process is all about self-interests and it’s not just corporations, as many have pointed out. I feel a BIG part of it is corporate self-interest, though. I would like a smaller, less intrusive govt, but I don’t see how that can happen with multi-national corporations controlling so much power. they control much of the media that people get ‘informed’ by, they control and market the products to sell to the govt- would drug testing kits have a chance if the govt wasn’t ordering them by the truckload? would tazers? airport scanners? we spend billions of dollars on this useless shit and then more laws are created to require more of this useless shit.
    where do you begin to roll this back?

  6. #6 |  Nick T. | 

    Just wanted to chime in… I got it right of course. The First Amendment is exactly NOT about “political reality.” It’s not about what was intended either. It’s about the idea that free speech is so critical that the founders left absolutely no room for regulation or restriction. No balancing test, no national interests principle, just “no law.”

    Any argument based on “corporate personhood” is legally ignorant and incoherent, and any argument based on the consequences of corporate influence on elections opens the door to speech restrictions that could similarly be said to benefit society or our democracy.

    Also, I agree with #28, the crowded theater argument is garbage in nearly all cases. The point of that example is not about the safety costs, it’s about the lack of “speech” or expression and the fraud it involves. Lying, threats, intimidation are not free speech which is to destructive to not be regulated, they are not free speech at all and thus are not protected. This is a very meaningful distinction when you start comparing shouting “fire” to, say, burning the Koran. Speech is never a balancing test.

  7. #7 |  Les | 

    #49, that sounds very much like you’re equating Politburos, juntas and dictatorships to corporations, unions, and political action committees. That would be silly of you.

  8. #8 |  musefree | 

    It is always annoying to hear the misleading claim that Citizen’s United = Corporate Personhood.

    Of course, corporates are not people. Everyone knows that. The question is, do the people behind the corporation have free speech rights? If they do, can they pool ther money together and spend it on political speech?

    The answers to these questions should determine what you think of Citizen’s United. Not a reflexive claim denying corporate personhood.

    Here’s what I think. I think to effectively speak for an important cause, it is necessary, nay, critical, that people be allowed to pool their resources. Think ACLU. Think EFF. Think Institute for Justice, Cato, NRA, PETA or your favourite advocacy group or trade union of whatever political stripe. They are all corporates. Their free speech rights come from OURS. WE pool together resources so that we can speak in a common voice. To deny the logic of Citizen’s United is therefore to either deny this right to a common voice, or to make an artificial distinction that gives this right to some groups but not to others.

    What distinctions could an opponent of Citizen’s United make?

    Here’s some:

    1) Allow collective speech, except during election time / for or against specific candidates.

    But this is absurd! Aren’t elections important? And even if you stop them from endorsing some candidates, won’t they be able to put forth their positions indirectly with similar effect?

    2) Allow collective speech by non profits but not by for profits.

    I am unconvinced by this distinction because the NY Times is a for profit, and I think it is inconsistent to make such a distinction that allows the press but not the non-press.

    In sum, I think the only consistent, libertartian position is to support Citizen’s United, in its full form.

  9. #9 |  pyo1 | 

    @24 – I didn’t realize my options on replying only to certain threads were limited by anyone!

  10. #10 |  Nick T | 

    #58, you’re exactly right. Interesting that up the thread a person opposing the CU decision cited the 1st Amendment’s protection for the right to assemble. Obviously that person would interpret that right as not involving the right to incoporate since such incoporation would be a forfeiture of other rights.

    I wish people would just say that they hatethe CU decision cuz they think it’s really abd for America, and believe in free speech up to those points where it is clearly very bad for America. I would respect that view, though disagree with it.

    People should also be aware that all 9 justices on the court agreed that corporations were protected by free speech, just disagreed on the limits of those protections. So “corporate personhood” (ignoring the absurdity of that argument altogether) has been decided 9-0 in favor of by the Supremes.

  11. #11 |  Marty | 

    ‘Of course, corporates are not people. Everyone knows that.’

    everyone except for the scotus and corporations, apparently…


    ‘In sum, I think the only consistent, libertartian position is to support Citizen’s United, in its full form.’

    they might be an option, but I’m not so sure about ‘the only consistent…’ statement. why are they so against wikileaks?

  12. #12 |  musefree | 

    Marty — You wished to support a claim, namely that “the SCOTUS and corporations (do not know) that ‘corporates are not people’ “, and pointed me to a link that informs me that according to a SCOTUS ruling , corporates are entitled to protection under the fourtenth amendment.

    I do not see how being entitled protection under a specific law (the fourteenth amendment) implies being a person.

    About wikileaks, I dont know what you wish to imply. I love wikileaks. I donated $300 to them the other day. Most libertarians I know love them too.

  13. #13 |  Nick T | 

    Yes and some people might point to the 4th amendment which clearly gives a right to “people” but has been long udnerstood to apply to corportations. The First Amendment contains no such limitation and simply controls government action.

    However, the view that the 4th Amendment also applies to corporations is perfectly libertarian and involves interpretting the Document as either first and foremost a limit on government, or not so technical as to not view corporations as groups of “people” or to let the government regulate activity based on legal distinctions. Nearly all people who hate CU would not be cool with the 4th Amendment not applying to corporations and thus have no intelligible legal/Constitutional argument.

    Most epopel who hate CU and hate “corporate personhood” also would hate to see movies and music censored or regulated even though those are made by corporations. And if you asked them, outside of a CU discussion about a scenario where the government censors movies they would howl “First Amendment!” Being anti-CU is a highly selective application of intellectual log-rolling.

    I love Wikileaks, FTR

  14. #14 |  Z | 

    #25 is right- Corporations have all sorts of privileges that people don’t. Don’t want to pay taxes? Incorporate in Delaware? Want to avoid legal liability? Just force every purchaser to sign a release form. Want to buy a West Virginia Supreme Court justice? No problemo just finance his campaign.

    Can I simply declare that I am, for tax purposes, an Alaskan or a New Hampshire resident even if I live in NYC? Can I force everyone I have any interaction with to sign a liability waiver? Can I contribute millions to political campaigns and committees to purchase favorable legislation like the “Z is exempt from all responsibilities act”? No? Then piss off, a corporation is not a person.

    Oh and #26, stop being a glib wiseass.

  15. #15 |  Z | 

    #26- that post deserves a fuller response although I stand by you being a glib wiseass:

    “Z — I know, lets socialize the media so that the government can give a voice to everyone! There is -no- way they would use it to suppress speech even more then it is now. Oh, wait… never mind.”

    Nobody said anything about socializing the media. The case is about whether I can create a shell corporation and hide behind it to spend millions on candidates who would then do my bidding and whether that corporation, free of any actual human responsibilities and liabilities can be considered a person with a right to spend and spend and spend: and whether money is speech.

    It’s that last part that, were Citizens United applied honestly (which it won’t be) could be a boon for individuals. I can claim that my low salary is tantamount to depriving me of a right to free speech: and that my rights wont be protected until I’m paid at least 100,000 per year. Would you represent me? Pro bono of course.