Confidential RI ACLU Letter Criticizes National ACLU’s Growing Political Partisanship

Wednesday, March 13, 2019


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Steve Brown has secured a copy of a letter sent by the Rhode Island American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to the national ACLU, criticizing the organization's national move towards a more partisan, anti-Republican stand.

When GoLocal first requested the letter, Steven Brown, Executive Director of the RI ACLU, refused to provide a copy, “The letter was purely internal, so it's not something we're distributing, I'm afraid. Sorry.”

Brown also refused to comment on the letter when GoLocal notified him that a copy of the letter had been secured.

Contents of Letter

In the letter from the Rhode Island ACLU to ACLU national President Susan Herman, the local chapter wrote, “We recognize the powerful forces at work in the current administration in Washington to undermine civil liberties, and we appreciate advocacy efforts undertaken by the ACLU to make the public aware of the civil liberties records of elected officials in this climate. But that is not a basis for abandoning fundamental principles that have guided the ACLU’s work for almost 100 years,” said the RI ACLU letter to the national organization.

“Some of the advocacy we have seen simply cannot be viewed as non-partisan activity as that term is commonly understood, or as it is laid out in Policy #519,” says the letter.

ACLU Board Policy 519 categorically states, "The ACLU does not endorse or oppose candidates for elective or appointive office.”

“And, if there is somehow an argument to be made — one we cannot see — that the ACLU’s recent activities don’t violate the letter of Policy #519, we fully believe they violate the Policy’s clear intent. In any event, these recent actions cannot. In our view, be squared with the Policy’s admonition against even the appearance of partisanship,” said the RI letter.

Former ACLU Executive Director Glasser Says Actions Reek of Partisanship

The Rhode Island criticism is tied to a series of ads funded by the ACLU in partisan elections in Kansas and Georgia which looked to be political ads.

"The group will spend $800,000 to air in the Atlanta media market starting today through the election," announced the ACLU when launching the ad.

“There is too much at stake for civil liberties and civil rights in Georgia for us to sit on the sidelines this election,” said Andrea Young, Executive Director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Georgia’s next governor should continue our bipartisan fight for criminal justice reform, specifically taking steps to reduce mass incarceration and the state’s dependence on private prisons, as well as prioritizing treatment over incarceration.

But, the former head of the ACLU has been criticizing the political activities of the organization and cites the Georgia Ad.

On 60 Minutes, Ira Glasser, who spent 34 years at the ACLU -- 23 of them as executive director, said the ACLU's involvement in candidate races has "crossed the line into partisanship, and he's concerned enough about it to speak out.”

Ira Glasser said, “I think it's strategically weakening its mission. The best strategy of protecting civil liberties is not to be partisan.”

"There's nobody could look at that ad and not think it was a campaign ad for Stacey Abrams. It was. Look, we are living in a time now where Trump has made it a cultural habit to say-- to do something and then, while you're doing it, deny that you're doing it. So the fact that they deny it is just dissembling, it's just-- it's just, you know-- dishonest," Glasser told 60 Minutes.


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