Further Evidence the ACLU Has Lost Its Way

Dave Killen/The Oregonian via AP

I was never really a fan of the ACLU because it was clear they were always a leftist group. But I did have a grudging admiration for their historical commitment to free speech and their principled willingness to defend what would now be called hate speech. 


But something seemed to change in 2018. That was when the ACLU took a case in Charlottesville, Virginia which wound up being a big embarrassment for the group:

In 2018, following the ACLU’s successful litigation to obtain a permit for white supremacists to march in Charlottesville, Virginia, which ended in death and disaster, the ACLU issued new guidelines. Citing concerns about “limited resources” and “the potential effect on marginalized groups,” the organization cautioned its lawyers to take special care when considering whether to represent groups whose “values are contrary to our values.”…

I don’t look to the ACLU to affirm my beliefs or those of my allies. On the contrary, I look to the ACLU to defend everyone, including my ideological enemies. To do that work, it cannot be beholden to any political party or ideology. Yet in 2018, the ACLU spent $800,000 on a campaign ad for Stacey Abrams during her run for governor in Georgia and $1 million in an attack-ad campaign against Brett Kavanaugh during his Supreme Court confirmation hearings…

…I view the ACLU’s hard-left turn with alarm. It smacks of intolerance and choosing sides, precisely what a civil-liberties organization designed to defend the Bill of Rights is meant to oppose.

Today the NY Times has a story suggesting woke ideology has infiltrated the ACLU. In 2022 the group fired a lawyer who had worked for them for five years, accusing her of using "racist stereotypes" in reference to her supervisors who were black.


The A.C.L.U. acknowledges that Ms. Oh, who is Korean American, never used any kind of racial slur. But the group says that her use of certain phrases and words demonstrated a pattern of willful anti-Black animus.

In one instance, according to court documents, she told a Black superior that she was “afraid” to talk with him. In another, she told a manager that their conversation was “chastising.” And in a meeting, she repeated a satirical phrase likening her bosses’ behavior to suffering “beatings.”

To be clear, she was criticizing her boss's boss and used the well-worn phrase "beatings will continue until morale improves." The ACLU determined that was an example of anti-black animus. 

The National Labor Relations Board has accused the ACLU of retaliation and a trial in the case just concluded. The Times points out the obvious irony of the ACLU's position in the case. A group that historically promised to defend your right to speak even if it didn't like it is now inventing phantom racism as an excuse to fire its own employees.

...to critics of the A.C.L.U., Ms. Oh’s case is a sign of how far the group has strayed from its core mission — defending free speech — and has instead aligned itself with a progressive politics that is intensely focused on identity...

“They radically expanded and raised so much more money — hundreds of millions of dollars — from leftist donors who were desperate to push back on the scary excesses of the Trump administration,” said Lara Bazelon a law professor at the University of San Francisco who has been critical of the A.C.L.U. “And they hired people with a lot of extremely strong views about race and workplace rules. And in the process, they themselves veered into a place of excess.”

“I scour the record for any evidence that this Asian woman is a racist,” Ms. Bazelon added, “and I don’t find any.”


There were only three incidents in Ms. Oh's case. The statement about morale, a statement that she as afraid to talk with her supervisor and the way she characterized a meeting with the DEI supervisor as "chastising." Ms. Hikes, the DEI supervisor, didn't like that.

What's happening at the ACLU is the same thing that has happened at every left-wing organization over the past decade. Woke employees enter the organization direct from campus and begin replicating the kind of activism they've been doing as undergrads in the middle of the organization. Ryan Grim wrote about this pattern back in 2022, noting that it had led to internal fights at so many leftist organizations that many were barely functional.

“To be honest with you, this is the biggest problem on the left over the last six years,” one concluded. “This is so big. And it’s like abuse in the family — it’s the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. And you have to be super sensitive about who the messengers are.”…

“So much energy has been devoted to the internal strife and internal bullshit that it’s had a real impact on the ability for groups to deliver,” said one organization leader who departed his position. “It’s been huge, particularly over the last year and a half or so, the ability for groups to focus on their mission, whether it’s reproductive justice, or jobs, or fighting climate change.”…

“My last nine months, I was spending 90 to 95 percent of my time on internal strife. Whereas [before] that would have been 25-30 percent tops,” the former executive director said. He added that the same portion of his deputies’ time was similarly spent on internal reckonings.


The same focus on identity and internal politics has swept through the ACLU because of course it would. The organization that made a name for itself defending free speech is now so sensitive to perceived microaggressions that even its own employees have to walk on eggshells. Needless to say this is not an improvement.

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