Since Trump took office, the A.C.L.U. has taken 170 “Trump-related legal actions.” There have been formal calls for investigation, administrative and ethics complaints and requests for documents under the Freedom of Information Act. There have also been 83 lawsuits, more than at any other equivalent time in its history — in defense of immigrants and transgender people and abortion rights and free speech and voting rights and access to birth control.
After that Friday afternoon family-separation call, I walked around the hallways for a little while and looked in on various rooms. The place had visibly changed from when I first started showing up there 18 months earlier. They were doubling lawyers up in offices now, and there was a communications and social-media team piled into what used to be a communal space. There were lawyers preparing for a hearing in North Carolina, challenging a state law barring transgender people from using the restrooms that match their gender identity. Another attorney, Louise Melling, one of the A.C.L.U.’s deputy legal directors, stepped out of her office to commiserate briefly about the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of a Christian baker (and against the A.C.L.U., which argued the case) who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple in Colorado. “That one hurt,” she said. “I can’t stop thinking about it.” There were plenty of other cases wending through the system, Melling said, and the issue would most likely rise up to the Supreme Court again. She sighed and then smiled broadly. She had come up fighting abortion rights cases for years, she said, so she was prepared for the long haul.
Early on, Romero knew that the public’s investment of faith and money required something bigger from them than what they could achieve in a courtroom. Right after the election, he hired a new national political director, Faiz Shakir, whose job would be to figure out how to mobilize all of those people looking to the A.C.L.U. for help. “The day after the election, American people started voting again,” Shakir told me. “With their pocket books and their email addresses, telling the A.C.L.U.: ‘Tag, you’re it.’ My take on that was, keep doing what you’re doing, litigation is great, but you have to rethink what your mission is.”
It’s not the first time the A.C.L.U.’s mission has shifted. At its founding in 1920, the A.C.L.U. was less an institution that believed in the power of litigation than an activist group fighting on behalf of workers trying to unionize and “radicals” being arrested without warrants and deported by a government in the grip of anti-communist fever. “The A.C.L.U.’s lawyers at that time didn’t really believe in the courts at all,” David Cole, its national legal director, told me. This is more or less smack in the middle of the Lochner era, a time when the courts were politically conservative and judicially aggressive. “The only constitutional rights the courts were concerned with were the rights of businesses to strike down any law designed to protect workers or consumers against unfettered capitalism,” Cole said. (You don’t have to stretch your imagination to see the parallels with the current Supreme Court.)
The A.C.L.U. filed lawsuits at the time, fully expecting to lose, Cole said, figuring that the losses would at least be of propaganda value in demonstrating to Americans the uselessness of the courts when it came to protecting the rights of the people. “And then, to their surprise, they start winning a few cases,” Cole said. “And they realize as lawyers that if you make more patient, incrementalist arguments, you can win in court, and that each incremental gain sets the stage for more progress. This really is the birth of civil liberties litigation, which is pretty much the only thing we did for the next 90-something years. Until now.”
After years at the Center for Constitutional Rights and a professorship at Georgetown Law, Cole took over as the A.C.L.U.’s national legal director a week and a half before Trump took office. He accepted the job in the late summer of 2016, when the future was all Hillary Clinton and Merrick Garland and the first liberal Supreme Court in nearly 50 years. “Anthony wooed me with visions of presiding over the new golden age of civil rights and civil liberties litigation,” he said when I first met him. (Romero walked me through the plans they had formulated in the event of a Clinton victory: “Knocking out the death penalty as unconstitutional. Establishing solitary confinement as cruel and unusual punishment. Challenging the Hyde Amendment,” which prohibits Medicaid funding for a vast majority of abortion services. “Blanket protection against L.G.B.T. discrimination. The application of the Fourth Amendment and privacy protections in a digital world. Indigent defense and racial profiling and mass incarceration. ...”)
In the fall of 2016, as if in anticipation of the moment in which we’re now living, Cole published his seventh book, “Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed.” In it, he lays out three radically different examples of citizen groups banding together to change public perception and reshape political and judicial will: in 2015, when gay rights groups won the fight for same-sex marriage; the National Rifle Association’s inexorable gathering of local and state-level influence that leads, in 2008, to the federal constitutional right of individuals to bear arms; and the international pressure brought to bear by human rights groups during the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” which led to a 2004 Supreme Court ruling that effectively ended the blanket legal deference historically afforded an American president during a time of war.
Source : https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/02/magazine/inside-the-aclus-war-on-trump.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region®ion=top-news&WT.nav=top-news984