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Founded in 1920, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit, multi-issue, 500,000+ member public interest organization devoted to protecting the basic civil liberties of all people in the United States. Recognized as the nation’s premier public interest law firm, the ACLU works daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. The ACLU Foundation is the 501 (c)(3) arm of the organization.
The ACLU pushes the envelope of freedom. As individuals, groups and movements have struggled to gain rights, the ACLU has joined—and often led—these efforts, bringing our nonpartisan legal expertise to bear. We led the legal battle against censorship, defending the teaching of evolution and helping to overturn restrictions on birth control information and James Joyce’s Ulysses. We tackled racism, condemning lynching, documenting discrimination and helping to bring the series of cases that culminated in Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court case that put an end to the segregationist doctrine of “separate but equal.” And our advocacy and impact has extended far beyond the courtroom. Over fifty years ago, the ACLU developed the first civilian review board for police misconduct—and followed up with the first “know your rights” brochure for people facing arrest. We published the first documented report on illegal detentions by the police. Combining our research and advocacy with litigation, we developed the arguments that established ground rules for police conduct in landmark decisions such as Miranda v. Arizona. While we started out as a room full of visionary activists, today the ACLU encompasses more than half a million members and supporters; almost 300 staff in our national organization (which includes our high-powered Washington Legislative Office and a media-savvy communications department); and staffed offices in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The national organization and our affiliate network boast nearly 200 staff attorneys, who are supported by thousands of volunteer litigators, giving the ACLU unsurpassed influence and clout. Among U.S. social justice organizations, the ACLU is unique; we are the only national social justice organization with a state-by-state infrastructure of affiliates, autonomous nonprofit organizations supported by paid administrative and legal staff. This means we can hit the ground running on virtually any good opportunity to move justice forward on a state-by-state basis. It also means we have excellent “intelligence”—each of our affiliates is intimately familiar with its state’s political terrain, from the local electorate and key advocacy groups, to the executive, legislative and judicial branches. Gathering and weighing this intelligence helps ensure our success over the long term, as so many advances in civil liberties occur first at the state level.
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