Requiem for the American Civil Liberties Union | Opinion

In a long and detailed article—really, an obituary—The New York Times announced the death of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) as the primary defender of free speech in the United States. More than a century old, the ACLU was founded primarily to defend the free speech and due process of all Americans regardless of their views, party affiliation, race or ideology.

The ACLU has defended Nazis, the KKK, pornographers and purveyors of hate speech. I was privileged to serve on the national board of the ACLU during its golden age.

Then everything changed. The board decided to "diversify." This meant that a certain number of women, African Americans, Latinos and gays had to be represented—which, in turn, meant the representatives of these groups were expected to prioritize the parochial interests of the groups they represented over the more general interests of all Americans pertaining to free speech and due process.

Unsurprisingly, the organization stopped prioritizing free speech and due process. Instead, it began to prioritize a woman's right to choose, gay marriage, racial issues and "progressive politics." This trend began well before the election of President Donald Trump, but it came to a head when he took office. The ACLU turned into a money-making machine by prioritizing the anti-Trump attitudes of its new members over its traditional role as a nonpartisan defender of free speech and due process.

The ACLU is now rolling in money, but it is intellectually bankrupt in its defense of free speech and due process—especially when these core liberties conflict with its money-making progressive agenda. This is particularly true with respect to the attacks on free speech and due process on university campuses, which are rampant and largely ignored by the current ACLU.

NEW YORK- SEPTEMBER 18: Tom Morello relates
NEW YORK- SEPTEMBER 18: Tom Morello relates an experience in his youth when the ACLU supported students' Constitutional rights as he performs during a three-night engagement SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER THROUGH STORIES AND SONG at the Minetta Lane Theatre on September 18, 2019 in New York City. Lindsay Brice/Getty Images

The Times article documents the gradual death of a once-great and important organization and its transformation into yet another hard-left, progressive institution. But the Times missed the big story, because the big story is that what has happened to the ACLU is merely a symptom of what is happening throughout America. An equally important symptom is what has happened at The New York Times itself. Don't expect to see Michael Powell, the Times writer who penned the ACLU piece, to write an equally explosive article about the demise of The New York Times as an objective newspaper of record. Young readers may not even know that the Times used to report all the news fit to print, rather than skewing the news to fit a progressive political agenda.

The young people who have destroyed the ACLU were educated—or miseducated—at the same institutions whose graduates now fill the newsroom of The New York Times. So the story of the ACLU is the story of The New York Times and is also the story of CNN, The Washington Post, HuffPost, Facebook, Twitter and Google. It is the story of liberalism in America dying and being replaced by a radical progressive agenda that cares little about free speech, due process or other civil liberties. These young lawyers, journalists and editors know "The Truth" and see little need for dissenting opinions, due process and other cumbersome mechanisms that stand between them and their hard-left utopia.

These young professionals don't understand that without basic civil liberties, every would-be utopia becomes a dystopia. They don't understand what the great Justice Louis Brandeis said a century ago: "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding." Nor do they understand the equally important words of the great jurist, Judge Learned Hand: "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias."

The death of the ACLU, along with the weakening of liberalism and our civil liberties, is among the most dangerous developments we now confront. As the founder of the ACLU cautioned nearly a century ago: "The struggle for liberty never stays won." We are now losing that battle, in no small part because the new leaders of the great organization he founded have sold out and abandoned its original mission to defend the free speech and due process of everyone.

Follow Alan Dershowitz on Twitter @AlanDersh and on Facebook @AlanMDershowitz. His new podcast, "The Dershow," can be found on Spotify, YouTube and iTunes. His most recent book is The Case Against the New Censors.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.