Like many liberals and conservatives, your blogger is a longstanding and card carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union and contributor of money and sweat toward its efforts. I constantly tell my civil liberties class how often the ACLU was and is a plaintiff (and sometimes the only one) challenging government infringement of civil liberties and civil rights protected by the United States Constitution. That is what is generally understood, and how the ACLU has heretofore defined “civil liberties” and “civil rights” – those freedoms granted or protected in the Bill of Rights and the 13th, 14th and 15th, post-Civil War, constitutional amendments.
Founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin and other civil libertarians, the ACLU has powerfully and consistently mobilized and deployed defenders of constitutional democracy. They have done this while and by avoiding partisan politics. ACLU.org proudly and truthfully explains this apolitical stance. It also explains why it did things that would have been suicidal for a political organization, like defending the Klan’s advocacy efforts and Nazis seeking to march through predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in Skokie, Illinois. ACLU and its supporters believed that defending those bigots’ first amendment liberties protected the expressive rights of all Americans. ACLU, virtually alone, stood with Japanese-American citizens rounded up and interned in detention camps during the Second World War.
So it was shocking and sad to see the ACLU wade into a political debate last week – the one raging over Trump’s and the Republican controlled Congress’ efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. ACLU’s conceit and rationalization for entering this territory, from which there may be no return, was to declare that “health care access is a civil rights issue.”
Not really. Someday our Constitution may be amended to guarantee healthcare for all. And perhaps a distant future Supreme Court will construe the Constitution as requiring that the government provide healthcare to its citizens. Someday, but recent decisions substantially upholding the constitutionality of ObamaCare did not even begin to pave the way for an argument that healthcare is guaranteed to Americans, let alone a right to healthcare or health insurance in any specific formulation, such as the ACA. As opposed to say the emerging abomination called TrumpCare.
Why did the ACLU insert itself into the biggest political debate of the moment? The “DONATE NOW” request that concludes ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero’s March 18, 2017 “Stop ACA Repeal” emailing provides the most plausible answer. ACLU has been on a fund-raising roll since the election. Donations in the last four months exceeded those during the entire 2014 fiscal year. On January 30, the New York Times headlined “Donations to A.C.L.U. and other Organizations Surge after Trump’s Order.” Readers of this blog will recall the post of 11/29/16 encouraging the lucky five and one percenters among us to devote fifty percent of their inevitable Trump tax cut to good causes, with the ACLU’s logo prominently displayed. But the organization has either gotten greedy or forgotten its sacred and exclusive mission.
The Constitution is in my briefcase and bookmarked on my PDA and that ACLU card still in my wallet. I hope that Romero and his board wise up before I and many others discard them.