ACLU Legal Director Speaks at USC Gould School of Law

David Cole, the new legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), inherited an entirely different job than he had expected. 2017 was supposed to be the year in which the first female president of the United States was welcomed into office. Her liberally minded Supreme Court nominee would tip the scales in favor of civil rights organizations such as the one Mr. Cole now represents. As everyone now knows, events took a different turn entirely, and as a result the ACLU now faces the reality of a highly contentious travel ban and what is likely to become a conservative Supreme Court.

Mr. Cole visited the USC Gould School of Law on Thursday, February 9th, 2017; the day on which a Federal Court in the 9th Circuit unanimously refused to reinstate the President’s travel ban. The organization challenging the ban? The ACLU, of course. Mr. Cole explained how the ACLU was founded and went from shunning the courts to becoming the most prominent legal assistance provider in the civil rights field. Civil rights were not commonly enforced in courts, until all of a sudden, the ACLU started winning cases. The organization now manages a budget of around 140 million dollars.

Nevertheless, Mr. Cole reminded his audience that “the real moving force of constitutional law is the people, organized through institutions that care about particular constitutional values”. This point of view allows for optimism, as people want to be engaged like never before. The ACLU now counts over a million members, with an average contribution of $79. Protests such as those at various international airports throughout the country as well as the Women’s March are movements organized by the people; not a litigator with a clever argument.

What does Mr. Cole think the coming years have in store for us? An increasing amount of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, fourth amendment (right to privacy) concerns, and increasing levels of discrimination in general. Nevertheless, the desire of beneficiaries under the U.S. constitution to be engaged would help give organizations like the ACLU the power to fight back and protect the civil liberties at stake.

“We’re at the beginning of a movement. It’s going to involve a lot of organizations. We can’t do it alone”. Mr. Cole clearly conveyed a message to his audience that public activism and the democratic roots of the constitution are the key to changing the views of the public, which is what brings about necessary changes to the landscape of constitutional law.