ACLU May Reverse Course on Campaign Finance Limits After Supreme Court Ruling - January 24, 2010 - The New York Sun
The first big impact of the Supreme Court’s decision lifting restrictions on certain corporation campaign spending may be at the American Civil Liberties Union, which, after years of opposing restrictions on free speech grounds, is convening this weekend to decide whether to reverse course and endorse government limits on campaign spending. The ACLU has long opposed government limits to how much a donor can give to a political campaign or spend airing advertisements on an issue during an election.
But Thursday’s Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v Federal Election Commission, which would enable corporations to spend freely on political causes, is forcing the ACLU to address what one internal memo describes as a "Skokie moment," a reference to the controversy in which the organization defended the right of American Nazis to march in the Chicago suburb of Skokie. The moment is often seen as one of the acid tests of the ACLU’s willingness to stick to its First Amendment principles.I hope that the ACLU stands up for its principles here and listens to Mr. Abrams. A change in course now would severely undermine their credibility.But a contrary view was expressed by another one of the invited attorneys, Floyd Abrams, who was one of the lawyers for the victorious side in Citizen’s United and who yesterday urged the ACLU not to change its position. Mr. Abrams warned that the organization would be allowing its political sensibilities to get the best of its principles. “The worst thing you could do – the absolutely worst thing you could do – is transform a civil liberties organization into a liberal political organization,” Mr. Abrams, one of the most famous First Amendment laywers in the country, told the board. Mr. Abrams pointed out that the ACLU had itself filed a brief in the Citizen's United case on behalf of the side that ultimately won. “There will be some people who think you’re a little fickle for changing your policy three days after one of the greatest victories in this organization,” Mr. Abrams said.