Friday, February 3, 2017

ACLU Papers Now Available Online

With the ACLU in the news recently and likely for the foreseeable future, you might be interested to learn more about the organization's history. 

Papers from the collection of the American Civil Liberties Union are now available to researchers through a database provided by GaleCengage. American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990 [UW Restricted], a collection of clippings, client and member correspondence, case files, legal briefs, and administrative documents, will be interesting to law students who want to dig deeper into the history of some of the most-studied constitutional law cases of the 20th century.

main page of the ACLU database

The ACLU has been involved in cases that address such varied issues as free speech, the separation of church and state, the scope of presidential power, antiwar protest and conscientious objection, civil rights, LGBT rights, and constitutional criminal procedure. The database provides access to artifacts of that storied history. 

While the search functionality of the database is not particularly user-friendly if you are looking for a specific document, it is fun to browse through the offerings related to particular subjects or cases of interest. Users can create accounts to save particular documents and to tag the documents for the benefit of other researchers. 

Here are a couple examples of what you can find using the database: 

Before she was a Supreme Court justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg co-founded the Women's Rights Project at the ACLU in 1972 and became General Counsel in 1973. She was involved with six gender discrimination cases argued before the Supreme Court in the 1970s, including Craig v. Boren, in which the Court held that distinctions on the basis of gender would be subject to intermediate scrutiny under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The amicus brief written by Ginsburg is available in the database, as is a report co-written by Ginsburg in 1974 on the legal status of women under federal law. 

cover page of RBG's report on the status of women under federal law

In 1977, the ACLU was involved in the controversial First Amendment case National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. The ACLU defended a group of neo-Nazis' right to hold a demonstration in a town park because the Skokie ordinance was very broad and would have restricted any group's assembly rights, not just Nazis'. Much of the ACLU's membership was outraged by the organization's perceived support of a white supremacist organization. In the database, you can look at a memo that detailed the extent of the financial crisis experienced by the ACLU as a result of donor drop-off. There is also the solicitation letter written by the lead counsel on the Skokie case explaining the ACLU's reasons for taking the case and encouraging donors to support the ACLU so that it could continue to do its work. 

From Brandenburg v. Ohio to Loving v. Virginia, from Terry v. Ohio to the Scopes Trial, documents from some of the most famous cases of the 20th century are now available for further exploration.  


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