The ACLU in the Trump Era - Trumpcast | Listen Notes

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Jacob Weisberg talks to Nadine Strossen, former president of the ACLU, about the mission of the ACLU in the Trump era and whether it's causing any tension in the organization.

Plus, John Di Domenico returns with the tweets.

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IN THIS EPISODE

TRANSCRIPT

00:00:00leave soon Republican presidents we've sued democratic presidents we sued the bushes we sued Clinton we sued Obama so in that respect you know we will soon postado there's a huge growth of ACLU membership we produce hold our numbers you will have to contend with the full fire power
00:00:21of the see all you at your every step we're we're in for the fight of our lives we've never seen anything like this are ninety six year history it's times like this when organizations like ours are so critical hello and welcome to trump cast the show about the
00:00:42big man getting played by little rocket mad Donald Trump I'm Jacob Weisberg today show with about the ACLU the American civil liberties union I'm worried about what's happening there not because of anything Donald Trump is doing directly but in large part as a consequence of his election we'd
00:01:03be a feel you in trouble you say the organization appears to be thriving because of trial is in the forefront of fighting him on issues like the travel ban and family separation donations and supporter pouring in because the ACLU is in its own words standing up to trump's
00:01:20war on a quality I worry that the new members and their new money maybe making the ACLU more political and less about the neutral principles embodied in the bill of rights I don't want to see the A. feel you become just another anti trump organization but there are
00:01:37signs that the new supporters are shifting into orbit at least a little for the first time the ACLU is getting involved in elections around the country IT spending twenty five million dollars on campaign ads around November races and ballot initiatives and since the neo **** rally in Charlottesville
00:01:54last year the ACLU has been reconsidering its free speech defense of white supremacists a committee chaired by the legal director David Cole you've heard it before on the show recently sent out a memo to affiliate offices advising them on how to weigh speech rights against its commitment to
00:02:12equality for marginalized groups to me that member reads like a shift in the organization thinking even though Colin others argue that it isn't one of the things that distinguishes the United States even from other liberal democracies is the first amendment our constitution places the highest value on freedom
00:02:31of expression even for those his belief we detest Mike in western Europe we don't have hate speech laws here they're unconstitutional short of infighting actual violence you can't be punished for expressing any opinion what's extraordinary about the ACLU is its nearly century long commitment to defending that core
00:02:51principle even for extremists **** communists the KKK flag burners what have you but today the ACLU values are under attack from the left as well as the right a generation of younger social justice warriors doesn't support the first amendment as reflexively of my generation does many of them
00:03:12regarded as cover for inequality oppression or white supremacy this shift in thinking in the trump era put the organization in jeopardy I'll be back to discuss that with former a fuel you president Nadine Strossen right after we do the tweets Twitter is getting read a fake it counts
00:03:35at a record pace will that include the fairly day at times and the propaganda machine for Amazon The Washington Post who consistently quote anonymous sources that in my opinion don't exist they will both be out of this dish it said they public opinion has turned struggling against the
00:04:00great weight Chad and the special alert counsel because the public understands that there was no collusion with Russia so ridiculous that they do at B. I. lovers where a fraud against our nation and that the only solution was with the dams the rate at which I originally had
00:04:28it by be I lover both and now thirteen angry Democrats should look into the missing DNC server cooking Ellery legal deleted the Pakistani fraudster uranium wide but pastor and so much more it is a democratic con job I have jobs that age that Kim Jong un under the
00:04:59contract we signed and even more importantly we agree to the D. nuclear is a ship of North Korea China on the other hand may be exerting negative pressure on the deal because our pastor China trade hope that I'll be back with more trump cast right after this message
00:05:31from today's sponsor this third rate character named Sasha Baron cone I only wish that you would have been punched in the face so many times right now I'd be in a hospital we allowed this guy to get away with so much disgraceful he ought to be fired immediately
00:05:46that guy had nothing he's not capable Sasha Baron cone go to school learn about being funny you don't know man this ad was paid for by the people that ask who is America and it works as a previous message I'm joined on the line by the dean Strawson
00:06:05she's a professor at New York law school and the former president of the ACLU her new book is hate why we should resist it with free speech not censorship Nadine welcome to the show thank you so much for having me take up so I wanted to have you
00:06:19want to talk about whether there's been a change at the ACLU in the age of trump and if so what it is an so guten Ideen that this issue comes up because of a of a document that was originally leaked from the A. feel you it is so
00:06:35I'm I've got it in front of me it's called a feel you K. for wax and guidelines conflicts between competing values our priorities and as I understand it this document went out to the regional ACLU office says it's a product of the ACLU staff not the ACLU board
00:06:53on but it basically he says here the questions we should ask when deciding whether to take on cases balancing issues of first amendment rights free speech on the one hand and kind of social justice on the other is that the right way to understand what I'm looking at
00:07:11here at not exactly Jacob and I am very familiar with that document which what I read %HESITATION before it was generally published because I had coursed down extremely committed I say of course from the title of my book extremely committed to the ACLU's traditional long standing position of
00:07:32neutral you defending all civil liberties for all people regardless of who they are regardless of what they believe and even if they are exercising their right to advocate anti civil liberties views so I was very concerned that the ACLU not succumb to the push back we always get
00:07:54out whenever we defend free speech and other rights for anti civil libertarians we certainly had a huge pushback before might I'm in the Skokie case in the late nineteen seventies %HESITATION there was another push back more recently in two thousand seventeen after defending free speech rights for all
00:08:14right demonstrators in Charlottesville Virginia and this document Sir interview this read this document I if I understand it really comes out of the post Charlottesville reaction and the unhappiness of a lot of ACLU supporters with the position the ACL took in that case right exactly and I think
00:08:35not so much the position the ACLU took Jacob as whether it was an appropriate use of the ACLU's resources in other words there was a suggestion that they are first amendment principles were long more rock debt on people who have people abuse should still have freedom to express
00:08:54those views and and the reason it's you know this will sound like %HESITATION technical distinction but the reason that this document was not adopted by the ACLU's national board of directors which fat Halsey for the organization but instead of by the staff which implemented board policy is precisely
00:09:19because there was no change in policy there wasn't even an effort to get the board to change it standards for taking cases so %HESITATION the issue in that these guidelines address is not whether we should take a particular case but if so how that he should be handled
00:09:41in a way to maximize public understanding of the critically important principle at stake and minimize the misunderstanding that somehow the ACLU is affirmatively championing the you know death a couple views as a long time supporter of the show you did the reading the document it did read different
00:10:05to me from what I understood the ACLU is positioned to be I'm and I'll read you just a a passage that kind of jumped out at me it's in deciding how to use their limited resources no civil liberties are civil rights value should automatically be privileged over any
00:10:20other there is no presumption that the first amendment trumps all other amendments or vice versa I mean does the ACLU not think that the first amendment comes first I with that with what I always understood the ACLU to be all about yeah and that's really a misunderstanding outside
00:10:38because our mission from the beginning has been to disband all fundamental freedoms for all people are to the maximum extent and often are shouldn't they often but regularly there are situations where multiple civil liberties are somewhat in tension with each other including various first amendment freedoms so for
00:11:03example there are often complex between free speech concerns and privacy concerns between free speech concerns and religious freedom concerns including %HESITATION separation of church and state and the ACLU's responsibility is to do to the best of our ability what government is supposed to do which is to not
00:11:26automatically elevate one of those rights over the other but to accommodate and respect all of them as much as possible and I think that's it's critically important to have an organization that does that Jacob there are many organizations and many individuals who staunchly automatically well for for free
00:11:46speech when for example is the conflict between first amendment let's say right of access to information and transparency on the one hand versus individual privacy on the other hand my friends on in the first amendment bar and in press organizations and media organizations pretty reflexively if not automatically
00:12:06would prefer first amendment rights art conversely my friends in the privacy community organizations such as epic electronic privacy information center will pretty much automatically prefer privacy and there's a special credibility that the ACLU can bring to these debates when we do our best to honor all of the
00:12:29civil liberties concerns at stake so how did the ACLU and up the defending the **** in Skokie actually case my father was involved in as an ACLU lawyer in Chicago or the Brandenburg case where they defended %HESITATION the ACLU defended the klu Klux Klan speaker I mean if
00:12:48you're balancing the first amendment again see the other civil rights how can such extreme views be worthy of of defense if what if the goal of the speaker is to suppress the read the rights of minorities and and and thank you for your father for his wonderful contribution
00:13:08I know times were very hard especially for the lawyers on the ground in in Illinois there was enormous our resistance and criticism very painful on personal criticism CCS you you I think they lost about half their membership and leading Argo not quite yet did lose fifteen percent of
00:13:27our members which shows the will hack of support for free speech when even the members of such a Die Hard free speech organization ought would abandon that saying we believe in free speech axapta this is the exception we want to draw and I by the way I I
00:13:46will come back to your specific question Jacob but this is why I think the guidelines are so important because they were it %HESITATION giving strategies for maximizing public understanding we are not defending the **** now in that case in Brandenburg we were not defending the KKK message we
00:14:08were defending a neutral principle which is especially important for the rights of minority groups but we really haven't done as good a job as we should on the public education information aspect of the work now %HESITATION circling back here one of your questions Jacob defending the freedom of
00:14:32speech at such a robust concept of freedom of speech that it would extend to even hateful and hated ideas was ultimately he's Sentul for effectively advocating equality rights and all of the countervailing concerns so that you know you argue said how if the civil liberties organization looks at
00:14:55the potential impact of this speech on equality rights wouldn't you not defend the speech but we look at it from a more abstract position it's not the particular speech in the particular case that that state but it's the principle that government may not pick and choose to suppress
00:15:16ideas just because in a particular community at a particular time they are hated and despised that will undermine our equality rights and the speech and organizations of minority groups especially everything you're saying but I'm just not convinced that these guidelines don't reflect a change that's happening at the
00:15:39ACLU I'm in in response to this league they're a bunch of pieces Wendy Kamin or who is a former board member of the ACLU publicist this criticism of the Wall Street journal and then I wrote Glasser who was the director for a very long time I think overlapping
00:15:56with the time you were at the ACLU said he you know he thought there was really something going on here and there the response from David call the legal director of the ACLU sort of taking your position that nothing to see here he described as or well yeah
00:16:11and I thought why never mind me why the people who know the ACLU is intimately as you do some of them think that there is a departure here in terms of the supremacy of the first amendment in the ACLU hierarchy well let me tell his his Jacob I
00:16:29during the many years that I was on the ACLU national board I was first elected to read in nineteen eighty the race so I'm definitely a member of the so called old guard right %HESITATION who very much %HESITATION you stayed in touch I'm a member of the national
00:16:47Advisory Council now as well %HESITATION the ACLU national board had eighty more than eighty members it's small somewhat smaller but still extremely large and even if it was small you know the executive committee was small there was it later vent vigorous both their first debate and this agreement
00:17:09and the sat on virtually every issue and likewise within %HESITATION stance discussions so you know it's not at all knew it would be extraordinary to have a group of civil libertarians who were not disagreeing with each other including over such fundamental matters as whether we are being true
00:17:30to our founding ideals and how to interpret the founding ideals you can tell me why I'm wrong here but my read on this from the outside is that there is at least the tension between the staff which I assume is younger or more tied into the social justice
00:17:48community and more sympathetic to the view that there can be something repressive and hegemonic about free speech that the tension between the staff you with reflected in this document and the boards traditional view which is the is less about that it is him is more about the Skokie
00:18:09case Brandenburg I'm more something closer to an absolute a few of the first moment nothing nothing to that I think there may be something to that Jacob but the reason why I'm not whole heartedly endorsing that hypothesis is that every survey that I have seen of of people
00:18:30in every generation throughout the decades that these surveys have been done show at least close to a majority and some years substantially more than a majority who believe that so called hate speech should not be constitutionally protected again let's go back to Skokie way back in nineteen seventy
00:18:51seven to seventy eight one fifteen percent of our members who were not particularly young membership of did not scare young man on a fifteen percent some were abandoning the organization rather than stand up for that perspective so I think the hypothesis that there's something especially unsympathetic to free
00:19:15speech about the younger generation including within the ACLU I just I have reservations about that but believe me the only reason I wrote my book is that for me if you know there's anybody who disagrees with that position I want to have the opportunity to persuade them and
00:19:33on the positive and I'll pick up you know the positive part of what you said the younger generation across the board not only an ACLU staff on on campuses is showing wonderful only increased support for human rights equal rights equal dignity diversity and and therefore we've seen an
00:19:55unprecedented surge in campus activism in support of those equal justice and social justice causes and that is wonderful and it is clear to me that day along with most of the public did not sufficiently understand because it kind of paradoxical how can defending freedom for this hateful speaker
00:20:16possibly not undermine the cause of defeating hate and and that's why I felt moved to try to make the case which I am more convinced than ever that well intended as censorship might be it actually does more harm than good to all of those cherished causes Leslie deny
00:20:37when asked about Donald Trump's effect on the ACLU obviously there has been a huge outpouring of support for the organization's principles %HESITATION it's gotten tons of new members kind of contributions there's a danger with organizations that find themselves in that kind of position in one of the danger
00:20:58is that the organization can end up reflecting what this these new members in this new money wants rather than its core principles I would worry about that a little bit if I were the ACLU that that with trump that you know it's it can be sort of too
00:21:15much of a good thing you have all these new people but they're not necessarily committed in the same way to the ACLU's neutral principles they want you to stand up and fight Donald Trump on and on everything is that is that an issue at the ACLU and how
00:21:29the ACLU dealing with that I think that is absolutely concerned and I should say to show that I really put my money where my mouth is in terms of defending free speech for ideas I disagree with I actually welcome the push back that people like IRA Glasser and
00:21:45Wendy Kaminer are disseminating because I think it helps to keep the ACLU true to its mission throughout my long involvement with the organization Jacob we were out regularly seen infusions of support from people who join us because of one particular issue and that particular issue is usually in
00:22:08body by a particular official who is seen as being an arch enemy of civil liberties Richard Nixon being one Ronald Reagan and his Attorney General ed Meese Robert Bork nominated to the Supreme Court so forth and we will typically have a surge in membership then dies off when
00:22:28the particular so called bogeyman %HESITATION the visible threat to civil liberties stayed out of public consciousness and then the public realizes well you're not an anti Reagan organization or anti Nixon organization you're going back to your I mean you're scared hearing to your your neutral mission %HESITATION and
00:22:48and then what tends to happen is not that they change the ACLU but they leave even if the ACLU so I think we are I thought you were going to say is there a risk that you build the budget on this assumption that you're going to continue to
00:23:00have vast increase support and that's the risk to the head falls out of danger yet I have enormous confidence in in Anthony's %HESITATION %HESITATION it not only adherence to principles but his stewardship on exactly that kind of financial and long term planning and structural issues on the one
00:23:21hand you're talking about Anthony Romero I should just let our listeners know who's easy your successor as president of the ACLU he is the executive director again to get into the weeds of the organization the president is it what other organizations call the chair of the board and
00:23:37non paid non staff position the CEO who is in charge of the day to day operations of the organization is the executive director on that Anthony Romero I hired him at I requested was the executive director when I became president he retired and then the board are retained
00:23:59are hired Anthony as his successor got you well it does sound like a place that has interesting board meetings I expect they are not in the least bit dull may I tell you take a when I was elected president of the %HESITATION New York times did one of
00:24:13these people the news profiles and and the pull quote was something that I had said in my presidential campaign it was at just shortly after Michael Dukakis had been attacked by George W. bush George HW bush in the presidential election of nineteen eighty eight at Bob bush called
00:24:33Dukakis a card carrying member of the ACLU and that was very stigmatizing so in my election speech to the board I said I wanted to emphasize the American in American civil liberties union corny but true and my husband who had seen Manny storm a knock down drag out
00:24:52fight that the national board said I wish you would emphasize the civil liberties union not lately well thank you very much I've been speaking to Nadine Strossen she is a long time of figure with long time president at the ACLU and her new book is he why we
00:25:11should resist it with free speech not censorship Nadine thanks for joining me on the show today thank you for hosting me take a that's it for today's show Comcast was produced by Jason deli owned John Deere the medico it's our voice of Donald Trump follow with at real
00:25:34trump cast we want to catch at real Donald Trump we've only got like forty seven million more followers to go help us out I'm Jacob Weisberg thanks for listening to trump cast dot EDU for Brussels it's not only a country it's a vegetable isn't that incredible

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ABOUT THIS PODCAST

A quasi-daily podcast from Slate chronicling Donald Trump's rise to the presidency and his current administration. Jacob Weisberg, chairman of Slate, along with Slate chief political correspondent Jamelle Bouie, and the writer Virginia Heffernan, will be talking to journalists, historians, psychiatrists, and other experts to help explain who this man is and why this is happening, right now, in the United States of America.
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