The national ACLU will turn 100 years old in 2020. Since 1920, the ACLU has promoted equality, protected our liberties, and defended justice for all. As we enter our second century, the ACLU boasts a strong affiliate presence in every state, including Maryland. But the recent mid-term elections have upped the ante.

The early years. From 1920 to the sixties the ACLU changed the social and political landscape with legal victories in front of receptive judges who felt constitutionally bound to protect racial, ethnic, religious, and political minorities from majority rule. But in the 1970’s the courts grew less protective of civil rights and liberties. The ACLU sought additional redress from the legislative branch and increasingly engaged the public.

This year saw a sea change in the legislative landscape. An overwhelming number of legislative bodies swung toward even more restrictions on voting rights and reproductive rights, government policies that confine the poorest children to dangerous inner city neighborhoods, a lack of due process that sends immigrant children back to the violence they fled, structural racism that results in a cradle to prison pipeline, and executive branch surveillance that is out of control. The midterm election results are both a bellwether of the legislative battles to come and a call to action for the ACLU: We must speak to the hearts and minds of the electorate, including those who brought the elected officials to power.

These times call for bold new steps. To counter well-funded civil liberties opponents, the ACLU needs to be as nimble in launching non-partisan public policy campaigns as we are in the courts and in our legislative efforts. The ACLU of Maryland aims to change hearts and minds on the public policies that matter most. We aim to address the legacy of slavery within the criminal justice, education, and government subsidized housing systems. We aim to reform the immigration system by ending unnecessary, inhumane, and costly detention of immigrants. And we aim to create a 21st Century Fourth Amendment that protects personal privacy and First Amendment freedoms of expression, association, and inquiry.

Our ACLU of Maryland goals complement the six following goals at the heart of the National ACLU’s audacious plan:

1. End mass incarceration

2. Establish a 21st century 4th Amendment

3. Reform the U.S. immigration system

4. Ensure an easy and equal right to vote for every citizen

5. Lift the scarlet letter from abortion

6. Achieve formal equality for LGBT people.

To this end, the ACLU and its affiliates are launching a Centennial Capital Campaign. We are excited. Our campaign work between now and the celebratory 100th birthday party includes rallying the troops—members, supporters, boards and staffers. The Capital Campaign will be unique in that every state affiliate and every supporter will contribute to it. It will be historic in size and significance.

We look forward to your partnership. Your principles, resolve, and generosity have made this moment of opportunity possible for the ACLU. Now, let us press forward across the nation, in the face of an extremely challenging climate, emphatically embracing the most consequential civil rights and civil liberties issues of our time.

Coleman Bazelon, Board President

Susan Goering, Executive Director

 

As 2015 draws to a close, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland prepares to celebrate its 85th year. Since March 8, 1931, the

ACLU of Maryland has been on a mission to breathe life into the U.S. Bill of Rights, the Maryland Declaration of Rights, and civil rights

laws. This year we reflect on lessons learned.

In 1931, no criminally accused person in any state court had the right to appointed counsel. Threats of lynching were rampant on

Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A fledgling Maryland ACLU represented Euel Lee, a Black man charged with murder, threatened with

lynching, and denied counsel. The ACLU won a change of venue, though sadly he was executed. The 1940s saw our first Supreme

Court case, in which we argued that Smith Betts, a Black man who was tried and found guilty of robbery, should have had benefit of

counsel. The court disagreed. Not until 1963 did it overturn Betts v. Brady.

Securing rights through the courts can be an important foundation for a civil rights movement. In 1939, the National ACLU convinced

the Supreme Court in the case Hague v. CIO that a ban on political meetings violated the First Amendment. That early First Amendment

case was a foundation for ACLU of Maryland victories in the 1960s and 1970s when we represented:

• Maryland Planned Parenthood, which was forced to cancel a meeting because the Catholic archdiocese objected;

• Protesters, including Jane Fonda, soliciting signatures on an anti-war petition among soldiers at Fort Meade;

• United Farm Workers picketing for a grape boycott;

• People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals protesting a circus;

• Students forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance;

• Homeowners touting political yard signs; and

• One fledgling filmmaker, John Waters, who was sprung from jail by ACLU Legal Counsel Elsbeth Bothe after filming a nude

scene for the film Mondo Trasho.

We’ve learned that it’s important to think big. Until the 1970s, our successes were largely modeled on vindicating individual rights.

But Maryland’s legacy of Jim Crow perpetuates institutional racism even in the absence of racist individuals. Beginning in the 1980s,

the ACLU mounted cases on behalf of thousands of Black Marylanders, addressing institutional racism:

• Challenging the state police policy of stopping motorists for “driving while black;”

• Securing more than $1.1 billion in additional state funding to help the state’s poorest children get educated;

• Pressing HUD to cease decades of discrimination against Black families in public housing;

• Bringing voting rights suits that enabled Black candidates on the Eastern Shore to win elected seats for the first time.

ACLU founder Roger Baldwin warned “No battle for civil liberties ever stays won.” The ACLU of Maryland was birthed amid abuses of

power. Now we face new abuses in the form of police-involved killings, lack of police accountability, government secrecy, and more.

We are actors in a rerun, with many rights won in previous generations now threatened again. ACLU stands on the front lines, strong

and edified by lessons learned over 85 years.

Coleman Bazelon, Board President

 

Susan Goering, Executive Director

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