July 15th, 2004


healthy debate

The ACLU is theoretically nonpartisan. Really, it's mostly a bunch of liberals who are committed to protecting the rights of people with other political views just as much as protecting their own rights. There are conservatives and Republicans in the ACLU membership, but I'd be surprised if they're more than about 1 out of 5.

Nevertheless, the ACLU as an organization makes an honest effort to be nonpartisan, and it gets fascinating at times. And so, at about this time last week, at the ACLU's national conference, I was watching a debate on 1st Amendment issues with these panelists:
  • NPR correspondent Ina Jaffe
  • ACLU president Nadine Strossen
  • Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State
  • Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president/CEO of the NRA
  • ... and right wing jurist Kenneth Starr (yes, the guy who hounded Clinton to impeachment)
One of my favorite moments came during the discussion of the McCain-Feingold campaign reform law, which among other things bans organizations that are not PACs or candidate campaigns from running any ads mentioning political candidates, within 60 days of an election. Of course this law doesn't cover the likes of CNN, NPR, or Fox from talking about candidates, because they do "news"... but in the USA, you don't have to be licensed to be a journalist. So the NRA set up its own regular newscast, NRA News, to test this law against the 1st Amendment, and Wayne LaPierre was talking about that. Nadine Strossen chimed in to say that the ACLU ought to be able to run an ad shortly before the election urging Bush and Kerry to commit to amend the USA PATRIOT Act, but this law would make that illegal. Her husband had asked her if the ACLU was going to do it anyway, to challenge the law, and she told him that as an officer of the ACLU, she would potentially be subject to up to 3 years in jail. Was it worth the risk? Her husband said "yes!". Ken Starr interjected, offerring to defend her, pro-bono.

If you want to watch the whole thing, there's streaming video available at the ACLU conference web site - the 1st Amendment panel is one of the videos available through the July 8th videos link.