After statement saying white supremacist violence isn’t free speech, are CA ACLU branches breaking rank?
The American Civil Liberties Union has been in the spotlight since the beginning of the Trump administration as the major legal organization pushing back against some of its more controversial policies, like the president’s travel ban. But their recent defense of white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia has many questioning their long-standing philosophy of advocating for First Amendment rights, even for hate groups.
On Thursday, three branches of the ACLU of California released a joint statement saying that while they support freedom of speech, “the First Amendment does not protect people who incite or engage in violence.” Though it does not say so in as many words, some are viewing this as the California branches breaking step with the national branch. Others found the statement strange, saying that it’s obvious that violence isn’t speech and that assembly must be allowed regardless of the potential for violence or incitement.
What do you think of the California ACLU branches’ statement? What about the national branch’s decision to go to court for the right of the white supremacists to protest? As a major legal organization that has helped shape much of modern First Amendment application, what is its role in this situation?
We reached out to the three ACLU California branches who issued the joint statement. The ACLU of Southern California was not available for the show today. We also reached out to the national branch of the ACLU, which did not respond in time for the airing of our segment but did send us this statement from ACLU executive director Anthony D. Romero:
“We agree with every word in the statement from our colleagues in California. The First Amendment absolutely does not protect white supremacists seeking to incite or engage in violence. We condemn the views of white supremacists, and fight against them every day. At the same time, we believe that even odious hate speech, with which we vehemently disagree, garners the protection of the First Amendment when expressed non-violently. We make decisions on whom we'll represent and in what context on a case-by-case basis. The horrible events in Charlottesville last weekend will certainly inform those decisions going forward.”
Eugene Volokh, professor of law at UCLA