American Criminal Liberties Union
I am going to assume that most people can agree that America's population is found across a vast political spectrum. From libertarians and liberals to moderates and conservatives we find each other across a broad field on ideas and issues. Many times we can all agree that certain things are problems within society yet be on the opposite extremes on how to solve that problem. One of the problems of society that most people can agree on is that of crime. The solution to reducing this problem most likely is found somewhere in the middle and not the extremes.
One of the purposes of the Constitution is to ensure domestic tranquility. Due process, the Fifth Amendment right, is a procedural right, one that defines the methods that can properly be used to ensure domestic tranquility. Without both, there can be no liberty. Domestic tranquility can easily be achieved without respect for due process, as dictatorships throughout history have shown. It is also quite possible to have a society where due process is respected-even considered sacrosanct-and still lack for domestic tranquility. The latter predicament more closely resembles the situation in the United States today.Source
The ACLU in its extreme ideals of society unravels due process from the reasons it was created to serve. The ACLU maintains that it is their purpose to ensure due process and the police to tend to domestic tranquility. I agree that the roles should be separate. I think the opposite would be an invitation to disaster. The ACLU's sincerity in their statement might be more believable if, as we shall show, they were not so often in opposition of law enforcement. It is generally accepted that domestic tranquility is absolutely necessary to the process of liberty. What is often less understood is how the exclusive concern for due process can also be damaging to liberty.
I think we can all agree on how important domestic tranquility is to maintaining liberty. What good are all of our freedoms if we are afraid to practice them? The only liberties worth having are ones that we can enjoy without fear. This simply can't be done if a society is filled with crime and violence.
The ACLU do not share these moderate views on society. They have a much more extreme viewpoint.
"According to the ACLU," writes Jeffrey Leeds, "there is no right to live in a quiet or pleasant society, but there is a right to speak, to seek to persuade, to have unpopular or even stupid views. Moreover, there is no right even to live in a safe society. The ACLU will work to vindicate a convicted criminal's rights to due process, even if it means setting a killer free."Source
Leeds isn't exaggerating. One ACLU official Dorothy Ehrlich can be quoted as saying, "the citizens' need to be 'free from criminal activity'....is not, in the legal sense, a 'right' at all (and thus is nowhere mentioned in the Bill of Rights) but, rather, an essential social good, like fire prevention, or adequate medical care, or the prevention of famine." Source
Funny that an official from the ACLU is stating that if a right isn't mentioned in the Constitution then it isn't a right at all. After all, this is the organization that defends abortion on demand, and the sale of child porn. These are not mentioned in the Constitution either.
The ACLU's skewed views toward crime can also be seen in its approach toward crime victims. The ACLU has shown very little interest in the rights of crime victims. When it comes down to it, the rights of criminals seem to always override the rights of the victims. For example, the ACLU opposes the use of a crime victim impact statement in capital sentencing because it "unconstitutionally requires consideration of factors which have no bearing on the defendant's responsibility or guilt." Of course the courts have ruled otherwise.
While the ACLU says they have our liberty as its mission, its policies in the area of criminal justice have only aggravated and accelerated the already terrible problems of maintaining domestic tranquility. Their opposition to the death penalty doesn't bother me by itself. It is the ACLU general attitude toward criminal justice as a whole that I deem dangerous. Throughout its history it has fought many court battles to:
Eliminate all prison sentencing from criminal judicial procedure except in a few "extreme" cases of utter incorrigibility-and only then as the penalty of last resort.Source
Let me briefly interrupt my list for a little perspective on this particular policy.
In conjunction with their opposition to the death penalty in all cases this particular policy is quite disturbing to me. It would seem that the ACLU wants rehabilitation and probation to be the primary means of preventing crime in all but the most extreme cases.
"Deprivation of an individual's physical freedom is one of the most severe interferences with liberty that the state can impose. Moreover, imprisonment is harsh, frequently counterproductive, and costly." This explains why the ACLU holds that "a suspended sentence with probation should be the preferred sentence, to be chosen generally unless the circumstances plainly call for greater severity." The Union favors alternative sentencing and lists the reintegration of the offender into the community as "the most appropriate correctional approach." Here's the clincher: "probation should be authorized by the legislature in every case and exceptions to the principle are not favored." Prior to 1991, when this policy was revised, the Union said that only such serious crimes as "murder or treason" should qualify as exceptions. The explicit referencing of those two crimes was deleted because of the public embarrassment it caused the organization.Source
Let us continue with the list:
Disallow capital punishment in any and all situations as a violation of the constitution's "cruel and unusual punishment" clause;
Discredit deterrence as a basis for incarceration;
Oppose rehabilitative confinement;
Block all sentencing guidelines that seek restitution to the victims of criminal behavior;
Mandate suspended sentences with probation as the primary form of "treatment" for criminal offenders;
Restrict all court sentencing discretion through the legislative process or direct judicial intervention in trial proceedings-thus severely crippling the principle of trial by jury;
Eliminate all mandatory sentencing laws;
Facilitate mandatory early parole and release programs;
And, oppose new construction or expansion of jails, prisons, and detention centers. Source
In addition the ACLU is also involved in limiting the power of law enforcement to maintain domestic tranquility:
Severely restrict search and arrest procedures even when evidence of guilt is available;
Hinder protective or corrective police action at crime scenes;
Invalidate airport bomb detectors, drunk driving checkpoints, periodic or random drug screening, and other preventative security measures;
Prohibit the free exchange of criminal records between law enforcement agencies;
Limit even the most sound and non-prejudicial police interrogation and investigation techniques;
Institute national or regional bureaucratic control over law enforcement agencies-thus effectively, removing local accountability;
Severely restrict riot control, swat team, and antiterrorist activities and efforts;
Make most surveillance operations, stakeout procedures, and community crackdowns illegal;
Prohibit the eviction of drug dealers and other incorrigibles from public housing projects;
Deregulate and decriminalize all "victimless crimes"-such as prostitution, drug use and abuse, gambling, sodomy, or the production , exhibition, and sale of vile and obscene materials-despite the proven link between such vices and serious crime.Source
There is one recommendation that the ACLU makes on how to stem crime: strong gun control legislation. It adopted its first gun-control policy in the late sixties which was actually pretty reasonable. For the sake of brevity on such a broad topic I will not quote it. Suffice it to say that most of today's liberals would not agree with it.
In 1971 the Union took the position that the ownership of guns, any guns, aside from guns owned by the militia, was not constitutionally protected.Source
The ACLU's policy towards the second amendment is:
“The ACLU agrees with the Supreme Court’s long-standing interpretation of the Second Amendment [as set forth in the 1939 case, U.S. v. Miller] that the individual’s right to bear arms applies only to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia. Except for lawful police and military purposes, the possession of weapons by individuals is not constitutionally protected. Therefore, there is no constitutional impediment to the regulation of firearms.”
It is strange for the ACLU to use such a dated ruling as precedent, when many more recent cases have ruled otherwise.
The ACLU's approach to crime, its prevention, and punishment clearly are not in the mainstream opinion of most Americans. The organization has consistently been an adversary of law enforcement. The Union's perspective is almost entirely focused on the criminal which makes many people conclude that rather being a defender of civil liberties, the ACLU is actually the champion of criminal liberties.
Roger Baldwin once actually admitted that he could not in good conscience serve on a jury because he simply "would never take part in convicting anyone." When asked how society could possibly continue to exist without some sort of penal justice system, eh tersely snapped, "That's your problem."Source
The ACLU's pandering to criminals, lack of interest in true victims, and opposition to law enforcement are not solutions to society's burden with crime. I advise everyone to use common sense, and not to follow the extreme positions of the ACLU when it comes to preventing and punishing crime.