Campaign To Oust ACLU Leaders Encounters Resistance

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The New York Sun

A new campaign to oust the leadership of the ACLU is encountering resistance from some former leaders of the organization. About 30 people with longtime ties to the group launched a Web site yesterday, www.Savetheaclu.org, aimed at replacing the ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, and its president, Nadine Strossen. A statement posted on the site complains about “breaches of principle” by the organization, including a recently shelved effort that critics described as an attempt to limit public criticism by board members.

“The ACLU now stands exposed, and widely ridiculed, for repeatedly acting in contempt of its own core principles, and for chilling and even attempting to prohibit dissent within its own ranks,” the statement said. The dissident group includes a former executive director of the ACLU, Ira Glasser, and a former head of the group’s New York chapter, Norman Siegel. Now, other prominent figures in ACLU history are stepping forward to denounce the rebels and voice confidence in Mr. Romero and Ms. Strossen.

“The organization has been excellent over the last five years,” a former ACLU president, Norman Dorsen, said in an interview last night. “There have probably been mistakes from time to time, but there have always been mistakes.”

Mr. Dorsen said personal disputes with specific ACLU officials explained the involvement of many of those on the dissident roster. “They built this into a controversy of cosmic proportions when in my opinion the organization is sound and it’s unjustified to make these calls for their removal,” he said. Mr. Dorsen said those signing a letter backing the ACLU leadership included a former executive director of the group, Aryeh Neier, a former legal director, Burt Neuborne, and three former legislative directors, John Shattuck, Morton Halperin, and Laura Murphy. A North Carolina attorney who is among those calling for change, James Ferguson II, wrote to his colleagues Monday explaining his decision to leave the group’s board after 18 years.”I no longer feel that meaningful change can come from the current leadership in the present circumstance,” he said in a letter obtained by The New York Sun.

Mr. Ferguson complained of “a pattern of errant conduct” by Mr. Romero, including cooperation with federal government efforts to have the ACLU refuse assistance to those on a “watch list” of alleged terrorists and supporters of terrorism. Mr. Ferguson rejected the dissident label, describing the rebels as “loyalists” seeking to reaffirm the organization’s tolerance for internal and external dissent.

A spokeswoman for the ACLU, Emily Whitfield, said the group’s recent activism against perceived excesses in the war on terror belies the allegations of mismanagement. The activation of the Web site was first reported yesterday by the New York Times.


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