Before Criticizing a Group, It Helps To Get One's Facts Straight:

One commenter on my earlier ACLU post writes:

The ACLU may not be a criminal organization but it is certainly dishonest. It is not looking out for the interests of Americans, just a select group of Americans. The ACLU stood silent through decades of speech codes and 'verbal harassment' regulations on American campuses, all aimed toward non-liberal voices. It supports gender and racial discrimination, including outright quota systems. It excuses violations of the Constitution against non preferred groups while pretending to protect everyone's rights.

First, while I strongly disagree with the ACLU's position favoring race and sex preferences, I don't think this position is dishonest. There's a perfectly credible argument that discrimination against historically disfavored groups should be judged under a different constitutional rule than discrimination against historically favored groups. Again, I think this argument is mistaken, but reasonable minds can surely differ about this -- and one can certainly look out for the interests of Americans generally (for instance, as to the Fourth Amendment, Sixth Amendment, and the like) and yet take the view that discrimination against some groups is worse than discrimination against others. The ACLU is wrong here, but not dishonest.

Second, the ACLU most certainly did not stand silent as to campus speech codes. In Iota Xi v. GMU, the first federal court of appeals case striking down college speech codes (in 1993), the ACLU of Virginia filed an amicus brief in favor of the plaintiffs, who were punished for putting on a skit in blackface. According to a Nat Hentoff column -- and Hentoff has long been a vocal opponent of speech codes -- the two earlier district court cases that ultimately struck down campus speech codes, in Michigan and in Wisconsin, were filed by local ACLU affiliates.

In Newsom v. Albemarle County School Bd., a 2003 court of appeals, the ACLU backed a high school student's right to wear an NRA T-shirt (surely a "non-liberal voice[]"). For another recent example of an ACLU chapter's interceding on behalf of allegedly racially offensive speakers, see here. And the national ACLU's 1994 position statement on the subject condemns campus speech codes; I believe the national ACLU's anti-speech-code policy was adopted in 1991 (though there was a good deal of dissent within the ACLU about it, especially, I'm told, in the California chapters).

One can (and, in my view, often should) disagree with the ACLU's substantive positions. One can criticize them as dishonest, if one can really point to actual dishonesty, rather than just substantive disagreement. But if one is to criticize them, one should first make sure that one's own arguments are factually accurate.