This year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is celebrating its 100th birthday. That’s a hundred years of defending Americans’ most fundamental rights. A hundred years of safeguarding our freedom and liberty. A hundred years of working really hard! But the ACLU isn’t easing into some sort of comfortable retirement. No, they’re just as vital and engaged as ever—which is good, because it’s hard to think of a time when we’ve needed them more.
To honor the ACLU in their centenary year, we thought we’d highlight a few of the most amazing things they've done to promote justice. Honestly, this wasn’t an easy task—there’s a lot to choose from! Have a look at our list and, when you’re done, why not take a moment to wish the ACLU a very happy birthday? We’re sure they’d appreciate hearing from you.
1. Holding the Trump Administration Accountable
The ACLU is battling the Trump Administration on multiple fronts (they’ve filed about 170 lawsuits against the administration so far)—but we’ll focus here on President Trump’s plans to roll back protections for trans people throughout the US government. When he announced a ban on trans people serving in the military, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to reverse it. A federal court agreed in 2017 to halt the implementation of the ban, but the Supreme Court ruled in 2019 that the ban could go forward. That was definitely a setback, but the ACLU’s lawsuit is still working its way through the courts. We all need to join the struggle for trans rights and encourage the Senate to pass the Equality Act.
2. Fighting Voter Suppression
The ACLU won a huge victory in 2016 when a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s absurdly harsh voter-suppression law. The law made it harder for people of color in particular to vote, including through tactics like imposing new voter ID requirements, reducing voting days, and eliminating same-day registrations. In fact, the court said that the law had targeted “African Americans with almost surgical precision.” This decision followed the ACLU’s successful efforts in 2014 to overturn discriminatory voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Arkansas.
3. Celebrating Love!
In 2015, after many decades fighting for LGBTQ rights and marriage equality alongside advocates, allies, and allied organizations, the ACLU helped win an earthshaking Supreme Court victory in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made same-sex marriage the law of the land. LGBTQ protections are under attack by the Trump Administration, so we cannot rest in the struggle for justice, but none of us here will ever forget how amazing it felt to celebrate the power of love and equality on that June day in 2015.
4. Combating Racial Injustice
From the 1930s “Scottsboro Boys” cases to today’s efforts to end mass incarceration and push for prosecutorial reform, the ACLU has a proud legacy of fighting for racial justice and criminal legal reform. The ACLU assisted the NAACP in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and went on to score major Supreme Court victories that made interracial marriages legal, ended racial segregation in prisons, and allowed the IRS to strip tax-exempt status from private schools that practiced racial discrimination. Right now the ACLU has dozens of lawsuits in motion all across the US, targeting everything from the school-to-prison pipeline to the criminalization of poverty that disproportionately affects Black and brown communities. The ACLU also strongly supports H.R. 40, a bill that would establish a commission to confront America’s legacy of slavery and racial injustice and study possible reparations.
5. Fighting the Internment of Japanese Americans During WWII
As we see the news about families of asylum-seekers being separated at the border, about children being locked in cages, about a ban on Muslims and Africans entering the country, it’s important to think back to the World War II era, when the federal government approved the forcible internment of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent. While the ACLU lost both its cases against internment in the Supreme Court, and it took many decades for families and descendents to receive an apology and reparations from the government, this fight affirms the organization’s belief that standing up for what’s right is always the right thing to do.
The ACLU is a national organization, with offices in every state, plus DC and Puerto Rico. It doesn’t win every court case or come out on top in every fight, but for 100 years it has put justice first. And the remarkable run of success it’s had over the past century is due, in large part, to the energy and dedication of its members.
If you ever find yourself wondering whether one person’s actions and activism can really make a difference, take another look at the accomplishments above and you’ll have your answer. None of those efforts would have been possible without people like you who were dedicated to fairness, equity, justice, and doing the right thing. When we stand together, we can change the world.