The philosopher Socrates once said, "I am that gadfly which God has given the state." While the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) might have a quarrel with the "God" part, the group has at times proved a stinging critic in its efforts to defend individual rights. It acts as a legal and legislative advocate in matters related to civil liberties and the Bill of Rights. The ACLU has participated in such cases as the 1925 Scopes trial (challenged a ban on teaching evolution), Brown v. Board of Education (school desegregation), Roe v. Wade (abortion rights), and Romer v. Evans (gay and lesbian rights). The group, which has more than 500,000 members, has offices throughout the US. It was founded in 1920.
Volunteer lawyers work with ACLU staff lawyers to help the group handle about 6,000 court cases a year. Issues include the death penalty, free speech, immigrant rights, police practices, prisoner rights, privacy, rights of the poor, and women's rights.
Two entities, the ACLU and the ACLU Foundation, collectively conduct the organization's work. The ACLU Foundation, which can receive tax-deductible gifts, does not engage in lobbying; the ACLU does. Most of the ACLU's income comes from membership dues, which are not tax-deductible.
In April 2008 for the first time in the organization's history, the board of the ACLU voted to take over its South Carolina affiliate and place it under receivership involuntarily. (In previous years the ACLU had taken over its Texas and Mississippi affiliates and operated them under receivership, but the two affiliates had agreed to it voluntarily.) During the past decade, the South Carolina affiliate has had financial troubles and has leaned on the national organization for help. It has also been difficult for the affiliate to recruit and retain an executive director. In July the ACLU opened a new South Carolina office headed by Interim Executive Director Graham Boyd, a native South Carolinian. In October it appointed Victoria Middleton, a career US diplomat, at the new executive director. – less