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Grant Bosse: The long, leftward lurch of the ACLU

By GRANT BOSSE
January 08. 2018 8:48PM




Was it Thomas Jefferson or John Adams who wrote the right to keep an out-of-state driver’s license into the Bill of Rights?

I forget.

According to the New Hampshire chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, requiring people who move to New Hampshire to transfer their license and car registration, if they have them, amounts to a poll tax on new voters.

Nationally, Democrats want to equate anything that protects the rights of legal voters as voter suppression. They claim voter ID laws are racist, and that voter fraud is a myth. The ACLU, nationally and in New Hampshire, has adopted this left-wing position.

As a self-described free speech zealot, I have long admired the ACLU’s commitment to the First Amendment. But on an increasingly wide range of issues, it is becoming difficult to see the ACLU as anything other than the legal wing of the Democratic Party.

“ACLU to storm 2018 midterms” declared a headline in Politico last week. Washington Correspondent Edward-Isaac Dovere wrote that getting into the anti-Trump business has been very, very lucrative for the civil rights group. Donations jumped from $5.5 million a year to $93 million after Trump was elected.

“The group aims to rival the National Rifle Association as a force on the left and become a hub of the anti-Trump movement,” Dovere reported.

Dovere reported that the ACLU is going far beyond ballot initiatives and lobbying on legislation. The ACLU will “zero in” on gubernatorial races in Kansas and Wisconsin, as well as target “Republican-held House seats that Democrats are trying to flip.”

At least as far back as 1989, John O’Sullivan wrote in National Review what he coined O’Sullivan’s First Law: “All organizations that are not actually right-wing will over time become left-wing.”

The first group he cited to bolster his view was the ACLU. O’Sullivan argued that the sort of people who would go to work for the ACLU, or other ostensibly non-ideological groups, “tend to be the sort who don’t like private profit, business, making money, the current organization of society, and, by extension, the Western world.”

I would add another reason. That’s where the money is.

Advocating for issues across the political spectrum is hard. Donors want to support groups that they believe are always on their side. Pressure to push to the edges builds up, movement to the left attracts liberal staff, and centrist groups get caught in a self-radicalizing feedback loop.

A mirrored trend has taken over at the National Rifle Association, which still sometimes talks about the rights of gun owners. But its fundraising and social media efforts have surrendered to the barbaric yawp of Trumpian populism.

In 1978, the ACLU famously defended the rights of neo-Nazis to march in Skokie, Ill. The group last year faced a backlash from within its ranks after defending the right of white nationalists to march in Charlottesville, Va.

But that commitment to free speech no longer extends to the Granite State, where ACLU-NH has decided to prioritize abortion.

The ACLU has largely stayed out of the political fray around the Second Amendment. I understand, and even agree. The NRA has that corner covered, and fighting over gun rights would alienate liberals who choose to ignore the parts of the Bill of Rights they dislike. I don’t mind the ACLU keeping its powder dry in order to maintain bipartisan credibility for debates over free speech and due process.

Yet the ACLU has shown no such deference on abortion. ACLU-NH failed to support repeal of New Hampshire’s unconstitutional and as yet unenforced buffer zone law, which restricts the rights of pro-life protesters and counselors to speak within 25 feet of an abortion clinic.

In 2016, NARAL Pro-Choice NH dissolved, giving its assets to ACLU-NH to form the Reproductive Rights Initiative, completing ACLU-NH’s transformation from a constitutional watchdog into just another left-wing advocacy group.

The ACLU does not stand up to leftist efforts to erode the First Amendment’s protections on political speech. It opposes efforts to defend the free exercise of religion from government mandates, such as forcing a Christian baker to make a cake for a gay wedding.

ACLU-NH may be on the right side of an issue from time to time, but there is no longer any reason for New Hampshire conservatives to consider the group anything other than their political adversary.

Grant Bosse is the editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News.


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