By Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director
JANUARY 19, 2017 | 9:15 PM
After it became clear that Donald Trump would be the Republican nominee for president, the ACLU got to work digging into his policy statements. In July, we released "The Trump Memos," which was the first comprehensive constitutional analysis of his public statements and policy proposals regarding immigration enforcement, Muslim rights, torture, and freedom of the press. Our conclusions were alarming. According to our analysis, then-candidate Trump articulated policies that would flagrantly violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
That man is now on the verge of swearing a solemn oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States." While it's true that all presidents swear this oath and inevitably go on to abuse their powers, we believe the Trump administration poses the single greatest threat to civil liberties, civil rights, and the rule of law in modern memory. With such dark clouds appearing on the horizon, it would be irresponsible not to prepare for the inevitable storm. The day after the election, we took the president-elect's extreme rhetoric seriously and began prepping for the incoming administration.
Two months later, we have the strategy and some of the resources needed to challenge the Trump administration's policies and protect the Constitution. We will be the David to the federal government's Goliath. The ACLU has 300 litigators, spread out among our national headquarters and each of the 50 states. The federal government’s legal firepower is vastly greater: The Department of Justice has 11,169 lawyers, including 223 at the FBI; the Department of Homeland Security has 2,197 lawyers; and the Departments of Education, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Labor have 5,539 lawyers among them. In total, these six federal executive departments have nearly 19,000 lawyers at their disposal to fight our 300-person team’s relentless work to secure justice and accountability. (These numbers don't include the federal intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, which do not disclose the size of their legal teams.)
The first rock in our slingshot is a Freedom of Information Act request asking several government agencies to turn over documents relating to President Trump's actual or potential conflicts of interest due to his business and family connections. The American people deserve to know their president will govern in the best interest of the nation and not his self-interest.
Our first legal action is part of the ACLU's Seven-Point plan to fight back against the Trump administration when it seeks to violate the rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. The plan is supported by our new Constitution Defense Fund, established after the election, to provide the manpower and resources necessary to take on the most powerful government on earth. Going forward, the ACLU's plan of action includes concrete steps to:
1. Demand government accountability and transparency
- File Freedom of Information Act requests
- Defend whistleblowers and journalists who rely on them.
2. Protect the rights of immigrants
- Mount rapid response to immigration raids
- File systemic litigation to challenge Fourth Amendment violations and racial profiling in street-level immigration enforcement
- Develop legal theories to defend sanctuary cities against federal action
- Represent “Dreamers” when their status comes under attack
- Bring systemic litigation to challenge excessive and punitive immigration detention
- Challenge unconstitutional immigration policies that discriminate against Muslims
3. Defend reproductive rights
- Oppose efforts to defund Planned Parenthood
- File litigation to challenge any new federal restrictions on abortion access
- Challenge laws that permit the use of religion to discriminate by allowing health care providers and social service agencies to turn women away when they seek reproductive health care services or information
- Challenge abortion restrictions at the state level through litigation and advocacy
- Challenge existing restrictions on abortion that are more vulnerable to challenge following the Supreme Court’s decision in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt
4. Protect First Amendment rights
- Respond aggressively to threats against Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim and South Asian (AMEMSA) communities
- Expand efforts to defend and inform protestors through know-your-rights materials, provide legal observers at protests and file lawsuits to protect protestors
- Fight dragnet government surveillance that sweeps up innocent Americans’ information
5. Defend LGBT rights
- Fight the rescission of federal LGBT protections
- Sue the Department of Defense if it reinstates the ban on open military service by transgender people
- Oppose religious exemption measures both in state legislatures and Congress that discriminate against LGBT individuals
- Fight anti-transgender rights bills in Congress and in state legislatures
6. Defend core civil rights and civil liberties from erosion
- Identify, investigate, and challenge the worst police departments for Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations
- Intervene in federal consent decrees with police departments and private employers regarding racial and gender discrimination
- Litigate against the worst voter suppression measures
7. Mobilize the American people
- Deploy our 750,000 card-carrying members in direct citizen action, including protests, petitions, and lobbying
- Raise $100 million for a Constitutional Defense Fund in support of this plan — $47 million of which has already been raised
The ACLU's charge, laid out in the Seven-Point Plan, is to stand ready to confront any unconstitutional elements of the administration's agenda — today on day one and for every day after for the next four years.