The American Civil Liberties Union In North Dakota

When I was a kid growing up in Florida, my family had a subscription to the newspaper the Daytona Beach News Journal.  I didn’t like to read very much, I thought at the time, but I did in fact read a lot.  When I was about 12 or 13, I would read the Daytona Beach News Journal, and I would become angry, irritated, annoyed, incredulous, or amused at the news stories.

I still remember the first times that I read about the American Civil Liberties Union and the impressions that I had.  In reading about the American Civil Liberties Union, I would usually have to stop reading the sentence that I was on, go back, and start reading again from the beginning to make sure that I was reading this correctly.

“They are doing what?”, I would think to myself, “Let me read this headline again.  Let me start over reading this again.  This can’t be right.”  The ACLU was always doing the exact opposite of what a normal person would do, it seemed to me when I was a kid.  Any weird thing that a person was doing, that all normal people were condemning or trying to stop, the ACLU would be defending them.

It wasn’t until I started reading some articles about Jewish attorneys defending Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists, or the ACLU defending Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists, that I began to more seriously consider and think about what these attorneys were doing and why.

You would think that Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists would be the worst enemies of the Jews, Jewish attorneys, or the ACLU.  Why would these people want to defend Neo-Nazis or White Supremacists?  From thinking about it, and reading what the attorneys said, the attorneys had the belief that everyone was entitled to equal protection and equal treatment under the laws of the United States.

I began to see the point of what the attorneys and the ACLU were doing.  Even though a person, their beliefs, and their actions could be repulsive to an individual, group, or majority of people, everyone was entitled to fair and equal treatment under the law.

Thinking about this more, “Why did some attorneys and the ACLU, seem to go out of their way to defend the most hated, controversial, or disreputable people?”  My conclusion came to be, that in order to ensure that everyone, everywhere in the United States had equal rights, equal treatment, had due process of law, and received fair trails, that one of the ways to achieve this was to see to it, and it make it public, that even the most hated, controversial, or indefensible individual was entitled to equal rights, equal treatment, equal protection, a complete legal defense, and that the rights of any individual would not be abridged.

Another way to put this, is that in order to make sure that the laws in the United States are used correctly and applied correctly, and in order to make sure that the Constitution of the United States and its Amendments are followed, particular attention and effort has to be made in extreme legal cases, where it is likely or possible that the law may not be used or applied correctly, to make sure that it is.

It wasn’t until I got older, probably not until I was in my 40s, that I realized through life experience, that the “majority opinion” was not always right, and in fact the “majority opinion” has been one of the most destructive and harmful elements of civilization throughout history.  I began to realize and appreciate more that the founders of the United States tried to build into the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Amendments provisions that would protect individuals from the “majority opinion” or “the mob”.

Examples of cases where the majority opinion or the mob was allowed to determine an outcome are: The crucifiction of Jesus Christ; the conquests of the indigenous peoples during colonization of the world; the dispossession of the Native Americans; slavery of Black people; Holocaust of World War II; internment of Japanese civilians during World War II;  segregation of Black people;  Apartheid in South Africa.

Now, the people of the United States would not openly try to relocate to a new area, take away the land from the people already living there, and murder the people already living there, without the expectation of being charged and tried for theft and murder.  However, the majority opinion, or the majority opinion of the privileged class, during colonization or pioneering was that you could take land from indigenous people and kill them.  The majority opinion at the time, is not always correct in hindsight.

The American Civil Liberties Union has often taken an unpopular, greatly opposed, minority position on issues, lost many court case over these issues, but helped to change the popular and legal opinion on these issues, which we now take for granted.  For instance, in the 1920s when the ACLU was formed, it litigated for people to have the right to meet, organize, and form labor unions.  At that time, author Upton Sinclair was arrested at a labor union rally for merely attempting to read aloud the First Amendment to the Constitution.

In 1935, the National Labor Relations Act was passed which affirmed the right of workers to unionize.  In 1937, the Supreme Court ruled that “peaceable assembly for lawful discussion cannot be made a crime”, which affirmed the right of people to assemble and discuss unionization, but was also the beginning of the end of many state and local laws preventing people from meeting and engaging in discussions that the local majority did not agree with.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the ACLU and the NAACP engaged in litigation and support for the removal of segregation in public facilities, private facilities open to the public, and in public schools.  Segregation existed through the period of slavery, after the Civil War, and into the 1950s and 1960s due to the majority opinion, or the majority opinion of the ruling class, to just go ahead and continue long established racist policies.  Even though the majority opinion at the time in local areas was to leave things as they were, we now see in hindsight that the majority opinion is not always correct.

The ACLU has a long history of calling attention to and litigating against police misconduct.  The ACLU was involved in court cases that upheld the right of individuals to be represented by an attorney, the right to have an attorney present during questioning, the right of legal representation to indigent persons, the right to not be unlawfully detained, the right of individuals to be informed by the police of their Constitutional rights, and the requirement of police to obtain a warrant before searching someone’s home.

In North Dakota, the offices of the ACLU are located in Fargo.  Jennifer Cook is listed as the Policy Director, and Jen Petersen as the Communications Director.  If you go to the website, then click on the “about” tab, then click on the “staff” tab, then click on each of these women’s names, you can read their short biographies.  The Executive Director for the ACLU in North Dakota is listed as Heather Smith.  However, Heather Smith is also listed as the Executive Director of the ACLU in South Dakota.  You can go to the ACLU of South Dakota website and read the short biography of Heather Smith.

This blog post, my previous blog post, and perhaps many of my previous blog posts, are the beginnings of my pleas to the ACLU to have more involvement in Dickinson, North Dakota and to pay more attention to what is going on here. It is kind of ironic, that Fargo which is the most progressive and liberal town in North Dakota has the ACLU, and western North Dakota which is the furthest behind, has no or hardly any ACLU presence.

I ask all local people in Dickinson, and people in western North Dakota, to urge the ACLU to become more involved in Dickinson and pay more attention to what is going on in Dickinson.  The ACLU does more than just litigate, it also has many ways to bring attention to and address problems of injustice and unfair treatment.

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