Hypocrisy at the ACLU

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Executive director Anthony Romero was charged with DWI in June. Why are we only hearing about this now?

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ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero was charged with a DWI in June / Reuters

Out-of-control secrecy is a serious disease that is hurting American democracy," the ACLU rightly declared last month, introducing an important new report on the vast and secretive national security state. But the ACLU's opposition to government secrecy is selective: It has yet to complain about the reported failure of the East Hampton police to disclose DWI charges against ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero in what the New York Post calls its "weekly press release package that includes details of every DWI charge." The Post reports that Romero was pulled over for "careening into oncoming traffic" back on June 26th; he refused a Breathalyzer and reportedly "stalled for time" when asked for his ID. (You can find additional details here.) He is due in court today, August 11. Why was this charge not included in a weekly press release of DWI charges? According to the Post, "police said they 'inadvertently' omitted" it. Whatever.

You might expect an organization advocating for government transparency (including a transparent criminal justice system) to consider a DWI charge a public matter; you might even expect the ACLU Executive Director to inform national board members of his drunk driving charge and pending court date. But (as I chronicled in my book Worst Instincts) Anthony Romero has a history of keeping secret his own embarrassing or wrongful behavior and leading ACLU board members have a history of covering for him. (Most notable was Romero's complicity with government blacklisting practices that the ACLU officially opposed and the leadership's defense of him. I discussed this complicated story in my book and summarized it here and here. And, as I and others have lamented, the ACLU has also retreated from its unbiased, unmitigated commitment to free speech.)

I have my own acrimonious history with the post 9/11 ACLU; as a member of the national board until 2006, I was sharply critical of what I regarded as Romero's gross misconduct and the board leadership's complicity in it. (And they are, of course, sharply critical of me.) So it's not surprising to me (or other distressed ACLU alumnae) that ACLU President Susan Herman informed the national board of Romero's June 26th DWI charge on August 10th, after it was reported by the New York Post. In her email message to the board, Herman dismissed the Post report as "lurid," without specifying any inaccuracies. But it is still a bit of a shock to hear Herman, a law professor who teaches criminal procedure, describe Romero's drunk driving charge as an "unfortunate incident involving Anthony's private life that has not remained as private as we would have hoped."

Does the ACLU generally regard drunk driving cases as private matters? Does it believe that court proceedings in these and other misdemeanor cases should be closed to the press and public? Do any ACLU leaders wonder why the police "inadvertently" failed to disclose the DWI charges against Romero? Did Susan Herman have any reason to hope that a DWI case would remain private? At today's ACLU, these are merely rhetorical questions.


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Wendy Kaminer is an author, lawyer, and civil libertarian. She is the author of I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional, and a past recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. More

Wendy Kaminer is a lawyer and social critic who has been a contributing editor of The Atlantic since 1991. She writes about law, liberty, feminism, religion and popular culture and has written eight books, including Worst InstinctsFree for All; Sleeping with Extra-Terrestrials; and I'm Dysfunctional, You're Dysfunctional. Kaminer worked as a staff attorney in the New York Legal Aid Society and in the New York City Mayor's Office and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1993. She is a renowned contrarian who has tackled the issues of censorship and pornography, feminism, pop psychology, gender roles and identities, crime and the criminal-justice system, and gun control. Her articles and reviews have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, The American Prospect, Dissent, The Nation, The Wilson Quarterly, Free Inquiry, and spiked-online.com. Her commentaries have aired on National Public Radio. She serves on the board of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the advisory boards of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the Secular Coalition for America, and is a member of the Massachusetts State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

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