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Former ACLU Leaders Uniformly Agree on Constitutionality of McCain-Feingold

In a statement released by the Brennan Center for Justice today, nine former ACLU leaders expressed their view that the pending McCain-Feingold bill is constitutional.

March 23, 2001

For Immediate Release
March 23, 2001

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998-6736

Former ACLU Leaders Uniformly Agree on Constitutionality of McCain-Feingold
Every Past President, Executive Director, Legal Director, and Legislative Director of the ACLU Believes Pending Senate Bill Is Constitutional
Current ACLU Legal Analysis Contradicted by Past Leaders

In a statement released by the Brennan Center for Justice today, nine former ACLU leaders expressed their view that the pending McCain-Feingold bill is constitutional. The group signing the statement includes every past president, executive director, legal director, and legislative director of the ACLU. The statement concludes, “Opponents of reform should not be permitted to hide behind an unjustified constitutional smokescreen.”

The position of former ACLU leaders directly contradicts the stance aggressively asserted by the ACLU in the debate over the constitutionality of the McCain-Feingold legislation.

The expression of support for the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold by the former ACLU leaders comes at a juncture in the Senate’s campaign finance debate when some senators and editorial writers have argued that the key components of the legislation cannot survive court review.

“It’s significant that the ACLU’s opposition to McCain-Feingold is directly at odds with its past leadership,” said Nancy Northup, Director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “These former ACLU leaders, who have devoted their professional lives to the protection of free speech, are unanimous that the campaign finance reform bill being considered by the Senate is constitutional. They understand that the First Amendment is designed to protect our democracy, not undermine it.”

The position in favor of the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold is echoed in a separate opinion letter joined by 85 constitutional scholars. The scholar letter also is available from the Brennan Center.

Excerpts from the statement of former ACLU leaders follow. For the full text of the statement, which includes specific comment on key components of McCain-Feingold, click here or contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998-6736.

EXCERPTS FROM STATEMENT OF FORMER ACLU LEADERS:

In our opinion, the First Amendment does not forbid content-neutral efforts to place reasonable limits on campaign spending and establish reasonable disclosure rules, such as those contained in the McCain-Feingold Bill.

We have devoted much of our professional lives to the protection of free speech. We are proud of our ACLU service, and we continue to support the ACLU’s matchless efforts to preserve the Bill of Rights. We have come to believe, however, that the ACLU’s opposition to campaign finance reform in general, and the McCain-Feingold Bill in particular, is misplaced.

We believe that the First Amendment is designed to safeguard a functioning and fair democracy. The current system of campaign financing makes a mockery of that ideal by enabling the rich to set the national agenda, and to exercise disproportionate influence over the behavior of public officials.

Opponents of reform should not be permitted to hide behind an unjustified constitutional smokescreen.

Norman Dorsen (General Counsel 1969-76; President 1976-91)
Morton Halperin (National Legislative Director 1984-92)
Charles Morgan, Jr. (National Legislative Director (1972-76)
Aryeh Neier (Executive Director 1970-78)
Burt Neuborne (National Legal Director 1982-86)
Jack Pemberton (Executive Director 1962-70)
John Powell (National Legal Director 1987-93)
John Shattuck (National Legislative Director 1976-84)
Melvin Wulf (National Legal Director 1962-77)

For more information, please contact Amanda Cooper at (212) 998-6736, or visit http://www.brennancenter.org.

The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law develops and implements a nonpartisan agenda of scholarship, public education, and legal action that promotes equality and human dignity, while safeguarding fundamental freedoms.