Ira Glasser served as the fifth executive director of the ACLU from 1978 to 2001, with the organization crediting him for expanding its operations to a nationwide “powerhouse.”
But Glasser feels that the hard work he put in is not paying the dividends he expected.
“They just produced a couple of years ago new guidelines for their lawyers to use when deciding what free speech cases to take,” Glasser explained during an appearance on “Real Time” with Bill Maher. “This is a requirement now for the national ACLU employers, that before they take a case defending someone’s free speech they have to make sure that the speech doesn’t offend or threaten other civil liberties values.”
“In other words, before they’re going to defend your free speech, they want to see what you say,” he added. “What is the ACLU doing saying that?”
Maher reminded viewers that Glasser believed so deeply in the full scope of free speech that he once famously defended the right for a group of Nazis to march in Skokie, Illinois in 1977, while he was the New York Civil Liberties Union executive director.
David Goldberger, who led the case for the ACLU, wrote that he still struggled with representing a group known for hatred and bigotry, but that Skokie’s laws were the issue at stake – a law that the town had used to deny Jewish War Veterans a permit to march as well.
“To this day, I have no doubt that the ACLU’s commitment to equal rights for all is a backbone of our democracy — no matter how offensive our clients are,” Goldberger wrote, and Glasser appears to uphold that same hard-line stance.
“Actually, most of the speech we defended didn’t reflect our values,” Glasser stressed. “That’s the point.”
“If you’re hiring a lawyer to defend the First Amendment, you want to have a reasonable assumption that he likes the First Amendment,” he said. “That he supports the First Amendment.”