Obama Given Low Marks In Annual ACLU Report For Civil Liberties — Ranked Lower Than Paul

While this is unlikely to surprise many civil libertarians, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has issued its annual report card called “Liberty Watch 2012” and gave President Obama a failing report (earning the full four “torches” only on the issue of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy). The Republican candidates were equally dismal but it is rare for the Democratic candidate to be on par or lower than his GOP counterparts on civil liberties. Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson secured the top civil liberties spot while Republican Ron Paul came in second ahead of Obama.

The only category on which Obama did particularly well was on his support in ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” even though he remains undecided on the issue of same sex marriage. He lost points for breaking promises on Guantanamo Bay, surveillance of citizens, failing to hold employees accountable for torture and other issues — many of which we have discussed on this blog.

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann all received zero torches in all seven categories. Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry did slightly better due to their opposition to wholesale deportations. Paul’s score was reduced for his call to end “birthright citizenship” for children of illegal immigrants and his support for a denial of federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples as well as his opposition to abortion. Obama came in third after Johnson and Paul. After Paul in the Republican ranks, Jon Huntsman did the best.

The low standing of Obama is particularly difficult for civil libertarians since he is the only candidate offered to Democrats this year. As I have previously written, Obama in my view has proven devastating for the civil liberties movement in the United States. His candidacy remains a triumph of personality over principles — decoupling the Democratic party from long-held values on civil liberties.

Here is the full report: ALWCandidateReportCard-1

Source: SF Gate

46 thoughts on “Obama Given Low Marks In Annual ACLU Report For Civil Liberties — Ranked Lower Than Paul

  1. I stopped drinking from my Obama coffee mug about a year ago. I’d like to blame Rahm Emmanuel for the feckless dishonest tone of the administration but he’s not there any more.

  2. Unfortunately a chart like that isn’t particularly helpful in deciding the best candidate even when you factor out the Republican field. Two Libertarians and the incumbent, what a choice.

    Gary Johnson = Obama’s campaign platform from ’08 + Ron Paul’s fiscal program. Man, it’s embarrassing to be American going into this election cycle. I read about these guys and gals and know the rest of the West is laughing at us. It makes me cringe.

  3. In evaluating a candidate like Ron Paul, the distinction you have explained elsewhere between civil liberties and civil rights is critical. Paul opposes most civil rights legislation as an infringement on private property. He was the sole vote in the House in 2004 opposing the (symbolic) reaffirmation of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (H.Res. 676).

    In short, it’s complicated and I’m not sure the ACLU’s scorecard catches the subtleties very well, but may be useful in provoking discussion.

    I remain a proud, “card carrying” member of the ACLU (smile) despite the problems with this effort.

  4. Gary Johnson has committed to pardon nonviolent marijuana users now in jails. While a start, the pardons should be broader than that and the drug laws must come off the books. Drug use should be dealt with as a heath matter, not by the criminal justice system.

    On immigration, Johnson favors granting illegals now here a 2 year work visa during which time they could position to long-term work approvals.

    On abortion, Johnson is pro-choice.

    Johnson favors federal government recognition of gay marriage.

    If Ron Paul leaves the race, Johnson will pick up many of his supporters, but Johnson would also attract a broader set of civil libertarians than Paul IMO.

  5. and yet Johnson will never get elected President. If he did his only real accomplishment would be to unite both parties in Congress to prevent him from doing anything. One party has done a great job of that by itself for 3 years, together they could stop the world.

    This report is further sign that there are no Democrats any longer. Obama is to the right of Regan on many issues & would have been happily at home in the Republican Party any time before Boy Blunder (well except for the color thing, I remember news of black delegates being beaten by white ones at the 68 Republican convention). As the Republican Party has gone further off the rails the Dems have followed to the right till the choice is between bad and worse.

  6. It is difficult to understand exactly why the ACLU ranks O so low.
    He has consistently followed the Leftist agendas, to the best of his Executive limits and ability. Albeit his success has been in only 1 area, the Health Care debacle.
    ACLU generally stands far to the Left on most issues. Thier rankings, inandof themselves are biased.
    Semper Fi

  7. I fail to see why wholesale deportations of illegals is a civil liberties issue, unless the ACLU is against enforcing or even having laws against illegal immigration and wants open borders for drugs and people. That is why I am no longer an ACLU member since it is an undemocratic organization in which members have no say in policy. As for gay marriage, I also see no civil liberties issue there since the states are free to determine within general rulings of the SCOTUS to make those for themselves.

    The Democratic Party has not been a bastion of civil liberties since I remember Wilson, who initiated the Palmer raids and elevated Hoover to secret police czar. Then I also recall the FACT that most of the so called southern liberals back in my day voted against civil rights laws. Humphrey wanted to jail communists, etc.. Gay marriage was NOT part of any Democratic Party platform in any of the last elections. The only thing Obama has failed on is to close Gitmo. He voiced his opposition to the proposed jailing of terrorists with no trial, and in fact inserted language to affirm our rights, which is contradictory in the law.So that means the courts will still have to make rulinjgs on such jailings, as they do already.

  8. I am going to do a favor for a number of you Jonathan Turley fans.

    I am going out Mr. Turley as a left leaning libertarian.

    Haven’t you statists and Party loyalist progressives and liberals gotten that by now?
    Mr. Turley hates Obama’s policies and intentions. Mr. Turley has shown that no matter how Democratic or Progressive Obama claims to be, he is as bad or worse than all the Republican suits that have come to power.
    Mr. Turley is a constitutionalist from the original school, one that believes in freedom from oppression from one’s own government.
    Mr. Turley mostly agrees with most of Ron Pauls policy intentions, sans probably Pauls position on immigration and reproductive rights.
    But then those are standard libertarians’ complaints about Paul anyway.

    I see a lot of progressives and liberals on this site (estimate 60%), and they think Mr. Turley agrees with them. He does not. At least not to the point of Party loyalty vs actual civil liberties.

    I see some libertarians (estimate 15%) and rightists (estimate 25%).

    I invite Mr. Turley, who I HIGHLY admire in having kept to these principles, to correct me if I am wrong.
    Or to say nothing for the sake of politeness and civility, and possibly political reputation.

    Thought this was important as a public service, to those who don’t have a clue.

  9. The new civil rights battles of the 21st century will be about government intrusion. No executive will willingly give up these powers now. We have to take them away.

  10. Blouise (hi there lady!) and OS, you folks are optimists, or have more energy than I, I’m not sure which. :-)

    Atokaite Tn, The President no doubt has lost points for his administration’s failure to pursue the repeal of DOMA and blocking the plan to provide the morning after pill as an otc med for women under 16. That’s what comes to mind most quickly.

  11. lottakatz:

    “blocking the plan to provide the morning after pill as an otc med for women under 16.”

    why is that a bad idea? It is my understanding that RU486 can cause sever bleeding. Most K-12 schools in this country wont allow a student to carry Tylenol on campus.

  12. ARE: “That is why I am no longer an ACLU member since it is an undemocratic organization in which members have no say in policy.”

    I would have to ask; at what time did the ACLU ever seek advice as to what cases to take on or what direction they should move on which issue? I don’t believe they ever have. When you join the ACLU; you are advocating for the rights of mankind. There is no real need to ask members if it’s ok to act. Unless you are an attourney; your membership is limited to donating and supporting them by showing up on the roles. This is i think partly because they never expected to vote on which Civil Liberties to protect or foe whom. All of them for everyone so what’s to vote on?

    “I fail to see why wholesale deportations of illegals is a civil liberties issue, unless the ACLU is against enforcing or even having laws against illegal immigration and wants open borders for drugs and people.”

    ****** Reprinted from http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/aclu-history-ensuring-fairness-all-within-our-borders

    ******Protection of immigrants’ rights was one of the founding principles of the ACLU. Motivated by the notorious Palmer Raids that targeted immigrants for arrest, detention and deportation based on their political beliefs, the ACLU fought to make the First Amendment meaningful to the lives of all people living in the United States

    ******The Immigrants’ Rights Project (IRP) was formally established in 1987 to enhance and expand the ACLU’s advocacy on behalf of non-citizens. For almost three decades now – under the leadership of founder Lucas Guttentag – the project has played a pivotal role in most of the major legal battles in the U.S. for immigrants’ rights.

    It would appear that you forgot to ask what they were all about before you joined. It seems they have been protecting immigrants rights since they began back in the twenties duiring the reign of Woodrow Wilson.

    “The Democratic Party has not been a bastion of civil liberties since I remember Wilson, who initiated the Palmer raids and elevated Hoover to secret police czar. Then I also recall the FACT that most of the so called southern liberals back in my day voted against civil rights laws. Humphrey wanted to jail communists, etc.. Gay marriage was NOT part of any Democratic Party platform in any of the last elections”

    Now here you have me confused. You mention Wilson and the Palmer raids so you must be aware that those raids targeted immigrants. Yet you also joined the ACLU which was protecting immigrants rights and now you are complaining that the ACLU doesn’t ask you if they should defend immigrants rights? Huh?


    The 14th Amendment to the US Constituion says:
    All persons born or naturalized in the
    United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the
    United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;
    {nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.}

    So you see Sir, The ACLU has no choice but to protect the rights of these illegal immigrants. And we should want them to. If we fail to protect their rights we are in effect saying that they are less people than we are and that is a slippery slope to all kinds of abuses and persecution. If you recall and you must since you say you remember the Palmer raids. If you recall; one of the main points of Hitler’s propaganda against the Jews was that they were inferior to humans. Not deserving of the same priveledges and rights afforded other Germans. That they were taking work from good Germans and that the Jews were the cause of the economic disaster that was germany at the time.

    If we allow the Federal Government or any state to treat illegal immigrants with anything less than the full protection of the Constitution; we are; in essence; discarding the Constituion itself and opening the door fo all manner of abuse and attrocities.

    No offence ARE; I just thought you could use something to chew on.

  13. Now I have an excercise for you guys. I just read this statement and it made me pause to consider.
    If some of you would respond and tell me/us if this rings true. Please no bashers or trolls. You couldn’t make me any more pissed than I am if it’s for real anyway. I know most of it is true but…well I think you will see my reason for…….consternation.


    “Obama has always claimed the power to wage war on anyone anywhere, to search, seize, imprison, rendition, torture, or murder anyone. He has in fact openly murdered US citizens, among many other human beings.

    Obama asked Congress to legislate the power for U.S. presidents to imprison anyone without any trial or any legal-looking process whatsoever, and to not make an exception for U.S.citizens.

    Obama came close to getting what he wanted.

    He got the power to imprison without trial.

    Obama then engaged for the umpteenth time in an abuse as dangerous in itself as any other. He rewrote the law as he signed it. In doing so, Obama gave himself the power to imprison without even military kangaroo courts and without even the formality of pretended “status review hearings.”

    And the vast majority of organizations and individuals who would have raised hell and resisted this had Obama been a Republican, did not do a god damned thing about it.

    Of course, for most of them, the opposition they would have exercised had Obama been a Republican, would have been shallow and phony and motivated by an immediate interest in generating negative press. Any a ctualconcern over Republican presidents possessing these outrageous powers would, of course, have led to opposition to Obama seizing them, since what Obama seizes will remain for each of his successors.

  14. I have to agree with Lotta and Blouise. Obama has not performed in these areas as I would have liked, but I would like to make one correction. Obama did try to close Gitmo and a bi-partisan vote of the Congress blocked it. I am not sure that he should be downgraded for that one. I am a proud member of the ACLU and I don’t understand why everyone isn’t. To paraphrase from the American President movie: Their only job is to protect the Constitution.
    James in LA,
    I think you are right about the future battles.

  15. rafflaw, Agree. I have friends and family that are also ACLU members and not one of them is supporting Paul.

  16. The most unpopular institutions are the presidency and the congress.

    What they did in 2011 will come back to haunt them down:

    Our leaders appear to be supporting this bill thinking that they will always be what they are now, in the fading light of a once-great democracy — those civilian leaders who safely and securely sit in freedom and DIRECT the military. In inhabiting this bubble, which their own actions are about to destroy, they are cocooned by an arrogance of power, placing their own security in jeopardy by their own hands, and ignoring history and its inevitable laws. The moment this bill becomes law, though Congress is accustomed, in a weak democracy, to being the ones who direct and control the military, the power roles will reverse: Congress will no longer be directing and in charge of the military: rather, the military will be directing and in charge of individual Congressional leaders, as well as in charge of everyone else — as any Parliamentarian in any society who handed this power over to the military can attest.

    (Naomi Wolf). The same can be said for the journalists.

  17. Bravo, angrymanspeaks!

    I joined the ACLU the day that George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were re-elected. Who else is in the courts every day fighting for the civil liberties of ALL of us? The Democratic Party? Don’t make me laugh! I stopped giving them money years ago. I got one of their fund raising letters a while back with one of those “opinion” surveys asking “which issues are most important to you?” Not one question was about civil liberties issues.

    Both the Republican and Democratic parties can best be described as the walking dead. Both parties have nothing to offer individual Americans. Both parties are owned and operated by the Corporations, the Banks, and the Military-Industrial Complex. And this is who gets represented in the Congress and in the White House.

    Before you dismiss the ACLU because of someone’s offhand remark, take a look at their website and see all the issues they work on. Join- It will be the best $35 you ever spent on yourself, your family, and your country.


  18. garyonthenet:

    Prof. Turley got a shout out from Rush Limbaugh today on his radio show about one of his articles in a British paper. I think it was positive too, although I am not 100% sure.

  19. As the old saying goes: If one lies down with dogs, one shall rise with fleas.

    The ACLU has only itself to blame for the present state of affairs, as it has long held to the position that unlimited monetary contributions is an acceptable form of First Amendment guaranteed free speech. Spokesperson and counsel Joel Gora crowed at the John Roberts’ Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United v FEC .The ACLU issued an amicus brief on behalf of Citizens United in that landmark case.

    The organization also upholds the idea that corporations should be allowed the same First Amendment rights and privileges as natural-born persons, seeing itself as one.

    For my money, while right in their assessment of President Obama’s civil rights record, the ACLU is itself a procorporate-stooge organization

  20. Ernest has a valid point; one that has caused me to have ambivalent feelings towards the ACLU.

    While I think the ACLU does an outstanding job of protecting the rights of citizens, their position on corporate access to the same constitutional protections as flesh and blood citizens has caused me concern over the years. Following are, to the best of my knowledge, decisions that the ACLU has agreed with, for better or worse.

    First Amendment

    1. Political Speech. First Nat’l Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765 (1978) (right to spend money to influence referenda).

    2. Commercial Speech. Central Hudson Gas & Elec. Corp. v. Public Utilities Comm’n, 447 U.S. 557 (1980) (corporations right to commercial speech protected.)

    3. Negative Free Speech Right. Pacific Gas & Elec. Co. v. Public Utilities Comm’n, 475 U.S. 1, reh. den., 475 U.S. 1133 (1986) (corporations have a “negative” free speech right not to be associated with the speech of others).

    Fourth Amendment

    1. Freedom From Unreasonable Searches: Corporate Papers. Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43 (1906) (an overbroad subpoena for corporate documents constitutes an unreasonable search). But see United States v. Morton Salt Co., 338 U.S. 632 (1950) (an overbroad subpoena is not considered an unreasonable search).

    2. Freedom From Unreasonable Warrantless Regulatory Searches. Marshall v. Barlow’s Inc., 436 U.S. 307 (1978). But see Colonnade Catering Corp. v. United States, 397 U.S. 72 (1969) (exception for the liquor industry); United States v. Biswell, 406 U.S. 311 (1977) (exception for firearms industry); Donovan v. Dewey 452 U.S. 594 (1981) (exception for mining industry).

    Fifth Amendment

    1. Double Jeopardy. United States v. Martin Linen Supply Co., 430 U.S. 564 (1977) (acquittal of corporation in accordance with the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure not appealable because of fifth amendment protection against double jeopardy).

    2. Takings Clause. Pennsylvania Coal Co. v. Mahon, 260 U.S. 393 (1922).

    3. No Privilege Against Self-Incrimination. Hale v. Henkel, 201 U.S. 43 (1906) (subpoena for testimony of corporate officer upheld against claim of corporate fifth amendment privilege).

    4. Due Process. Noble v. Union River Logging R. Co., 147 U.S. 165 (1893).

    Sixth Amendment

    Right to Jury Trial in Criminal Case. Armour Packing Co. v. United States, 209 U.S. 56, 76-77 (1908) (a corporate defendant, convicted of violating a federal criminal statute, was considered an “accused” for sixth amendment purposes); see also United States v. R. L. Polk and Co., 438 F.2d 377, 379 (6th Cir. 1971) (the fundamental principle that corporations enjoy the same rights as individuals to trial by jury).

    Seventh Amendment

    Right to Jury Trial in Civil Case. Ross v. Bernhard, 396 U.S. 531 (1970) (Court implies that corporation has a right to jury trial in civil cases because a shareholder in a derivative suit would have that right.); see also In re Japanese Elec. Prods. Antitrust Litig., 631 F.2d 1069 (3d cir. 1980) (the right to jury trial not guaranteed in complex cases).

    I’m sure that there are errors in the above list in the sense that some feel some items should not be there while other decisions should be. I’m sure there are also errors in my misunderstanding of these decisions and my ability to accurately reference them. If someone could point additional cases out, and/or explain why some of the above is not accurate, or generally debate the decisions from a point of knowledge, I really would be grateful.

    As background information, most of this was gleamed from a Carl J. Mayer’s writing published by the Hastings Law Journal (March, 1990; Volume 41, No3) entitled “Personalizing The Impersonal: Corporations And The Bill Of Rights.”

  21. I repeat: “Who else is in the courts every day fighting for the civil liberties of ALL of us?”

    Hint: It ain’t Barack Obama and it ain’t Eric Holder.

    As to the objections of Ernest Spoon and gbk that the ACLU isn’t right on every case: No one sneers at Ted Williams for “only” batting .406 in 1941.

  22. The better half or I have been card carrying members off and on since the 70’s. We dropped out for a while and then read that the participation was dropping due to their advocacy of the Nazis that wanted to march through Skoki so we re-joined and have been pretty loyal as money and periodic political apathy allows.

    They got it wrong in this high profile case IMO. I wish they hadn’t but you know, I have such great respect for the organization and they have been so in tune with my philosophy for so long (and taught me much), that in the face of their advocacy I had to re-examine MY position to insure that I had my head on straight. I’m way hard-headed. I am not compelled to a lot of reflection on long held belief because some advocacy group thinks differently than I do. Unless it becomes a pattern of bad decisions I will consider it an aberration.

    They have a sterling track record and my support of them is still strong.

  23. Citizens vs FEC was a GOOD decision, despite all the rhetoric that is was as bad as the Scott Dredd decision.

    It is inconsistent, no matter how you contort it, to deny individuals, even collections of individuals – which is what corporations, associations, unions, and clubs are – the right to freely speak publicly about what they believe in, even if wha they believe in is a candidate for public office.

    The fear of too much money being thrown at the public in the form of ideas, ignores, or shows no faith, in the public’s ability to discern that what they are being told is a lie or truth, or something in between.

    We can this in several candidacies where the candidate had millions to out spend their opponents, and their opponents still won.

    You should know that Mr. Turley was in favor of the Citizens decision, something I admire in him despite all the opposition he was fighting on the view.

  24. OLBERMANN: What can be done? I mean, legally, what now holds the corporations back from completely taking over the electoral process, 99.9 percent of advertising, 99.9 percent of winning politicians, no limit to the ante, and no limit to what they want to do, including eliminating the First Amendment, if that was one of their goals for some reason?

    TURLEY: Well, I think you’re right to be alarmed. I mean, there’s only about 2,000 PACs that are created under the old system. That old system really has been shredded today. There are millions of companies and corporations that could — could now directly support this political system.
    But I have to tell you, I have long argued that we are in need of more fundamental reforms. Campaign finance primarily looks at the fuel, rather than the machine, itself. I think that we have a political failure in this country, a monopoly by two parties that is strangling the life out of this republic. And I think that we need to, perhaps, with this decision, look for something of a paradigm shift, to look at how we can change our political system with very fundamental issues to deal with — everything from the Electoral College, which is a disaster, to the monopoly of the two parties, to the hold of incumbents.

    Professor Turley’s comments start at the 3:30 mark:

    Gary, thinking a decision is valid as matter of logic and legal reasoning is not the same thing as thinking a decision is a good idea politically. As the Professor notes in the interview, nothing in the Constitution protects us from bad politics and bad decisions. While Professor Turley and I disagree about whether this was a logically valid decision (I think the idea of expanded personality for corporations in the area of free speech is ridiculous), I also think it is clear from his comments in context that we agree that Citizens United was a bad decision politically that will yield bad results. Of course, I would welcome any clarification on the Professor’s part, but I don’t think I’m out of bounds when I say that saying a valid decision is the same thing as being a good decision.

  25. ** saying a decision is valid is not the same thing as saying it is a good decision.

    That’s what posting with too little sleep will get you.

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