March 27, 2012
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) is a Washington, DC-based think tank claiming to have approximately 22,000 affiliates nationwide—mostly law students, law professors, practicing attorneys, and judges. In addition to its student chapters at some 165 law schools across the United States, the organization also maintains professional chapters in 30 cities.
ACS was officially co-founded by Walter E. Dellinger III (who served as Bill Clinton’s Solicitor General in 1996-97) and Peter J. Rubin (a Georgetown law professor who was counsel to Al Gore in the two Supreme Court cases involving the Florida presidential recount controversy in 2000). Dellinger and Rubin launched ACS on July 30, 2001, with the stated goal of countering the influence of the Federalist Society, whose conservative views were allegedly corrupting young minds in law schools from coast to coast.
ACS operates on a yearly budget of several million dollars, a portion of which is used to publish a journal and to organize working groups that produce white papers on various topics related to the law. Several foundations have contributed large sums of money to ACS, most notably the Streisand Foundation, the Deer Creek Foundation, the Ford Foundation, George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Overbrook Foundation, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
ACS aggressively recruits and indoctrinates young law students, with the ultimate objective of helping them rise to positions of power within the legal system—and thereby dragging all of American jurisprudence further to the political left.
One tactic by means of which ACS effectively influences the minds of law students and young attorneys is to give them first-hand exposure to the passionately articulated agendas of America’s leading leftists. Toward that end, ACS conventions typically feature high-profile guest speakers like Eric Holder, Ralph Nader, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, Russ Feingold, Tom Harkin, Ted Kennedy, John Edwards, Sherrod Brown, Tammy Baldwin, Rosa DeLauro, Jesse Jackson Jr., John Lewis, Jan Schakowsky, Al Gore, Senator Chuck Schumer, Rep. Barney Frank, former Attorney General Janet Reno, former Assistant Attorney General Bill Lann Lee, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, and communist icon Angela Davis.
When addressing ACS audiences, these speakers commonly engage in inflammatory rhetoric aimed at stoking the passions of the left. At an ACS event on June 24, 2004, for instance, Al Gore likened President George W. Bush to the Roman dictator Julius Caesar and accused Republicans of monitoring the Internet with “digital Brown Shirts” prepared to ambush any journalist who dared to criticize America’s war effort in Iraq. He accused President Bush of authorizing “what plainly amounts to the torture of prisoners,” and of labeling “any law or treaty” which “attempts to constrain his treatment of prisoners in time of war” as “a violation of the Constitution.” Gore further accused the President of asserting “that he has the inherent power … to launch an invasion of any nation on Earth, at any time he chooses, for any reason he wishes, even if that nation poses no imminent threat to the United States.” And he said that Bush had declared himself “no longer subject to the rule of law so long as he is acting in his role as Commander in Chief.”
In its Mission Statement, ACS laments that “[i]n recent years, an activist conservative legal movement has gained influence—eroding [the] enduring values” of “individual rights and liberties, genuine equality, access to justice, democracy and the rule of law.”
While condemning what it calls “judicial activism” by conservative judges, ACS in fact encourages judicial activism by the left. To cultivate such a spirit, the organization has initiated a working group under the heading “Constitutional Interpretation and Change,” which seeks to “debunk” the “neutral-sounding theories of … originalism and strict construction” that “ideological conservatives” purportedly have used to smear “judges with whom they disagree as judicial activists who make up law instead of interpreting it.” This working group is part of ACS’s “The Constitution in the 21st Century” project, which aims “to promote positive, much-needed change in our legal and policy landscape,” “to formulate and advance a progressive vision of our Constitution and laws,” and “to popularize progressive ideas through papers, conferences and media outreach.”
ACS also administers a number of additional working groups. One of these is “Access to Justice,” which condemns “efforts to … insulate wrongdoers from suit, limit remedies and deprive legal aid services of resources.” This initiative is co-chaired by Lucas Guttentag (a national director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which seeks to expand the rights and liberties of illegal aliens); Marianne Lado (a former staff attorney with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund); and Bill Lann Lee (the Clinton administration’s top civil rights prosecutor from 1997 to 2001).
ACS’s “Criminal Justice” working group produces and disseminates reports founded on the premise that “racial inequality permeates the [justice] system from arrest through sentencing.” A noteworthy co-chair of this project is Professor David Cole, a staff attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) who has defended such abetters of Islamic terrorism as the radical attorney Lynne Stewart and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad operative Sami Al-Arian.
The aims of ACS’s “Democracy and Voting” (D&V) working group are broadly consistent with those of ACORN. Specifically, D&V “identifies barriers to political participation that stem from race, redistricting, the partisan and incompetent administration of elections, registration difficulties, [and] felon disenfranchisement.” One ACS Board member, George Washington University (GWU) law professor Spencer Overton, contends that instituting a photo ID requirement for voters would disenfranchise “political groups whose members are less likely to bring ID to the polls.” The D&V project is co-chaired by Julie Fernandes, who served as Special Assistant to President Clinton at the White House Domestic Policy Council; Sam Hirsch, who has longstanding ties to the Democratic National Committee; Pamela Karlan, a former attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and Nina Perales, who has served as Counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) and the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund.
ACS’s “Equality and Liberty” working group is devoted to “combating inequality resulting from race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and other factors.” The project’s co-chairs include Paul Wolfson, who currently represents the Texas chapter of the NAACP; Nina Pillard, a former fellow at the ACLU who also worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and for President Clinton’s Office of the Solicitor General; and Alan Jenkins, who has had close ties to the Ford Foundation, the Clinton Justice Department, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the ACLU, and the Center for Community Change.
The “Economic, Workplace and Environmental Regulation” working group “encompasses a broad range of issues” including “workplace democracy, climate change and the enforcement of environmental laws, the regulatory process, corporate governance, and wealth inequality.”
The “Religion Clauses” working group “provides a forum for discussion about the meaning and interpretation of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses and also investigates broader questions regarding religion in America — including the appropriate relationship between church and state in contemporary society.” The group’s co-chairs include Bill Marshall (who served as Deputy White House Counsel and Deputy Assistant to President Clinton) and Melissa Rogers (who previously served as Executive Director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, a project supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts).
The “Separation of Powers and Federalism” working group was established by ACS to “promote the ability of government at all levels to pursue progressive policies,” and to counter what it describes as the Bush administration’s efforts to “increase … executive power at the expense of the other branches of the federal government.” This project is co-chaired by three people who worked for the Clinton Justice Department—Preeta Bansal, Neil J. Kinkopf, and Christopher Schroeder—as well as by Simon Lazarus, who served on President Jimmy Carter’s White House Domestic Policy Staff.
Through its “International Law and the Constitution” working group, ACS disparages American law as antiquated and inequitable, and calls on judges to make American jurisprudence subservient to United Nations treaties and European Court of Human Rights decisions. Co-chairing this group are Jamil Dakwar, a former Human Rights Watch staffer who currently directs the ACLU’s Human Rights Program; Catherine Powell, a Board member of Human Rights Watch; and Cindy Soohoo, Director of the Center for Reproductive Rights’ Domestic Legal Program.
With an eye toward cultivating ever-new generations of leftists in the future, ACS has developed a “Constitution in the Classroom” program whereby volunteers, under the banner of “education,” indoctrinate young students across the United States.
In June 2008, ACS Board of Advisors member Eric Holder, whom president-elect Barack Obama would name as his top choice for Attorney General five months later, spoke at an ACS convention. Predicting an Obama victory in the November election, Holder told his audience that the U.S. would soon be “run by progressives.” “With this new administration that will be taking its place in January of 2009,” he elaborated, “… we are going to be looking for people who share our values.” A “substantial number of those people” were likely to be ACS members, added Holder.
A December 11, 2008 New York Times piece reported: “[O]bservers expect that the Obama team will turn to [ACS] members to fill subcabinet positions and judgeships.” By that time, a number of major ACS figures already had secured positions in the forthcoming Obama administration:
Executive Director Lisa Brown had been named as Obama’s White House Staff Secretary. In the 1990s, Brown served as an Attorney Advisor in the Clinton Justice Department and as Counsel to Vice President Al Gore.
ACS Board of Directors member Goodwin Liu (also a Board member of the ACLU’s Northern California chapter) had been named to the Obama-Biden transition team.
Joining Liu on the transition team was another ACS Board of Directors member, Dawn Johnsen, who had spent five years in the Clinton Justice Department, five years as Legal Director of NARAL, and one year as a Staff Counsel Fellow for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.
Former ACS staffer Melody Barnes had been selected to direct the Obama administration’s Domestic Policy Council. Barnes previously had served as Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress, and as Chief Counsel to Senator Ted Kennedy on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Former ACS Board member Ronald Klain had been named chief of staff to Vice President Joe Biden. In 1993 Klain directed the judicial selection process that resulted in the confirmation of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court. The following year, Klain became chief of staff and Counselor to Attorney General Janet Reno, and in 1995 he became Assistant to President Bill Clinton and chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore.
As it was composed in December 2008, ACS’s Board of Directors also included a large roster of additional leftist luminaries. Among these were:
Spencer Overton, the aforementioned GWU law professor
Stephen P. Berzon, former Legal Director of the Children’s Defense Fund
Antonia Hernández, a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and formerly the President and general counsel of MALDEF
Anne Irwin, who previously worked for the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project
William P. Marshall, who served as Deputy White House Counsel and Deputy Assistant to the President during the Clinton administration
Robert Raben: This Board member of Alliance for Justice was a longtime Counsel to Rep. Barney Frank and a former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton administration.
Teresa Wynn Roseborough, who served as a principal attorney for the Al Gore campaign in the litigation surrounding the controversial 2000 presidential election
Theodore M. Shaw, Director-Counsel and President of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
Paul M. Smith, a Board of Directors member of the Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund, which deals in litigation aiming for “full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV”
Geoffrey Stone: This member of the ACLU’s National Advisory Council also participates in the “Straight for Equality Project” of PFLAG, which seeks to “end discrimination” against “gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons.”
Stephen Susman: A practicing attorney for more than four decades, this National Council member of Human Rights First and Board member of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law of Texas is very active in global warming litigation. He successfully represented a coalition of 37 Texas cities which sought to prevent TXU Energy Corporation from securing permits for the construction of new coal-fired electric generating plants. He also served as counsel to a Northwest Arctic Inuit tribe that sued 24 major energy companies for $400 million, claiming that the defendants’ industrial activities had contributed to “global warming,” which—by allegedly causing rising tides, warmer ocean temperatures, and more frequent storms—was damaging the tribe’s natural environment.
Patricia Wald: This former Chair of the Open Society Institute’s Justice Initiative Board served in the Carter administration as Assistant Attorney General for Legislative Affairs, and in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration as a consultant on matters of criminal justice and poverty.
Roger Wilkins: This George Mason University professor was an Assistant Attorney General in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, and is currently a Board member of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. He views the U.S. as a persistently bigoted nation that refuses “to accept fully responsibility for the consequences” of its racist history, and for the resultant “personal racial wounds” that allegedly afflict all contemporary black Americans.
ACS’s Board of Advisors (as of December 2008) was similarly populated with a host of leftists, including:
Walter E. Dellinger III, ACS’s aforementioned co-founder
Abner Mikva, ex-Clinton White House Counsel
Laurence Tribe, Harvard law professor and a member of Al Gore’s legal team in the 2000 election crisis
Mario Cuomo, former New York State governor
Janet Reno, ex-Clinton Attorney General
Drew Saunders Days III, who served as President Clinton’s Solicitor General from 1993 to 1996, and as Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division of President Carter’s Justice Department from 1977 to 1980
Maria Echaveste: This former Deputy Chief of Staff to President Clinton and former advisor to Howard Dean is currently a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, an Executive Committee member of the Democratic National Committee, and a Board of Directors member of People for the American Way.
Christopher Edley, Jr.: Having taught Barack Obama at Harvard Law School in the late 1980s, Edley served as an advisor to President Clinton’s “One America Initiative” and as Chair of Clinton’s “Affirmative Action Review” in 1998. During Obama’s run for the presidency in 2008, Edley worked as an advisor to the campaign. In November 2008, president-elect Obama named Edley to the Advisory Board of the Obama-Biden Transition Project chaired by John Podesta.
Shirley Mount Hufstedler, who served as U.S. Secretary of Education under President Carter
William Albert Norris, whom President Carter nominated in 1980 as a U.S. Court of appeals judge.
One particularly influential former member of the ACS Board of Advisors,
Hillary Clinton, was named to be President Obama’s Secretary of State in December 2008.