ACLU Accomplishments

When YOUR rights are on the line… the ACLU is there.

For nearly one-hundred years, the ACLU has been at the center of one critical, history-making court case after another, participating in more Supreme Court cases than any other private organization.

And whether we’re standing on principle before the highest court in the land or in state and federal courthouses across America (our network includes affiliates that are active on-the-ground in all 50 states), the ACLU wins far more often than we lose.

The key to nearly ten decades of defending our most fundamental rights and freedoms is our vast, nationwide network of citizen activists. Every landmark victory and courtroom win is empowered by over 1.5 million card-carrying ACLU members who support and sustain our vital work.

Here are just a few of our civil rights victories from the last nine decades:

A Full-Court Press Challenging the Trump Administration in 2017: During Donald Trump’s first year in office, the ACLU has filed 56 lawsuits challenging his administration’s assault on the Constitution and the rule of law. These suits cover a wide range of issues including immigrant rights, reproductive freedom, and discrimination against the LGBT community.

Halting the Trump Transgender Military Ban in 2017: A federal court granted the ACLU’s request for a complete halt to implementation of the president’s directive banning transgender service members from serving in the military while our lawsuit challenging the ban moves forward.

Challenging Trump’s Muslim Ban in 2017: The day after Donald Trump issued his Muslim Ban, the ACLU enjoined it in court. When he revised it, we again shot it down—with the full 4th Circuit ruling 10–3 in our favor and describing President Trump’s order as “drip[ping] with religious intolerance, animus, and discrimination.” We also won a decision that Trump’s Muslim Ban 3.0 was unconstitutional. However, in June 2018 in a companion case brought by the state of Hawaii, the Supreme Court upheld the third version of the ban. This ruling will go down in history as one of the Supreme Court’s great failures. The ACLU will continue to push Congress to end the ban once and for all.

A Landmark Voter Suppression Decision in 2016: The ACLU won a landmark voting rights case when a federal appeals court struck down North Carolina’s harsh voter suppression law — which imposed a voter ID requirement, cut a week of early voting, and eliminated same-day registration. The court ruled that the law was enacted with discriminatory intent and with “almost surgical precision” targeted African-American voters.

The Fight for Freedom to Marry in 2015:
In 2015, after decades of effort, the ACLU won a landmark Supreme Court victory in Obergefell v. Hodges, which made the freedom to marry the law of the land. This remarkable breakthrough came two years after our victory in Windsor v. United States, which brought an end to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and set the stage for a string of state-by-state victories that paved the way for winning the freedom to marry nationwide.

Standing Up for Voting Rights in 2014:
The ACLU went to court and successfully overturned extreme Voter ID laws in Pennsylvania and Arkansas — part of the ACLU’s ongoing drive to protect vulnerable voters from voter suppression efforts targeted at people of color, the poor, the elderly and students.

Defending Reproductive Rights, 2011-2015:
The ACLU is a nationwide leader in fighting back against ongoing and persistent attacks on reproductive rights. As the only pro-choice organization with lawyers and advocates on the ground in all 50 states, the ACLU works to ensure access to birth control and abortion for women who often have nowhere else to turn. Over the last five years, our advocates have helped block over 300 laws aimed at restricting reproductive rights.

Helping LGBT Americans Serve Openly in 2010:
In a landmark court win, an Air Force major discharged because of her sexual orientation was reinstated, contributing to the eventual repeal of the discriminatory and unconstitutional “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Protecting the Right to Privacy in 2009:
In Safford Unified School District v. Redding, the court ruled that school officials violated the constitutional rights of a 13-year-old Arizona girl, when they strip-searched her based on a classmate’s uncorroborated accusation.

Keeping Religion Out of Science Classrooms in 2005:
Eighty years after the Scopes Trial, the ACLU challenged a Pennsylvania requirement that high school biology classes teach “intelligent design” alongside evolution. The judge ruled that “intelligent design” is not science and teaching it violated the First Amendment, garnering nationwide attention.

Exposing Torture from 2003 onward:
After a five-year legal battle, the ACLU obtained critical documents detailing the Bush torture program, including long-secret legal memos justifying waterboarding and other abuses and an Inspector General’s report highlighting CIA abuses. The ACLU is leading the demand for full accountability for those who authorized or condoned torture.

Keeping America Safe and Free 2001 to present:
Since 9/11, the ACLU has been vigorously opposing policies that sacrifice liberty in the name of national security. In 2015, our legal and legislative work helped push passage of the USA Freedom Act, a beginning step towards real reform and the first time since 1978 that Congress has acted to restrict — rather than expand — the government’s surveillance authority.

Protecting Internet Free Speech in 1997:
In ACLU v. Reno, the Supreme Court struck down the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which broadly censored “indecent” speech on the Internet. Since then, Congress has passed numerous laws to criminalize constitutionally protected speech online. Each has been declared unconstitutional after challenges by the ACLU.

Taking a Stand for Free Speech in Skokie in 1978:
The ACLU took a controversial stand for free speech by defending a Nazi group that planned to rally through the Chicago suburb of Skokie — where many Holocaust survivors lived. The notoriety of the case cost the ACLU dearly as members left in droves, but to many, it was our finest hour and has come to represent our unwavering commitment to principle.

Defending Reproductive Rights from 1973 onward:
After decades of struggle, the Supreme Court held — in Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton — that the constitutional right to privacy encompasses a woman’s right to decide whether to continue a pregnancy. But the battle continues, and the ACLU is still fighting to protect women’s right to reproductive choice.

Protecting Students’ Free Speech in 1969:
In Tinker v. Des Moines, the ACLU won a major Supreme Court victory on behalf of public school students suspended for wearing black armbands in protest of the Vietnam War, a major First Amendment victory.

Desegregating America’s schools through Brown v. Board of Education in 1954:
The ACLU shared a major victory with the NAACP when the Supreme Court declared that racially segregated schools were in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Fighting the Internment of Japanese Americans in 1942:
The ACLU stood almost alone in denouncing the federal government’s internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps during WWII.

Defending Science through the Scopes Case in 1925:
When biology teacher John T. Scopes was charged with violating a Tennessee ban on the teaching of evolution, the ACLU was there and secured celebrated attorney Clarence Darrow for his defense.

Championing Political Freedom during the Palmer Raids in 1920:
In its first year, the ACLU championed citizens being targeted for deportation, including politically radical immigrants. We also supported trade unionists’ right to organize, and secured the release of hundreds of activists imprisoned for antiwar activities.

The Struggle for Freedom Continues…

Today, the ACLU continues to play a defining role in protecting and advancing individual rights and the rule of law — wherever they come under attack. From the courts, to legislatures, to individual communities, we defend the constitutional rights guaranteed to all Americans, no matter the repercussions.