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January 2010

An Assessment Of The Obama Administration’s Fulfillment Of ACLU Recommended “Actions For Restoring America”

In October 2008, two weeks before the presidential election, the ACLU released “Actions for Restoring America,” a set of detailed recommendations to the new president for concrete steps he should take to restore civil liberties in America. These recommendations were designed to correct assaults upon American freedoms that were implemented during the previous eight years. That document – which was furnished to the Obama and McCain campaigns and, after the election, to President‐elect Obama’s transition team – included recommendations for action on the president’s first day in office, during his first 100 days, and during his first year.

With the anniversary of President Obama’s inauguration upon us, it is now possible to assess the administration’s civil liberties performance during its first year through the prism of its record in fulfilling the ACLU’s specific recommendations. Because our recommendations focused on steps that the new president could take on his own, without a vote by Congress, they provide a unique measure of the administration’s determination to reverse the Bush legacy. For each recommendation, we simply asked the question, “did the administration do this or not?”

This report does not purport to be a complete analysis of the Obama administration’s first‐year record on civil liberties. The ACLU recognizes that the issues at the top of the nation’s agenda are constantly changing, and that different issues inevitably carry different weight. Also, the administration has taken actions – good and bad – that are not reflected in the ACLU’s list. For example, while a significant part of how the administration must be judged is in regard to its actions with Congress, our recommendations were limited to executive actions and did not include steps that only Congress could take. In addition, the administration may be preparing actions in some areas that they have not yet had time to carry out because of delays in the Senate confirmation of staff or other factors. And finally, in some instances, the assessment of how the administration has performed with regard to some of our recommendations is inevitably somewhat subjective, as some recommendations are inherently complicated and can involve multiple levels of fulfillment.

Nevertheless, this report is a valuable snapshot of the administration’s performance on the very broad range of issues that the ACLU concerns itself with, many of which reach deep into the government. These issues have a broad impact on the lives of many Americans, even if some are not the kind that make headlines.

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