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NEW YORK - After almost 18 years of distinguished service as President of the American Civil Liberties Union, Nadine Strossen has announced that she will step down this year. Strossen, the first woman ever to lead the ACLU, is one of today's most well known and respected civil liberties leaders. During her tenure as president, the ACLU has continued its role as a tireless defender of constitutional freedoms in the face of unrelenting threats.
"I'm deeply grateful for the privilege of having led the ACLU for almost 18 years through a period of extraordinary growth and accomplishment during a critical time in our nation's history," said Strossen. "It is with the fondest of memories and some sadness that I take this step, but I believe the infusion of new perspectives and ideas in leadership is healthy for any organization, including the ACLU. I look forward to devoting time and energy to the organization in new and different ways."
Since 1991, when Strossen became its president, the ACLU has grown tremendously: membership has increased from 275,000 to more than 500,000; national staff has more than tripled; and 25 state affiliates that had no full-time staff attorneys now have them. Over this time, the organization - through litigation, activism and lobbying - has led many civil liberties struggles, including, in the early 1990's, the defense of free speech and privacy in the then-new Internet world, and, after September 11, 2001, the fight against government secrecy, abuses of power, and human rights violations.
Strossen largely attributes the ACLU's leadership in the fight to preserve civil liberties in the hostile post-9/11 climate, as well as its dramatic growth and the increased strength of its state affiliates, to ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero, whose hiring in 2001 she championed.
"Nadine Strossen is a brilliant, dedicated, determined, and successful leader, and it has been a privilege to work with her. While we wish her nothing but the best and are confident that she will persist in her tireless efforts to protect civil liberties, we will miss her leadership," said Romero. "On a personal note, I'm extremely grateful to Nadine for her extraordinary leadership of the organization as it transitioned under a new executive director a week before 9/11. Our accomplishments over the past seven years have had everything to do with her steady hand and unwavering support of the ACLU and me personally."
Two of Strossen's primary goals as president were to increase youth involvement in the organization and to gain momentum for civil liberties within the context of the international human rights movement. In both areas, the ACLU has made great strides. More resources and staff have been dedicated to focus on youth, which has resulted in an increased ACLU presence on high school and college campuses. The ACLU also implemented a Human Rights Program, which works to advance the civil liberties agenda through international human rights principles, strategies and forums.
Strossen says that her passion for individual freedom and social justice has its origins in the stories she heard as a child about family members who had the courage to speak out against civil liberties violations, including ones that they had endured. Her maternal grandfather, an immigrant from the former Yugoslavia, was a conscientious objector to World War I. His sentence for expressing his anti-war views was to stand against the courthouse in Hudson County, New Jersey so that "passers-by could spit on him." Strossen's father, who was born in Germany, spoke out against Nazism even before he was defined by Hitler's racial laws as a "half Jew"; the Nazis forcibly removed him from school and imprisoned him in the Buchenwald concentration camp. He was liberated by American troops one day before he was to be sterilized, and he then worked with the U.S. military to apprehend Nazi leaders. Strossen's mother was a women's rights advocate whose own career options had been thwarted by gender discrimination; a charter member of NOW and a Planned Parenthood supporter, she would describe Strossen and her brother as "my two planned children."
"I grew up keenly aware of the vulnerability of individual freedom and equality," said Strossen. "My goal, very early on, was to do what I could to protect everyone's right to express ideas freely and to make basic life choices as an individual, free from societal discrimination and stereotypes."
In addition to presiding over an 83-member Board of lively civil libertarians while maintaining a full-time career as a professor at New York Law School, the indefatigable Strossen has crisscrossed the country day and night to appear at thousands of speaking engagements. Although she has commented on and debated a wide range of civil liberties issues, Strossen is widely known for her First Amendment work advocating the freedoms of religion, conscience, and speech, including her opposition to regulation of such controversial expression as hate speech, pornography, media violence, commercial speech, and campaign expenditures.
Strossen has made special efforts to engage diverse audiences, and she welcomes opportunities to discuss civil liberties issues with people with whom she has strong disagreements. She has debated many prominent conservatives, including Pat Buchanan, William F. Buckley, Ann Coulter, Lou Dobbs, Sean Hannity, Ed Meese, Ted Olson, Ralph Reed, Pat Robertson, Justice Antonin Scalia, Phyllis Schlafly, Ken Starr and John Yoo.
"I've always taken enormous pride in the fact that the ACLU neutrally defends all fundamental freedoms for all people, regardless of their ideology - even if they oppose civil liberties themselves," said Strossen. "Moreover, given the breadth and non-partisan nature of our agenda, I have never met anyone who doesn't strongly agree with us on at least some important civil liberties issues."
Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard College (1972) and magna cum laude from Harvard Law School (1975), where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Before becoming a law professor, she practiced law for nine years in her hometown of Minneapolis and in New York City.
Strossen's role as President of the ACLU will conclude in October of this year. She will remain active in ACLU campaigns and continue to teach full time at New York Law School.
The ACLU will celebrate Strossen as its "Lady Liberty" at its annual membership conference on June 10 in Washington D.C. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Antonin Scalia, and David Souter, along with a distinguished group of civil liberties leaders, will be in attendance.
More information about the conference is available at: www.aclu.org/conference/2008/
Strossen's bio is available online at: www.aclu.org/about/staff/13278res20020211.html