Thursday, August 18, 2011

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 3)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Free Speech for Government Officials and Personnel

Policy 35 —Political Campaign Financing

"Limitation on contributions or expenditures made by individuals or organizations for the purpose of advocating causes or candidates in the public forum impinge directly on freedom of speech and association." Thus the ACLU opposes campaign contribution limits and, instead, encourages public financing of campaigns which otherwise would be unable to effectively communicate their views for public consideration. "The appropriate civil liberties response is to expand, not limit, the resources available for political advocacy."

Public financing would provide equal funds to all qualified candidates "who have demonstrated an objective measure of existing political support." The idea here is to ensure a financial floor adequate to inform the public of their options.

Government issued pamphlets in which all candidates have been given message space are recommended.

The ACLU's stance on disclosing contributors is conflicted. They want to compel disclosure of major contributors to combat "improper influence," but simultaneously worry about this causing a "chilling effect" on the freedom of association. So they try to say "fringe political group" contributions shouldn't have to be at risk of disclosure, but otherwise the public ought to know. To me, this breaks with the usual ACLU pattern of forming general policy to protect cases most vulnerable to abridged liberties...a nice way of saying this distinction looks unprincipled.

(There is a footnote about the ACLU opposing "laws that require, or even tolerate, effective coercion of an individual to support group communication with which he disagrees." Specifically, the ACLU believes workers who must be in a union must not be required to pay more than their fair share for collective bargaining. I take it this refers to unions using member fees to advance political ends members may disagree with.)

Policy 36 — Congressional Expression

The ACLU opposes any attempt to weaken congressional immunity to prosecution for whatever they may say in the Senate or House (see Speech or Debate Clause). This includes any normal laws for libel or slander. Instead, the ACLU supports giving any such "accused person" the opportunity to make an official reply, and "spontaneous denunciation" by other members of Congress when anyone gets out of line.

Interestingly, this means the ACLU supports greater freedom of speech for members of Congress than anyone else, at least while they're in official debate.

Members of legislative bodies may not be denied their seat for expressing disagreement with US law or policy.

Policy 37 — Government Employees

In 1967 when the first part of this policy was written, the Hatch Act made it illegal for many federal employees to participate in the political process, even on their own time. The ACLU considered this a "severe deprivation of freedom of speech" and an inappropriate response to worries that superiors might coerce those under them to participate in partisan politics. (I found that the Hatch Act was amended in 1993, which makes me wonder why the 1995 ACLU guide wasn't updated to reflect this.)

There's a note here about the ACLU defending the rights of a Peace Corps volunteer who was fired for being critical of the Vietnam War.

The ACLU opposes any punishment for government workers who express opinions that would be protected for anyone else, unless the government can show that such expression impairs his or her ability to do the job.

Policy 38 — Financial Disclosure Requirements of Government Officials

The balance between the public's right to know and the privacy of government employees can be maintained by only requiring disclosure for particular positions and to the extent required to check for "a conflict or other impropriety."

Policy 39 — The Armed Forces

"The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees and protects the freedom of speech, assembly and association of members of the armed forces to the same extent that it does for civilians."

The ACLU opposes the confiscation of written materials and any punishment for criticizing public officials. Vague rules against "disrespectful behavior toward a superior officer" should be removed and such concerns be covered by specific rules. Nor does the military have any "legitimate interest" in hairstyle and personal jewelry standards, unless it actually affects safety. All personnel must be informed of — and given — an opportunity "to express dissenting viewpoints."

Members of the armed forces may not be restricted in their right "to address the President or members of Congress, privately and directly by means of personal letters, on any matter of public policy."

Non-classified information must be made available to the public.

Policy 40 — Constitutional Conventions

I'm unclear on the context of this policy, but I can tell that in 1979 there was concern about calls to have a Constitutional convention to amend the Constitution and about a possible negative impact on civil liberties.

Policy 40a — Regulation of Political Parties

So long as political parties remain "voluntary associations" of citizens without a "privileged, institutionalized role in elections and government," the ACLU affirms their free speech and association rights.

However, the ACLU considers primary elections to be a "semi-governmental function" and so believes government regulation can be justified to ensure voter rights. "To facilitate competition for primary nominations, states may publish or mandate the publication of lists of registered members of parties engaging in the primary election process." (Surprised at that one!)

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