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Worldwide Locations

The State of Civil Liberties

The ACLU was thus forged in the crucible of the Palmer Raids, and then later tested by fire in 1942 when the nation abandoned itself to xenophobia. Claiming that the Japanese-American communities located on the west coast were a national security risk, the federal government uprooted more than 120,000 people, many of them U.S. citizens, and held them in internment camps.

As public prejudice and hysteria mounted, the ACLU protested the internment to President Franklin Roosevelt. Arthur Garfield Hays, the ACLU's General Counsel at the time, argued, "Our democratic structure is sufficiently elastic to reconcile the military necessity with the fundamental civil rights of the citizen." The ACLU lost that battle, and it took the government more than 45 years to acknowledge its wrongful actions and pay restitution to former internees.

This history of shameful actions, should remind us that in times of national crisis we must not unify to the point of intolerance.

Undermining Checks and Balances
With this background, let's look at the actions being taken today that undermine our system of checks and balances.

Recall your 8th grade social studies lesson. Madison together with Alexander Hamilton, the two chief authors of The Federalist - promoted a government that had enough power to function as a modern state, but not enough to lead to tyranny. The separation of powers would insure that each branch and level of government exercised a check on the actions of the others. In this way power would be balanced and not concentrated in one branch or in one or several persons.

A chief means of securing the system of checks and balances was the right to judicial review. Indeed, the framers of our Constitution went to great lengths to create an independent judiciary - an institution very different from the colonial judges who had served at the pleasure of the king and were greatly distrusted by the colonists. The new, independent judges were to play a primary role in guaranteeing individual freedoms, forming, in Madison's words "an impenetrable bulwark against every assumption of power in the legislative or executive."