Our Work With Government EmployeesSeptember 05, 2010
The ACLU Helps Federal Employees, Your Country, Your Friends, Your Family, Indeed—All of Us!
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of a half million Americans and thousands more who contribute without joining, with one goal: Turn the paper guarantees of The Bill of Rights into real world protections for real people.
The Real Story Behind Real Americans
Before the ACLU was founded in 1920, no law—however much it censored free speech—had ever been struck down as a violation of the First Amendment. Now much of what we cherish about America—freedom of speech, the right not to be forced to follow someone else’s religion, one person/one vote, personal privacy, Miranda warnings—result from work by the ACLU, such as the High Court cases ACLU v. Reno (1997) and ACLU v. Mukasey (2009) protecting speech on the Internet. Once, merely giving a person—married or not—basic information about contraception could get you sent to jail. No longer, and the ACLU helped change that.
The ACLU Women’s Rights Project, then led by Ruth Bader Ginsberg (now a Supreme Court justice), dismantled much of the discrimination women faced in their careers and their lives. When 40,000 hooded KKKers marched down Pennsylvania Avenue and Klan-controlled school boards fired catholics and blacks nationwide, the ACLU braved torches and guns and stood up to the Klan, the first largely white group to do so. The ACLU also stood up for loyal Japanese-Americans ripped from their jobs and homes and forced into WWII camps. (In time, President Reagan signed the civil rights law admitting the U.S. made a mistake and apologizing to those affected.)
ACLU Has Worked on Behalf of Federal Employees to:
- Safeguard Due Process Protections for Discipline and Security Clearances
- Curb Abusive Background and Retention Investigations
- Guarantee Federal Workers Their Free Speech Rights
- Protect Whistleblower Free Speech Against Retaliation
- Obtain and Expand Family and Medical Leave
- Curb Partisan Politics in the Career Service
- Protect Employees & Others from Illegal Actions by Police
- Limit Hatch Act Restrictions on Voluntary Nonwork Activity
- Gain More Effective Laws and Practices Against Invidious Discrimination on Grounds of Gender, Race, Religion, or Sexual Orientation
The ACLU-NCA also handles federal employee issues, like stopping snooping on your personal information, and some other federal matters. We work with the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office on federal work force concerns beyond individual cases, bringing in a wider coalition to get, for instance, the Family & Medical Leave Act or expanded whistleblower protections into law. Being human, we can make mistakes but we try to do the right thing to protect the Constitution.
Ungagging Federal Employees
The EPA in Nevada disciplined and threatened to file criminal charges against an electrical engineer who spoke at a public meeting—on his own time—in apparent support of an environmental policy contrary to the agency’s position at that time.
The ACLU-NCA took this case all the way through the court of appeals, fighting both EPA and the Office of Government Ethics to establish the principle that federal employees have the same right as other citizens to comment on federal policies on behalf of private organizations so long as their own jobs or agency is not involved. And we (all) won.
Making Due Process Real
The DEA in Cleveland sought to discharge an employee solely on denial of his security clearance, without providing enough information for him to challenge his discharge. The ACLU-NCA represented the employee, arguing that his discharge violated the Due Process Clause unless the agency told him enough to meaningfully contest the grounds for firing.
This ACLU-NCA case reestablished in real-life practice this basic due process principle—underscoring the importance of keeping an independent watch.
“Over years, over time they’ve done fabulous work. We’d be a poorer country without them and our civil rights and civil liberties would be much less well protected.”
-- Julian Bond, NAACP Chair
Free Speech for Police and Ex-Service Members
Three uniformed Secret Service agents used their Fraternal Order of Police chapter’s website to criticize a proposed reorganization. The Service disciplined them under a rule barring employees from criticizing the government or its officers. The ACLU-NCA persuaded the Service to remove the regulation from its Administrative Manual and review the discipline.
A Laurel (MD) police employee worried that his agency had a similar regulation against public criticism. This clear First Amendment problem was redressed by ACLU-NCA letter.
A U.S. Capitol police officer left a harmless object in the Rotunda to underscore that more training on handling incidents was needed. The ACLU-NCA helped the officer stave off discipline for his free speech activity.
A USMC Iraq War Sergeant, honorably discharged into the Individual Ready Reserves, publicly opposed the war. The Marines proposed to punish him for violating the UCMJ by his anti-war expression. The ACLU-NCA convinced the Corps to drop the charges since the veteran had not been activated and was therefore a civilian, not subject to the UCMJ.