The ACLU is involved in a lot of law suits. How do they decide which cases to try and which ones to pass?

If it's by vote of a special committee:

  • What is the name of the committee?
  • Which set of criteria (official or published) must a case meet in order to be taken up?
  • Who are the current members of the committee?
  • How are the committee members chosen?
  • 1
    The ACLU is not a singular organization, but a network of state and regional affiliates, according to their website: aclu.org/about/affiliates Each affiliate has its own governing board, officers, and executive director. So it looks like you'll have at least 53 sets of answers; for example, this annual report for Southern California lists dozens of names of staff members: aclusocal.org/sites/default/files/field_documents/… – jeffronicus Feb 3 '17 at 4:56
  • 1
    @jeffronicus: Good point. However, when people donate money, they typically give to the central organization. That organization still needs to figure out how to allocate funds to its different affiliates and that must bear some relationship to what cases they decide to fund at the central organizational level. One would think their decision-making process in this regard should be transparent. However, apparently, it is not so much. – Rain Willow Feb 3 '17 at 5:19
  • Fixed the subject to correctly reflect the actual question in the body – user4012 Feb 3 '17 at 12:08
  • They employ a "sanity test". Is the matter a real issue and is the argument consistent with the provisions of the Constitution? They pursue it only if it fails the test. – user11810 Feb 3 '17 at 19:37

ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is a nonpartisan NGO that offers legal advise in cases where they consider civil liberties might be at risk, cases such as Brown vs. Board of Education, ACLU vs Reno or exposing CIA tortures.

Civil rights, which may include:

  • Freedom of speech, press, religion and association.
  • Equal protection;
  • Privacy;
  • Voting rights;
  • Discrimination based on disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or national origin;
  • Police reform.

Take as an example the Executive Order signed by President Donald Trump PROTECTING THE NATION FROM FOREIGN TERRORIST ENTRY INTO THE UNITED STATES which according to the NPR have some issues about the viability of what is trying to accomplish. Following the objectives ACLU has about civil rights:

[ACLU] takes on issues that can affect a large number of people directly or involving a small number of people or an individual that could set a precedent that would impact a significant number of people. We are especially interested in issues that may break new ground in interpreting constitutional rights.

Since the Order has a direct impact over millions of people that travel around the United States, they take action offering legal actions against the Order.

Also, is worth to mention that ACLU doesn't act as a unique body, they decentralized and each state has their own logistical organization, following the objectives previously mentioned.


Before accepting a case, The American Civil Liberties Union considers:

Involves Civil Rights and Liberties

Does the case raise a civil liberties or civil rights issue?

Civil liberties
  • freedom of speech, press, religion, and association;
  • due process;
  • equal protection; and
  • privacy.
Civil rights
  • voting rights;
  • discrimination based on disability, race, sex, sexual orientation, religion or national origin; and
  • police reform.

Involves government entities

Because of the nature of civil liberties claims, only rarely does the ACLU of Oklahoma take a case that does not involve the action or inaction by a governmental entity.

If you would like to find out more about what kind of cases the ACLU will take, please see the national ACLU website.

How likely is it that a court will reach the civil liberties issue?

Does not involve factual disputes

Generally, the ACLU takes cases that do not involve complicated disputes of fact, and prefers cases that involve questions of law only. An example of a factual dispute is an employment discrimination case in which the employer claims he fired the employee because of poor job performance and has credible evidence to support that claim, but the employee disputes the evidence and has credible evidence of her own. Because employment claims are usually very fact dependent, it is not often that the ACLU of Oklahoma takes this kind of case.

We often decide not to accept cases involving factual disputes because: (1) if a court resolves the facts against the client, it may never reach the civil liberties or civil rights issues; (2) if the decision rests upon the specific facts of a case, the case is less likely to have broad impact on many people; and (3) we have so few volunteer and staff attorneys that it is difficult for us to devote attorney time to resolving factual disputes.

Impact on Civil Liberties (writ large)

We also consider the potential impact a case may have on civil liberties at large, including:

  • Will the case set a civil liberties precedent?
  • Will the case strengthen an existing but ignored precedent?
  • What are the prospects of success and the risks of losing?
  • How likely is the issue to recur?
  • What educational opportunities does the case present?
  • What resources would have to be allocated to a particular case.
  • What costs and administrative burdens will the case impose in relation to available ACLU of Oklahoma staff and funds?
  • Are volunteer attorneys available?

Typical cases not accepted

Keep in mind that the ACLU of Oklahoma does NOT generally accept these types of case:

  • A person has been fired from a job without a good reason or just cause;
  • Domestic matters (divorce, child custody, wills, etc.);
  • A person is being denied benefits, such as workers’ compensation, unemployment benefits, or Social Security;
  • Landlord / tenant disputes;
  • Immigration matters; and,
  • Criminal cases or complaints about a person’s attorney in a criminal case — the ACLU considers accepting criminal cases only in limited instances, such as, for example, when a person is being prosecuted for engaging in activity protected by the Constitution – such as participating in a political demonstration or where the statute or ordinance under which the person is charged is subject to constitutional attack.

Source: Oklahoma ACLU

  • 1
    This is pure read, you need to filter the information, no copy-paste. Besides, it needs your improvement. – nelruk Feb 3 '17 at 18:11
  • @nelruk: Agreed. Hang on... it's coming. I will edit the post soon. – Rain Willow Feb 3 '17 at 19:05
  • Improvements added. – Rain Willow Feb 3 '17 at 20:02
  • There is a lot of good information here, but it needs a lot of synthesis too. Can you try to condense it into the main points? – indigochild Feb 3 '17 at 22:44

From Reddit:

The ACLU is made up of 48 or 49 state affiliates plus the national ACLU based in New York. Most things are done by the state affiliates, though this is often not clear in news stories. Each affiliate decides on it's own but may ask national for advice or assistance.

Each affiliate has it's own by-laws and procedures. Here's how mine works:

The state affiliate has a board of directors. You can find the members on the state website. Board members are chosen by a vote of state ACLU members. The board has an executive committee which is elected by and from board members. The executive committee, in conjunction with legal staff, decide which complaints are acted upon.

Cases are usually based on complaints we receive. Sometimes the complaints are from local government officials who want guidance, clarification or just want to know the ACLU affiliate's position. There's an intake process where it's determined if the issue at hand is appropriate for the ACLU and actionable. I haven't seen a written list of factors, but there are factors such as it usually has to be an act or omission by or on behalf of a government agent because the constitution only protects you from the government. Other factors are if it's a winnable case and if it's a good expenditure of resources versus other competing cases. We only have the resources to act on maybe 1 in 50 complaints.

Once an issue is selected (it's not a legal case yet), usually a letter is written by a staff attorney of cooperating counsel and is sent to the alleged offender pointing out the illegal or improper conduct and asking for specific action to address the issue. This is often successful. If not, we decide if it's appropriate to file a civil case.

All the ACLU affiliate can do is ask, and if that fails, sue, the government to follow the law.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .