What is the Function of the American Civil Liberties Union?

For nearly a hundred years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been a trademark organization in America, but few citizens really know what the organization's true function is, especially as the group's actions grow to be an influential part of court cases that are currently hitting the news cycle. Even Al Jazeera is reporting that the organization has alleged that the Baltimore Police Department unjustly spied on African Americans and Muslims in the city. For those who aren't sure what the organization stands for or what the main function is, here is a quick primer on everything an informed American citizen should know about this organization.


The American Civil Liberties Union, which is also known as the ACLU to Americans, began as a small group in the early aftermath of World War I. This was during the so-called "Palmer Raids" of 1919 and 1920, when then-Attorney General Mitchell Palmer routinely rounded up and deported "radicals" who fought against what the United States stood for. The time is marked by unconstitutional arrests and deportations, and so the ACLU was born to fight against these injustices and many more. Starting with just a handful of civil attorneys, the organization grew by successfully representing and freeing many of these so-called "radicals" and has cemented itself as a leader in civil liberties law and rights.

Recommended reading: Top 25 Most Affordable Master's in Social Work (MSW) Degree Programs

Early Stated Function

The function of the ACLU is to protect marginalized populations and individuals from corruption and abuse at the hands of the United States government. The organization has been the target of many White House administrations for this, including being accused of protecting Nazis and other fringe groups; it has also been accused of undermining national security because of its work to fix the Patriot Act and for challenging the National Security Agency's practice of spying on American citizens. While the above is true, the ACLU stands for the American Constitution, which dictates free speech under the amendments as well as limiting government oversight to its own people. Since its earliest days, the organization has continually fought for its principles, which has earned it enemies from every political party in the country's history.


The ACLU has a history that's nearly 100 years old, and in that time, it has embedded itself into various fights around the country. From defending Nazis to pushing for equal treatment of the LGBTQ community, the organization has evolved into a principled group of individuals who believe in transparency and accountability, especially at the hands of the United States government. While it has had a controversial background, it remains committed to upholding the American constitution and is a bulwark against government abuses that aim to limit the rights of private citizens.

Membership and Current Status

From humble beginnings in 1918, the ACLU has grown to encompass over 1.75 million members. It is a national public interest law firm and operates in all 50 states plus every territory held by the United States. It also holds the record for the number of appearances before the United States Supreme Court, arguing cases that involve women's rights, prisoner rights, immigration, and LGBTQ issues. Currently, there are more than 100 active ACLU staff attorneys that partner with 2,000 volunteer attorneys and handles a caseload that averages about 2,000 cases annually, many of which make an appearance before the United States Supreme Court.

Notable Aspects

The ACLU functions as a non-profit and non-partisan organization, something that stands as a highlight in the recent political climate of the United States. As stated before, it is the nation's largest public interest law firm and stands ready to battle for human rights and equality regardless of sexual orientation, culture, gender, political affiliation, or religion. It is also the single largest source of civil liberties resources available, including briefing papers, court filings, and more; this information is routinely used by major publications and journalists that report on some of the most controversial and pressing societal issues.

It's difficult to overstate the importance of the ACLU, especially in the current political climate of the United States. While many feel as though the organization has a controversial background, the fact remains that it remains a major watchdog advocacy group that does its best to bring to light unwarranted abuses by the government. With a little more research into the American Civil Liberties Union, citizens will find an organization that sticks to its principles and its overarching function of protecting Americans and their rights, no matter the cost.