Nonprofit Advocacy Project: “assists nonprofit organizations ... through technical assistance, workshops, and a wealth of tools and information”
Foundation Advocacy Initiative: This project strives “to increase foundation support to organizations that seek to influence policy and public opinion.”
Student Action Campaign: When the new Supreme Court session opens each October, this program “unites student activists on college, university, and law school campuses nationwide to fight for social justice.”
Access to Justice Program: Founded on the premise that the American criminal-justice system is steeped in racism, this program “supports a progressive agenda to protect and improve" that system.
Operating on a yearly budget of $4.5 million, AFJ has built its reputation most notably on its activism vis a vis the appointment of federal judges. The organization consistently paints Republican nominees as “extremists” whose views range far outside the boundaries of mainstream public opinion.
The first major victory of AFJ’s Judicial Selection Projectoccurred when Judge Robert Bork was nominated for the Supreme Court by President Reagan in 1987. Immediately after Bork’s nomination, AFJ sent messages to the editorial offices of every newspaper in the United States, urging the Senate to reject. The day after the nomination was announced, AFJ representatives also held closed-door strategy meetings with Democratic Senators on the Judiciary Committee. "We’re in triple gear," said Nan Aron, exhorting the American Bar Association to declare Bork unqualified for the post. AFJ’s efforts had a profound influence on the media, which produced a multitude of articles characterizing Bork as nothing more than a figure of the radical right. This propaganda campaign eventually culminated in Senator Edward Kennedy’s assertion that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.” In the end, the Bork nomination was scuttled.
Emboldened by its success, AFJ turned its focus toward further attacks on Republican nominees to both the Supreme Court the lower courts. In the hearings to confirm Clarence Thomas (nominated by President George H.W. Bush) to the Supreme Court, for instance, Nan Aron said that Thomas was opposed to civil rights for minorities; claimed that there was “something in [his] record to offend most everybody”; and accused him of harboring “a radical philosophy that exalts his own views over the Constitution.” When this first wave of attacks failed to derail Thomas’ nomination, AFJ researchers dredged up Anita Hill to make sexual harassment allegations against him.
Consider also the case of Priscilla Owen, a justice on the Texas Supreme Court, who was nominated by President Bush to sit on the Fifth Court of Appeals. Led by the urgings of AFJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee rejected Owen in a straight party-line vote when the Democrats controlled the Senate. AFJ’s opposition was based largely on the fact that Owen had upheld a Texas law requiring minors seeking an abortion to notify their parents. The organization also criticized Owen for her conservative positions on social and economic issues and her allegedly pro-corporate, anti-consumer biases. After Republicans regained control of the Senate in 2004, Owen was successfully appointed to the Appellate Court.
In 2007 AFJ posted on its website a petition calling for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales -- on grounds that he had "displayed flagrant disrespect for our system of laws and the principles of check[s] and balances on which our government is founded." Specifically, AFJ objected to the fact that Gonzales had defended President Bush's decision to authorize warrantless wiretapping in terrorism investigations; that Gonzales had supported the use of coercive interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects; that he had approved a photo-ID law designed to prevent voter fraud in American elections; and that he had fired eight U.S. attorneys who were appointed by President Bill Clinton.
AFJ’s consistent opposition to Republican judicial nominees stands in stark contrast to Nan Aron’s 1999 assertion (made during the Clinton administration) that the President “has a duty to fill judicial vacancies and appoint jurists who share his views.”
AFJ endorsed the Democrat-sponsored Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Particularly anathema to AFJ was the USA Patriot Act. In June 2004, AFJ launched an online initiative dubbed "Spy-der-man," which characterized then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (who sought to strictly enforce the Patriot Act) "as the intrusive super-villain invading people's privacy, stealing library and medical records, and accessing e-mail." Calling for Ashcroft's resignation, Nan Aron denounced "anti-terrorism policies that intrude on free speech, privacy, and due process," and charged Ashcroft with "abuse of power and disregard for civil rights."
A member of the Abolition 2000 anti-war coalition, AFJ was a signatory to a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 attacks as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military retribution. Suggesting that the hijackers were motivated by a desire to point out global injustices perpetrated by the United States, this document explained that similar future calamities could be averted only if America would finally begin to "promote fundamental rights around the world."
Viewing the U.S. as a nation rife with discrimination against women, AFJ was a Cosponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington, D.C., a rally that advocated unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion-on-demand.
AFJ also runs programs to train college students for careers as inside-the-Beltway political operatives. This is done primarily through its “First Monday” initiative, held annually since 1994 on the opening day of the Supreme Court. In collusion with sympathetic law school professors and students and a few prominent left-leaning celebrities, First Monday typically produces a one-sided documentary that is thereafter shown on college campuses and used as a tool for further organizing. The 2002 First Monday film focused on “The Threat to America’s Freedoms” allegedly caused by the war on terrorism, and featured such luminaries as actress Susan Sarandon and radical historian Howard Zinn. Other recent First Mondays have campaigned against the right to bear arms (2001, 2000), in favor of below-market housing costs (1999), against the death penalty (1998), and in favor of loosening American immigration laws (1997). First Monday events have been held at more than 250 law schools and colleges across the United States.
AFJ also runs "Co-Motion," an anti-gun ownership initiative that has organized events at hundreds of American high schools and colleges. Launched in 2000, this program consists of two-day training seminars designed to teach young activists how to campaign effectively against the Second Amendment.
The newest AFJ program is called “Gun Industry Watch,” a self-described “student watchdog network” that monitors the firearms industry and the National Rifle Association.
In early 2007, AFJ posted on its website a petition demanding that detainees suspected of terrorism be given habeas corpus protections, where a court would determine whether they should be kept in custody or released. The petition read, in part: "In the fall of 2006, Congress passed a law governing military commissions, which included a provision that stripped certain detainees of their habeas corpus rights. … Without habeas rights, detainees are denied a fair hearing in federal court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. The government is left free to imprison people indefinitely without charge or trial or other fair hearing, no matter how inhumane the conditions of confinement or the treatment of the detainees. Such a policy ... undermines our national character.”