- Washington, DC think tank
- Building a network of hard-left operatives to infiltrate the legal profession
The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy (ACS) is a Washington, DC-based think tank with many thousands of affiliates nationwide—mostly law students, law professors, practicing attorneys, and judges. In addition to its student chapters at some 200 law schools across the U.S., the organization also maintains nearly 40 professional chapters in various cities and states.
ACS was co-founded by Walter Dellinger III (who served as Bill Clinton’s Solicitor General in 1996-97) and Peter Rubin (a Georgetown law professor who was counsel to Al Gorein the two Supreme Court cases involving the Florida presidential recount controversy of 2000). Dellinger and Rubin launched ACS on July 30, 2001, with the goal of countering what they saw as the corrupting influence that the conservative views of the Federalist Society were having on young law students from coast to coast. A growing “activist conservative legal movement,” says ACS today, “threatens to dominate our courts and our laws, [and] does a grave injustice to the American vision.”
In response to this perceived danger, ACS “works for positive change” by: “shaping debate on vitally important legal and constitutional issues” and “building networks of lawyers, law students, judges and policymakers dedicated to … countering the activist conservative legal movement that has sought to erode our enduring constitutional values.” The organization aggressively recruits and indoctrinates young law students, with the objective of helping them rise to positions of power within the legal system—and thereby dragging all of American jurisprudence further to the political left. One crucial part of this indoctrination involves giving law students and young attorneys first-hand exposure to the passionately articulated agendas of leading leftists. Among the high-profile guest speakers who have addressed ACS conventions are: Tammy Baldwin, Mary Frances Berry, Joe Biden, Sherrod Brown, Hillary Clinton, Marjorie Cohn, David Cole, Angela Davis, Rosa DeLauro, John Edwards, Russ Feingold, Eric Foner, Barney Frank, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Al Gore, Tom Harkin, Eric Holder, Jesse Jackson Jr., Ted Kennedy, Bill Lann Lee, John Lewis, Ralph Nader, Eli Pariser, Janet Reno, Jan Schakowsky, and Charles Schumer.
While condemning what it calls “judicial activism” by conservative judges, ACS in fact encourages such activism by the left. Toward that end, the Society has formed an Issue Group devoted to “Constitutional Interpretation and Change,” which seeks to “debun[k] the purportedly neutral theories of originalism and strict construction” that “ideological conservatives” have used to smear “judges with whom they disagree” as “judicial activists who make up law instead of interpreting it.” This Issue Group is part of ACS’s “The Constitution in the 21st Century” project, which aims to “formulate and advance a progressive vision of our Constitution and laws,” and to “popularize progressive ideas through papers, conferences and media outreach.”
In 2005 at Yale Law School, ACS and the Center for American Progress co-hosted a “Constitution in 2020” conference laying out a blueprint for how the U.S. Constitution should be rewritten by judges over the ensuing 15 years. Speakers at this gathering included John Podesta and Cass Sunstein. According to Human Events magazine, the conference was “an extension” of Sunstein’s 2004 book about former President Franklin Roosevelt’s “Second Bill of Rights,” which called for the federal government to guarantee for every American “a useful and remunerative job,” “a decent home,” “a good education,” “adequate medical care,” “the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health,” and “adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment.” These goals are central to the ever-expanding welfare state and entitlement mentality that ACS would like to see the federal judiciary blend into the Constitution.
Other ACS Issue Groups include the following:
- The “Access to Justice” Issue Group condemns “efforts to … insulate wrongdoers from suit, limit remedies and deprive legal aid services of resources.”
- The “Criminal Justice” Issue Group produces and disseminates reports founded on the premise that “racial inequality permeates the [justice] system from arrest through sentencing.”
- The “Democracy and Voting” Issue Group seeks to eliminate “barriers to political participation” that “stem from race, redistricting, the partisan and incompetent administration of elections, registration difficulties [including an absence of same-day voter registration options], felon disenfranchisement,” and voter ID requirements.
- The “Equality and Liberty” Issue Group is devoted to “combating inequality resulting from race, color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age and other factors.”
- The “Economic, Workplace and Environmental Regulation” Issue Group addresses matters like “workplace democracy, climate change and the enforcement of environmental laws, the regulatory process, corporate governance, and wealth inequality.”
- The “Health Care Reform” Issue Group asserts that if employers wish (for religious reasons) to be exempted from the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that they provide their workers with health insurance that covers the costs of contraception and abortifacients, they should be required to make a written application for such exemption.
- The “First Amendment” Issue Group “explores the appropriate relationship between church and state in contemporary society, as well as the rights of free speech, free press, and free association.”
- The “Separation of Powers and Federalism” Issue Group was established by ACS to “promote the ability of government at all levels to pursue progressive policies,” and to counter what it described as then-president George W. Bush’s efforts to “increase … executive power at the expense of the other branches of the federal government.”
With an eye toward cultivating ever-new generations of future leftists, ACS has developed a “Constitution in the Classroom” program whereby volunteers, under the rubric of “education,” indoctrinate primary- and secondary-school students across the United States.
In June 2008, then-ACS Board of Advisors member Eric Holder, whom president-elect Barack Obama would later name as his first Attorney General, spoke at an ACS convention. Predicting an Obama victory in the November election, Holder told his audience that the U.S. would soon be “run by progressives” who “are going to be looking for people who share our values,” and that a “substantial number of those people” were likely to be recruited from ACS. By December of that year, several major ACS figures had in fact secured positions in the forthcoming Obama administration.
Over the years, ACS’s Board Of Directors (BOD) and Board Of Advisors (BOA) have included a large roster of officials and key representatives from organizations like the ACLU, Alliance for Justice, the Center for American Progress, the Center for Community Change, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the Center for Reproductive Rights, the Children’s Defense Fund, the Democratic National Committee, the Ford Foundation, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Open Society Institute, People for the American Way, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation. Prominent former members of the BOA include Hillary Clinton, Mario Cuomo, and Laurence Tribe. Among the more noteworthy current members of the BOA and BOD, respectively, are Peter Edelman and Debo Adegbile. To view comprehensive lists of everyone currently serving on each of these ACS boards, click here.
To promote and disseminate its views as broadly as possible, ACS has published and distributed issue briefs on a large number of topics. For example:
- An issue brief on Immigration asserts that “the major lesson learned from past reforms is that harsh, punitive measures both in criminal and civil immigration law have not deterred unlawful immigration, nor have they made us safer; rather our current laws wreak havoc on families, particularly U.S.-born children who have been left fatherless or motherless.”
- An issue brief on the Death Penalty calls for the creation of a “public defender office” with a “capital defender unit” that is “funded at a level proportionate to the DA’s office” and is “responsible for all indigent cases” involving potential death sentences.
- An issue brief on Alternatives to Prison Sentences for Youth rejects the notion that public safety is enhanced by harsh sentencing; the brief also aims to “highlight troubling racial disparities and inconsistent sentencing application” in youthful offender cases.
- An issue brief on the War on Drugs laments that “the United States leads the world in incarceration at 2.3 million,” and that “[t]his nation’s war on drugs…more than any other single factor, has fueled this historic incarceration boom,” which ACS views as racially discriminatory against nonwhites.
- An issue brief on Felon Voting Rights contends that many “disfranchisement laws” which deny people “the right to vote because of criminal convictions” are racially discriminatory and originated in “the Jim Crow era when they were designed to stop African Americans from voting.”
- A 2013 issue brief on the Environment urged President Barack Obama to “make climate change, energy policy, and environmental protection top priorities in his second term.”
In 2013, ACS created an online Reproductive Rights Resource Page to “celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade,” and to detail “ACS’s work on the lasting impact of Roe and the new threats to reproductive rights.”
Over the years, numerous foundations, corporations, and labor unions have given financial support to ACS. Among these benefactors are the AARP Foundation, the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, the AFSCME, Alliance For Justice, the American Association for Justice, the Barbra Streisand Foundation, the Bauman Family Foundation, the Brennan Center for Justice, Facebook, the Ford Foundation, the Glaser Progress Foundation, the Human Rights Campaign, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Education Association, the National Partnership for Women & Families, the National Women’s Law Center, George Soros’s Open Society Institute, Planned Parenthood, Public Citizen, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Service Employees International Union, and the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. For lists of additional funders of ACS, click here, and also consult the Foundation Center.
For additional information on ACS, click here.