A HERO PASSES: This breaks my heart -- Stefan Presser, for twenty-one years the executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, succumbed to brain cancer Friday at the age of 52.
People tend to think of "the ACLU" as a monolith, but much of its litigation work is actually done by the independent local chapters. Under Presser's leadership, the ACLU of PA won huge victories in such diverse areas as freedom of speech on the Internet, separation of church and state, racial profiling, prisoner's rights, and reforming Philadelphia's treatment of abused and neglected children.
As former U Chicago Law Dean Geoff Stone noted last week, "The ACLU isn't a decision-making body. Its function is not to decide what the law is. It is, rather, to advocate points of view that are fundamental to American freedom, views that would not otherwise be adequately represented. Its function is to ensure that judges and legislators as least hear the civil liberties side of the argument. I might not want to live in a society in which every ACLU position was the law, but I know I would not want to live in a society without the ACLU."
Stefan Presser advocated those points of view to the best of a lawyer's skill, and, better still, he won. For his having fought these battles, we've all won; sadly, today, we've all lost.