David Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU and the Honorable George J. Mitchell Professor in Law and Public Policy at the Georgetown University Law Center. The paperback edition of his book Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed has just been published. (December 2017)

Follow David Cole on Twitter: @DavidColeACLU.


Let Them Buy Cake

When David Mullins and Charlie Craig walked into Masterpiece Cakeshop, a bakery in Denver, Colorado, five years ago, they had no inkling that the encounter would take them to the United States Supreme Court. All they wanted was a wedding cake.

Why We Must Still Defend Free Speech

White nationalists marching on the University of Virginia campus, Charlottesville, August 2017
Many have asked why the ACLU represented Jason Kessler, the organizer of the white supremacist rally, in challenging Charlottesville’s last-minute effort to revoke his permit. The city proposed to move his rally a mile from its originally approved site—Emancipation Park, the location of the Robert E. Lee monument whose removal Kessler sought to protest—but offered no reason why the protest would be any easier to manage a mile away. As ACLU offices across the country have done for thousands of marchers for almost a century, the ACLU of Virginia gave Kessler legal help to preserve his permit. Should the fatal violence that followed prompt recalibration of the scope of free speech?

The Truth About Our Prison Crisis

A mother talking with her son through a window at the Florida Women’s Reception Center, a prison in Ocala, Florida, April 2016; photograph by Isadora Kosofsky from her series ‘Still My Mother, Still My Father,’ which documents parent–child visits in Florida prisons. An exhibition of her work will be on view at the Davis Orton Gallery, Hudson, New York, June 24–July 23, 2017.

Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration—and How to Achieve Real Reform

by John F. Pfaff

Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America

by James Forman Jr.
Few claims about contemporary American society are more widely accepted on the left than that the dramatic growth of our prisons and jails has been driven by the war on drugs. In July 2015, President Barack Obama maintained that “the real reason our prison population is so high” is that …


Year One: It’s Up to Us

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2017

In a weak democracy, an authoritarian leader like Trump could do widespread and lasting damage. Such leaders often control the legislature, are immune from court oversight, and suppress civil society institutions. But our hallowed traditions of judicial independence, civil liberties, and a robust political culture have—thus far, at least—held Trump in check to an important degree. The courts cannot stand up to President Trump alone, however, and it would be a great mistake to think they could. In the end, the most important guardian of liberty is an engaged citizenry.

How Far Will the Court Go?

From top left: Justice Elena Kagan, Justice Samuel Alito, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Neil Gorsuch, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Anthony Kennedy, Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas, Justice Stephen Breyer, Washington, D.C., June 1, 2017

The travel ban won’t be the only big case before the Court next term. It’s a heady line up, and the news that Justice Anthony Kennedy will not retire—at a time when, given the Oval Office’s current occupant, the judiciary’s check on the executive branch is more essential than ever—is important.

More Dangerous Than Trump

Attorney General Jeff Sessions standing at the secondary border fence between the US and Mexico, San Diego, California, April 21, 2017

On May 20, Jeff Sessions completed his first hundred days as attorney general. His record thus far shows a determined effort to dismantle the Justice Department’s protections of civil rights and civil liberties. Reversing course from the Obama Justice Department on virtually every front, he is seeking to return us not just to the pre-Obama era but to the pre-civil-rights era.

Trump’s Constitutional Crisis

Attorney General Jeff Sessions with now-fired FBI Director James Comey at a meeting of federal law enforcement officials at the Justice Department, Washington, D.C., February 2017

On May 9, in a twist that would have seemed far-fetched even on House of Cards, President Trump fired James Comey as director of the FBI on the recommendation of Jeff Sessions, his attorney general. The notion that Trump and Sessions took action against Comey because of his unfairness to Clinton may be the most brazen effort at “fake news” or “alternative facts” yet from a president who has shown no reluctance to lie, even and especially when the truth is plain for everyone to see.