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. His most recent book is Engines of Liberty: How Citizen Movements Succeed.
 (April 2019)

Follow David Cole on Twitter: @DavidColeACLU.


Have Human Rights Failed?

Refugees from Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Nigeria rescued by the Italian navy from a rubber boat in the sea between Italy and Libya, October 2014; photograph by Lynsey Addario from her book Of Love & War, published by Penguin

Evidence for Hope: Making Human Rights Work in the 21st Century

by Kathryn Sikkink
It’s been more than seventy years since, following the atrocities of World War II, the nations of the world adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Since then, multiple human rights treaties and conventions have been drafted, and most countries have ratified one or more of them—including the International …

The Path of Greatest Resistance

Protesters in support of gun control at a March for Our Lives demonstration, Santa Rosa, California, March 2018

Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest

by Zeynep Tufekci

How Change Happens: Why Some Social Movements Succeed While Others Don’t

by Leslie R. Crutchfield
If social media’s greatest contribution is democratizing communications, their greatest threat is in abetting cynicism and distrust. When platforms are infected with disinformation, making it difficult for users to identify the truth, or when users encounter only a version of events that supports their suspicions about the difficulty of change, they can slide into a hopelessness that prevents them from acting. And that result is just as good as censorship to those seeking to deflect challenges to the status quo.

Fatal Shore

David Wojnarowicz: Untitled (Green Head), 1982

David Wojnarowicz: History Keeps Me Awake at Night

an exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City, July 13–September 30, 2018
There is a certain irony in the fact that the first major retrospective of David Wojnarowicz’s work since his death in 1992 appears in the spare, modern rooms of the Whitney Museum of American Art, in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, today one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. From the heights of …


Ten Questions Brett Kavanaugh Must Answer

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh listening as President Donald Trump announced his nomination at the White House, Washington, D.C., July 9, 2018

Supreme Court nominees all too often avoid answering questions about their views by simply describing existing Court doctrine and then insisting they cannot say how they would vote on any particular matter that might come before them. But in speeches and writings while a judge, Brett Kavanaugh has repeatedly expressed his own views on many matters that might come before him, including whether presidents should be subject to civil and criminal lawsuits; if he could express his views there, he should not be permitted to avoid expressing them on other topics in the Senate confirmation hearing. Here, then, are ten questions I suggest the senators ask Kavanaugh.

The Supreme Court Looks Away

President Donald Trump listening as Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy spoke in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington, D.C., April 10, 2017

Chief Justice John Roberts proclaimed that “Korematsu has nothing to do with this case.” He went on to write that Korematsu v. United States, the 1944 decision that backed the internment of Japanese citizens and immigrants based on their race, “was gravely wrong the day it was decided, has been overruled in the court of history and—to be clear—has no place in law under the Constitution.” Strong words. But actions speak louder. Even as he acknowledged the court’s error in Korematsu, Roberts repeated it, virtually verbatim, in Trump v. Hawaii.

The Supreme Court’s First Great Trump Test: the Muslim Ban

A protest against Trump’s second Muslim travel ban order in Washington, D.C., March 7, 2017

The Supreme Court has sometimes deferred to the political branches on matters of immigration and national security policy, but never on religious bias. And the constitutional case against the travel ban is overwhelmingly strong. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment not only prohibits the government from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” it also forbids the government from singling out for disfavor any particular religion. Yet that is precisely what Trump’s travel ban does. 

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.