The American Civil Liberties Union has a reputation for serving as a "guardian of liberty," protecting our privacy and the First Amendment rights of speech, association and assembly.
Imagine our surprise when a subpoena from the ACLU trampling those rights landed on our doorstep. Imagine our greater surprise when we discovered the subpoena was filled with racial slurs such as "spic," "wetback" and "beaner."
Our surprise turned to shock when we learned that we were not the only ones to receive a sweeping command to turn over reams of First Amendment-protected correspondence concerning the passage of SB 1070, Arizona's tough Support our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act. In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld SB 1070s provision that police can check the immigration status of an individual if there is "reasonable suspicion" that the person is in the country unlawfully.
The ACLU objects to that decision. It is now trying to take another shot at the high court's ruling with a lawsuit claiming that SB 1070 was the product of "racial animus" and "invites racial profiling." So it has embarked on a witch hunt for racial profilers.
The ACLU subpoena demands all correspondence with Arizona state officials related to SB 1070, immigrants and immigration, including emails and computer files. It specifically notes all communications that include words such as "aliens," "illegal aliens," "illegals," "Mexican," "Latino," "invasion," "beaner," "spic" and "wetback."
The ACLU knows full well it cannot win in the courts with such tactics, but this is not about winning in the courts. This is about winning a political ground war with ugly and false insinuations of racism.
In a move of breathtaking hypocrisy, the ACLU is seeking to chill the First Amendment speech, association and assembly rights of Americans who played by the rules and worked to support a law they thought was in the best interests of the country.
Think about it: If you were publicly branded a racist on an issue of public debate, might you not next time hesitate to speak out, write your elected representatives or go to a meeting? That's a chilling effect — and undermines the First Amendment.
Vast arrays of individuals and organizations have been subpoenaed by the ACLU. Ordered to produce "all communications" related to immigration and other hot-button topics such as voter IDs for a nine-year period are more than 20 current and former members of the Arizona state Legislature, public-interest groups such as the Center for Immigration Studies, NumbersUSA and the American Legislative Exchange Council, nine police associations, including the Arizona Fraternal Order of Police and the Arizona Highway Patrol Association, political groups such as the Arizona state Republican Party, the Arizona African American Republican Club, the Arizona Republican Assembly, and bizarrely, three senior citizens who seem to have no connection whatsoever to SB 1070.
One of those senior citizens is Laura Leighton, a 67-year-old Tucson resident who has been on disability for many years. On receiving the subpoena, Ms. Leighton wrote to the judge in the case.
She noted she had no involvement with SB 1070. "I have nothing to do with this case," she wrote. "I am not related to this lawsuit in any way and am not even sure what this lawsuit is about." Making her search for years of material on her old computer, she noted "places a tremendous burden on me."
Being associated with racial slurs was the final indignity. "I have never and would not call anyone of any race 'beakers, spics, wetbacks,' etc.," she wrote. She copied the letter to the ACLU's attorney in the case.
Soon, the ACLU's attorney was back with a letter of his own, one that alarmed Ms. Leighton. He would be happy to come to her home "to conduct the search for you," he wrote. Somewhat ominously he added, "I am frequently in Arizona." The notion of an ACLU lawyer's coming to her house to rummage through her computer was the last straw for Ms. Leighton. She hired a lawyer.
Ms. Leighton is not alone. Judicial Watch has learned that there are at least two other women in similar circumstances. Both wish to remain anonymous for obvious reasons, given the ACLU's harassment.
One, a 74-year-old grandmother who recently underwent three cardiac surgeries, also apparently was pressured by the ACLU to allow someone to come to her home to search her computer. She, too, says she had nothing to do with SB 1070.
There is a "crime" here, though, at least in the ACLU's eyes: conservative political activism. The anonymous grandmother was a founder of a small conservative group. Ms. Leighton was prominently involved in a successful effort to convince the Tucson School District to end a racially biased ethnic-studies program.
In 2011, the Arizona superintendent of public instruction found the Raza (Race) Studies Program to be in violation of statutes prohibiting the promotion of ethnic resentment. In public comments during the case, a former member of the Arizona Board of Regents noted that the Race Studies textbooks were "classical showpieces of Marxist-oriented indoctrination. They are about political oppression, incessant deprecation of anything not Chicano — including the U.S. Constitution, capitalism, and anything European." Students were taught that "they are oppressed" and "principally not American."
This gets us to the real motive for the ACLU subpoenas: retaliation and harassment. Ms. Leighton and other subpoena recipients are targets simply because we hold views different from the ACLU and its clients. However, the discovery process in civil litigation does not authorize the ACLU to trample on core First Amendment and privacy rights. Our message to the ACLU: See you in court.
Tom Fitton is president of Judicial Watch, which is representing several individuals and organizations in the ACLU subpoena litigation.