The ACLU Foundation of Virginia’s top 5 most pressing needs are:
Although the national ACLU was founded in 1920, there was no ACLU presence in Virginia until the mid-1960s. At that time, Virginia was actively resisting racial integration of public schools, had effectively blocked racial minorities from participation in politics, and had outlawed interracial marriage.
A small group of dedicated activists, most of whom lived in Charlottesville and Alexandria, decided that a strong, independent presence was needed in Virginia to protect individual liberties, advance civil rights and generally help bring the state into the modern era. The ACLU, with its reputation for aggressively promoting constitutional rights, often in the face of great resistance and against popular sentiment, seemed to be the kind of organization that could have the greatest impact in Virginia.
Among the very first cases sponsored by the young ACLU in Virginia was one that rocked the foundations of Virginia’s segregationist past. Loving v. Virginia ended up before the U.S. Supreme Court and is still counted by the national ACLU as one of the most important lawsuits in the organization’s long, storied history. This case challenged the constitutionality of the Virginia statute banning interracial marriages. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, Virginia and other southern states were forced to repeal their antiquated anti-miscegenation statutes.
The commitment, talent and tenacity that led to the Loving case continue to serve the ACLU in Virginia to this day.
As an organization, the ACLU Foundation of Virginia has three primary roles. It funds the legal work of the ACLU and the education and outreach programs essential to that work. The Foundation is the only statewide civil liberties and civil rights organization in Virginia with the resident capacity and resources (locally and nationally) to litigate cases in Virginia’s state and federal courts. Building public awareness and understanding of the continued importance of the ACLU’s work for all Virginians will be a critical challenge as the ACLU’s founding generation moves on and a new generation becomes its audience.
In recent years, the legislature has been indifferent to or openly engaged in restricting women’s rights, determined to limit rather than expand the right to vote, and committed to enshrining religious beliefs in public policy and funding decisions. This seems unlikely to change significantly in the near future. There have been and may continue to be opportunities to gain bi-partisan legislative consensus, however, on some reform of our criminal justice system and to some limits on police use of technological weapons that, unchecked, can run roughshod over our rights to privacy and due process and encourage bias-based policing.
The courts will continue to be an essential bulwark in the defense of our basic liberties and the protection of our rights, however, and will be essential fora to secure the promise of true equality for all Virginians. As the only civil rights organization in the state with the capacity and resources to challenge civil rights violations in the courts, the work of the ACLU Foundation will be especially critical over the next decade if we are to maintain an effective shield against injustice and government overreach and ensure equal protection of the laws.
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