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Telephone: (212) 549-2500
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Web site: www.aclu.org
In 1999 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the preservation and extension of constitutional liberties, hired its first advertising agency, New York City-based DeVito/Verdi. The ACLU hoped to use consumer-advertising techniques to improve the image of the organization, which in recent decades had become vilified by conservatives in the United States. In addition, the advertising was to be used to call attention to particular causes backed by the ACLU. One issue that received its own campaign within the framework of the greater effort was the racial profiling of motorists stopped by the police.
The ACLU began its racial-profiling campaign in June 1999 by releasing a report on the issue and filing a lawsuit involving one of the cases it documented. In this way the organization was able to generate a great deal of publicity, which was important given the campaign's mere $1 million budget. In late 1999 the first print ads appeared in newspapers. More advertising followed in 2000, including the ACLU's first-ever television spots, which were run in Utah to put pressure on one of the state's senators, Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The print ads succeeded in attracting attention by being provocative. One showed pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Charles Manson with a headline that read: "The man on the left is 75 times more likely to be stopped by the police while driving than the man on the right."
The ACLU's racial-profiling campaign, which ran until the end of 2000, achieved its main goals. It brought a great deal of attention to the practice of racial profiling, forcing police departments to become more cautious about the way they approached traffic stops; also, many state legislatures introduced legislation to curb racial profiling. In addition, the campaign was recognized by the advertising industry, with Advertising Age naming it a Best of Show in its annual awards in 2001.
From its inception in 1920, when it supported the rights of conscientious objectors and opponents of America's entry into World War I, the ACLU never shied away from controversy. Over the decades it made news through its participation in the well-known Scopes Trial that engendered a debate about evolution (1925); fought the U.S. Customs Service ban on the sale of James Joyce's novel Ulysses in 1933; opposed the internment of more than 100,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II; supported school desegregation in the 1950s and the civil rights movement of the 1960s; opposed the war on drugs starting in the 1960s; supported
reproduction rights in the 1970s while also defending the right of a neo-Nazi group to march through the streets of Skokie, Illinois, in 1978. While the latter issue cost the ACLU support from the left wing of the political spectrum, resulting in a dip in membership, in general the ACLU irritated conservatives. In the 1988 presidential campaign, Republican George H. Bush made Democrat Michael Dukakis's ACLU membership an issue, attempting to disparage him by calling him a "card-carrying member of the ACLU." The hatred of the ACLU among conservatives was further hardened in 1989, when the group convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a Texas law that made flag desecration a punishable offense; likewise, it was later successful with the court when it recognized the civil rights of gays and lesbians in the 1996 case Romer v. Evans.