Antioch Law Journal


Norman Dorsen


I have been asked to present an overview of the incursions on civil liberty that we may expect in the 1980s and how we may combat them. It is always risky to predict the future, especially in a field as volatile as this. Nevertheless, at least one thing is clear. Civil liberties during the coming decade will be subject to great pressures. This is true whether the government remains conservative, such as the present Reagan Administration, or changes after the 1984 or 1988 elections. The reason for my confidence in this assertion is that governments, whatever their political complexion, seek to achieve their political ends, gratify their supporters, and get re-elected. History shows that, in seeking to fulfill these goals, governments are often not reluctant to step on the toes, or close the mouths, of those who object. Some governments are more gentle, some more harsh; but they always seem to violate civil liberties in one way or another. A brief survey of the major battles for individual rights in recent American history bears witness to what I have just said. 1920 is a useful starting point because the end of World War I ushered in the modern era, and also because it was the year of the founding of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has played a central part in the ongoing struggle to implement the Bill of Rights. Indeed, the ACLU was the successor to an organization that during World War I worked to restrain jingoists and ordinary patriotic citizens from running amok through the Constitution in trying to eradicate dissent to the war.