Strossen: Against the Grain President of the ACLU Takes Difficult Positions

Article excerpt

NADINE STROSSEN has an affinity for unpopular causes. She defends pornography. She defends ribald rap lyrics. She's for affirmative action. She opposes the Contract with America.

It's all part of another day at the office for Strossen. Standing up for unpopular causes is what her job is all about as president of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Strossen has been defending civil liberties since before she knew what they were. As a 15-year-old high school student in Hopkins, Minn., she found herself embroiled in a controversy about the Vietnam War.

Teachers had presented a slide show about the war together with folk music from Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. The local press attacked the school and called for removal of the teachers. Strossen wrote a series of letters to the newspaper defending the teachers.

"Mind you, back then I never knew the terms `civil liberties' and `freedom of speech,' " she says.

Strossen traces her interest in civil liberties to her family. "My mother had some strong support for certain civil liberties, but she ran a very authoritarian household," she said.

Strossen graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard-Radcliffe College in 1972 and Harvard Law School three years later. She's a law profesor at New York University Law School.

On Sunday, Strossen will be in St. Louis to speak about the threat that she thinks the Contract with America poses to the first contract with America - the Constitution.

Strossen says the House of Representatives' quick passage of most of the Contract with America shows the quick fix is still alive and well in American politics.

Strossen blames economics.

"We are going through a very difficult time economically," she said. "Changing economically from an industrial to a technological society has caused stress. People worry about society moving beyond their skills.

"Whenever people feel anxious they lash out, and the politicians . . . then go for a purported quick-fix solution," she says. "Unfortunately the purported quick solution is against civil liberties" and it covers but never fixes the problem, she says.

The Contract with America hurts the most unpopular people - "the poor, the homeless, poor women, welfare recipients, children of illegal immigrants, immigrants, people accused of a crime or convicted of a crime."

But Strossen says civil liberties is not a partisan issue. - "Civil liberty violations cross party lines," she says.

In last November's election, "civil liberties were attacked by all candidates, Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives," she says. "There was no difference in the last election between Bush, Perot and Clinton. They all talked tough on crime."

Recently, Strossen criticized President Bill Clinton's counter-terrorism bill for giving the FBI too much power to conduct warrantless searches. …