AMERICAN CIVIL LIBERTIES UNION (ACLU), national nonprofit and nonpartisan association founded in 1920 by a group of liberals, including the social reformer Jane Addams, the writers Helen Keller and James Weldon Johnson, the socialist leaders Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas, and the jurist Felix Frankfurter. Chapters are located throughout the U.S. The ACLU conducts its business through staff and cooperating attorneys; it maintains a national staff in New York City, a legislative office in Washington, D.C., and a regional office in Atlanta, Ga. Organized to defend the civil liberties of all citizens, it follows a liberal interpretation of U.S. constitutional law in defense of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. It is active before national, state, and local legislative bodies, in courts of all jurisdictions, and in the preparation of educational materials. Since 1920 it has acted directly or by intervention in almost all cases involving civil liberty in the U.S., including the Sacco and Vanzetti, Scopes, and Scottsboro trials, and cases involving freedom of expression in the arts, the rights of religious groups, the unconstitutionality of white primaries, and the prosecution of citizens under so-called loyalty acts. It also took a leading part in the legal fight that resulted in the abolition by the U.S. Supreme Court of segregation in public schools under the doctrine of separate but equal facilities.
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