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Executive Director of the ACLU
Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's premier defender of civil liberties. He took the helm of the organization just seven days before the September 11, 2001 attacks. Anticipating the impending assault on civil liberties in the name of protecting national security, Romero quickly launched the Keep America Safe and Free campaign to protect basic freedoms. He created the ACLU’s National Security Project, which achieved legal victories on the Patriot Act, uncovered thousands of pages of documents detailing the torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. custody, and filed the first successful legal challenge to the Bush administration's illegal NSA spying program. During the Obama administration, the ACLU continued its litigation on NSA surveillance and launched litigation and advocacy against the U.S. drone program. Read More >
Prior to the election of Donald Trump as president, the ACLU released a legal analysis warning that Trump’s policy proposals would amount to a one-man constitutional crisis. Under Romero’s direction, the ACLU has filed 400 legal actions against the Trump administration. In 2017, it won a nationwide stay of Trump’s Muslim Ban just over 24 hours after it was issued, stopping the administration’s family separation policy and blocking the asylum ban. Throughout the Trump administration, the ACLU has been on the winning side of landmark litigation, winning cases that extend anti-discrimination protections to transgender employees, and blocking the Trump administration’s attempt to distort the U.S. Census by adding an unconstitutional citizenship question. Both of those cases were brought by the ACLU and argued by ACLU lawyers in the Supreme Court.
Throughout Romero’s tenure, the ACLU has pursued aggressive litigation and advocacy challenging the greatest injustices of our time, including: high-profile litigation and lobbying efforts to win the freedom to marry for same-sex couples; a nationwide campaign to reduce the prison and jail populations by 50 percent and combat racial disparities within the criminal justice system; and an innovative legal challenge to the patents held by a private company on the human genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. Since March 2020, the ACLU has filed over 175 legal actions related to COVID-19, focusing on the criminal legal system, with an aim to protect vulnerable people detained in immigration and criminal facilities, and/or to improve conditions for those not released.
Over the last few years, Romero has also overseen the ACLU’s expansion into high-impact political work. In 2017, the ACLU launched People Power, a grassroots advocacy platform. Since then, nearly 700,000 activists have joined People Power, and their advocacy has pushed local governments across America to enact policies to protect immigrants, expand voting rights, and increase voter education and turnout around civil liberties issues. Additionally, Romero significantly ramped up the ACLU’s engagement in direct political advocacy in 2018, scoring several major victories, including an amendment to Florida’s constitution that restored the right to vote for many people with prior felony convictions. A non-partisan organization, the ACLU advances civil liberties and civil rights without respect to partisan politics. It works with Republicans and Democrats and locks horns with both as needed.
Romero is the ACLU's sixth executive director and the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in that capacity. In 2005, Romero was named one of Time Magazine's 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America, and he has received dozens of public service awards and an honorary doctorate from the City University of New York School of Law.
In 2007, Romero and NPR correspondent Dina Temple-Raston published In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror, a book that takes a critical look at civil liberties in this country at a time when constitutional freedoms are in peril.
Born in New York City to parents who hailed from Puerto Rico, Romero was the first in his family to graduate from high school. He is a graduate of Stanford University Law School and The Princeton School of Public Policy and International Affairs. He is a member of the New York Bar Association and has sat on numerous nonprofit boards. Read Less ^
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