The student loan debate shows how the ACLU went astray

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) last week applauded President Joe Biden’s plan to write off student loan debt, which he describe as “a matter of racial justice”. This confusing stance sums up how far the venerable organization has strayed from the mission reflected in its name.

Under Biden New policy, borrowers earning up to $125,000 a year will be eligible for $10,000 in debt relief or double that amount if they qualified for Pell grants as students. The approximately 43 million beneficiaries include many wealthy people who could easily afford to repay their loans, while the cost, which is projected at least $300 billion, will be borne by taxpayers, including Americans of relatively modest means.

Some of the people footing the bill have never been to college, while others have struggled to make it without borrowing money or have already paid off their loans. But in the ACLU’s view, this seemingly unfair redistribution of resources is what racial justice demands.

“This burden of debt places the heaviest burden on black Americans, especially black women,” the ACLU said. said. “Cancelling student debt will help provide financial stability and mobility for people of color, especially black Americans, who are disproportionately burdened with student debt, while providing immediate financial relief and peace of mind. to millions of Americans.”

Whatever you think of this argument, it has nothing to do with protecting civil liberties. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law, but it does not promise to eradicate racial disparities in educational or economic achievement.

Like the ACLU sees it, however, such disparities result from “centuries of structural inequality and racism”. The federal government therefore has a duty to ensure equal outcomes, which requires far-reaching interventions, including social welfare programs, spending on education, job training, affirmative action, social housing, credits taxes and state-subsidized health care.

To give you an idea of ​​the remoteness of this cause which distances the ACLU from the defense of constitutional rights, the organization argue that “broadband access for all” is a matter of racial justice because “people without broadband access are disproportionately black, Latina, Indigenous, rural, or low-income.” ACLU describe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, whether it urged which the Supreme Court confirms, as “a great civil rights law” because “it is not possible to participate fully in the economic, social and civic life of our nation without stable health coverage”.

If “stable health coverage” is a prerequisite for full participation in “the economic, social and civic life of our nation”, so are stable housing, stable employment and a stable supply of food, clothing and transportation. Such reasoning expands the ACLU’s mission to include just about any domestic policy issue.

The ACLU’s embrace of a broad progressive agenda alienates potential allies who may not necessarily agree with that agenda but support vigorous advocacy for civil liberties. It also weakens the ACLU’s commitment to the goals that once defined the organization, including advocacy for First Amendment rights.

According to an intern memo which was disclosed in 2018, ACLU attorneys who plan to defend a potential client’s right to express opinions they find repugnant — the kind of function the organization has proudly performed for most of its history – should consider how this might conflict with “other values”. “backed by the ACLU.” Disparaging speech [marginalized] groups can inflict serious harm,” the memo warns, “and will often hinder progress toward equality.”

A Case that the Supreme Court will hear in its next term further illustrates how the ACLU has gone astray. The organization argues that a Colorado woman who has religious objections to same-sex marriage should nonetheless be forced to apply her artistic talents to designing websites for same-sex marriages, notwithstanding First Amendment restrictions on forced speech.

A consistent defense of civil liberties is the ACLU’s raison d’être. But as the organization becomes increasingly indistinguishable from a myriad of progressive advocacy groups, it is sacrificing the principles that have made its work worthy of broad support.

© Copyright 2022 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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