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American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subgroup 2


Held at: Princeton University Library: Public Policy Papers [Contact Us]

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Princeton University Library: Public Policy Papers. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

American civil liberties union

The ACLU is the preeminent civil liberties organization in the United States. The ACLU describes itself as "our nation's guardian of liberty, working daily in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country." Since its inception in 1920, the ACLU has played a part in nearly every significant American social or political issue in the 20th century. This includes important work in the areas of civil rights, children and women's rights, freedom of speech (and all First Amendment questions), and due process, among many others.

For a more detailed history of the ACLU, please see the history in the finding aid for the processed portion of the ACLU Records.

These Records document the activities of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in protecting individual rights between 1947 and 1995. The collection contains correspondence, clippings, court documents, memoranda, printed matter, minutes, reports, briefs, legal files, exhibit materials, and audio-visual materials. Also included are materials from ACLU affiliate organizations, the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee and national office legal department records (1945-1960).

Due to the exceptionally large volume within the ACLU Records, succinct series and subseries descriptions have been written, providing a basic outline of the records available. The researcher should always consult the folder list to ascertain if the records contain a topic of interest since not all subjects are mentioned in these brief descriptions.

The researcher should also be aware that many topics may be covered in more than one series or subseries. For instance, materials concerning freedom of the press are located in both the Mass Communications and Censorship subseries. Often the series descriptions note similar materials found in other parts of this collection.

1917-1947 Records [Volumes 1-2762]

Please see the ACLU finding aid, 1917-1947, for a description of the bound volumes and their arrangement.

1947-1995 Records [Boxes 1-2103]

These records are arranged in the following six series with all but two series further broken down into smaller subseries:

Historical sketch based on In Defense of American Liberties: A History of the ACLU by Samuel Walker. See also Samuel Walker's The American Civil Liberties Union: An Annotated Bibliography.

FOR DIGITIZED CONTENT: Please see the Guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records.

Materials are transferred from the ACLU annually.

This finding aid describes a portion of the American Civil Liberties Union Records held at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. For an overview of the entire collection, instructions on searching the collection and requesting materials, and other information, please see the Guide to the American Civil Liberties Union Records.

For preservation reasons, original analog and digital media may not be read or played back in the reading room. Users may visually inspect physical media but may not remove it from its enclosure. All analog audiovisual media must be digitized to preservation-quality standards prior to use. Audiovisual digitization requests are processed by an approved third-party vendor. Please note, the transfer time required can be as little as several weeks to as long as several months and there may be financial costs associated with the process. Requests should be directed through the Ask Us Form.

This collection was processed by Paula Jabloner in 1994-1996 with the assistance of Assistant Archivist for Technical Services Daniel Linke, Special Collections Assistants Amy Escott, Claire Johnston, Alison McCuaig, and Tom Rosko, and students Laurie Alexander, Christina Aragon, Laura Burt, Jue Chen, Clement Doyle, Joe Faber, Said Farah, Boyd Goodson, Naomi Harlin, Janet Hine, Matthew Honahan, Katherine Johnson, Damian Long, Theresa Marchitto, Laura Myones, Olivia Kew, Grace Koo, Dan Sack, Bijan Salehizadeh, Tina Wang, Kyle Weston, and Elizabeth Williamson.

During the processing of this collection, many items were discarded, including newspaper clippings from the New York Times and other major newspapers, government publications, well- known serial publications, and publications and large distribution memoranda from well-known and well-documented organizations such as the American Jewish Committee or Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. Due to limitations in processing time, not every file is in exact chronological or alphabetical order.


Public Policy Papers
Finding Aid Date
These papers were processed with the generous support of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission and the John Foster and Janet Avery Dulles Fund.
Access Restrictions

Subgroup 2 is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

Single copies may be made for research purposes. To cite or publish quotations that fall within Fair Use, as defined under U. S. Copyright Law, no permission is required. For instances beyond Fair Use, it is the responsibility of the researcher to determine whether any permissions related to copyright, privacy, publicity, or any other rights are necessary for their intended use of the Library's materials, and to obtain all required permissions from any existing rights holders, if they have not already done so. Princeton University Library's Special Collections does not charge any permission or use fees for the publication of images of materials from our collections, nor does it require researchers to obtain its permission for said use. The department does request that its collections be properly cited and images credited. More detailed information can be found on the Copyright, Credit and Citations Guidelines page on our website. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us through the Ask Us! form.

Collection Inventory

Series 1: Organizational Matters, dates not examined. 1 item.
Scope and Contents

Series 1 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Organizational Matters Series, 1947-1995.


Series 1 is arranged according to the Union's organizational hierarchy.

Physical Description

1 item

Series 2: Project Files, dates not examined. 1 item.

No arrangement action taken or arrangement information not recorded at the time of processing.

Scope and Contents

Series 2 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Project Files Series, 1964-1979.

Physical Description

1 item

Series 3: Subject Files, dates not examined. 1 item.
Scope and Contents

Series 3 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Subject Files Series, 1921-1990.

The subject files consist of records gathered by the ACLU on various topics of interest pertaining to its mission. The records here are divided into four broad categories: Freedom of Belief, Expression, and Association; Due Process of Law; Equality Before the Law; and International Civil Liberties. Except for International Civil Liberties, each is then further subdivided alphabetically by topic. Generally, the subject files contain background material on a topic, as well as correspondence, memoranda, and other items documenting the ACLU's involvement with the issue.


Subseries 3 is divided into four broad subject areas and further divided alphabetically within each by topic.

Physical Description

1 item

Series 4: Legal Case Files, 1933-1990, 1933-1990 (1960-1984). 1 item.
Scope and Contents

Series 4 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Legal Case Files Series, 1933-1990.

This series consists of legal case files which cover the widest range of civil liberties issues. It contains briefs and other pleadings, correspondence, memoranda, and notes. There are over 5500 folders representing approximately 3000 individual cases, many of which went before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Legal Case Files series is not a comprehensive representation of the cases in which the ACLU has been involved. Some records have yet to be transferred to Princeton and are still being maintained by the ACLU Legal Department. The series is arranged alphabetically by case or individual name. Files may appear listed under either the plaintiff's or the defendant's names. Also some cases are filed under a subject heading such as "Gay Rights Task Force" or "Airport Searches". One should also consult the MCA/UMI Microfilm guides for the case files series which may contain copies of ACLU legal briefs filed for many of the cases listed here.

Some important Supreme Court cases in which the ACLU participated that are documented in this series include:

Abingdon School District v. Schempp (1963): Building on Engel v. Vitale in an 8-1 decision, the Court struck down Pennsylvania's in-school Bible-reading law as a violation of the First Amendment. [Box #1371]

Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969): After the ACLU's fifty-year struggle against laws punishing political advocacy, the Court now adopted the ACLU's view of the First Amendment--that the government could only penalize direct incitement to imminent lawless action--and invalidated, in one fell swoop, the Smith Act and all state sedition laws restricting radical political groups. [Box #1254]

Brown v. Board of Education (1954): In perhaps the most far-reaching decision of this century, the Court declared racially-segregated schools unconstitutional and overruled the "separate but equal" doctrine announced in the infamous 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson. [Box #1260]

Buckley v. Valeo (1976): Freedom of speech and association won a partial victory in this challenge to the limits on campaign spending imposed by amendments to the Federal Elections Campaign Act. The Court struck down the Act's restrictions on spending "relative to a candidate," and its required disclosure of $100-plus political contributions. [Box #1272]

Burstyn v. Wilson/McCaffrey (1952): Artistic freedom triumphed when the Court overruled its 1915 holding that movies "are a business, pure and simple," and decided that New York State's refusal to license "The Miracle" violated the First Amendment. The state censor had labeled the film "sacrilegious." [Box #1274]

Cohen v. California (1971): Reversed the conviction of a man who allegedly disturbed the peace by wearing a jacket that bore the words, "Fuck the draft," while walking through a courthouse corridor. The Court rejected the notion that the state can prohibit speech just because it is "offensive." [Box #1303]

Doe v. Bolton (1973): Doe was the companion case of Roe v. Wade, the famous abortion case which erased all existing criminal abortion laws and recognized a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy. In Doe, the Court ruled that whether an abortion is "necessary" is the attending physician's call, to be made in light of all factors relevant to a woman's well-being. [Box #1344]

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972): Extending Griswold, this decision overturned the conviction of a reproductive rights activist who had given an unmarried woman in Massachusetts a contraceptive device. The Court held that allowing distribution of contraceptives to married, but not unmarried, people violated the equal protection clause. [Box #1364]

Engel v. Vitale (1962): In an 8-1 decision, the Court struck down the New York State Regent's "nondenominational" school prayer, holding that "It is no part of the business of government to compose official prayers." [Box #1365]

Epperson v. Arkansas (1969): The Court ruled that Arkansas had violated the First Amendment, which forbids official religion, with its ban on teaching "that mankind ascended or descended from a lower order of animals." [Box #1218]

Escobedo v. Illinois (1964): Invoking the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, the Court threw out the confession of a man whose repeated requests to see his lawyer, throughout many hours of police interrogation, were ignored. [Box #1370]

Everson v. Board of Education (1947): The Court found school boards' reimbursement of the public transportation costs incurred by parents whose children attended parochial schools constitutional, but Justice Black's statement -- "In the words of Jefferson, the clause...was intended to erect a wall of separation between church and State..." - was the Court's first major utterance on the meaning of Establishment Clause. [Box #1371]

Gideon v. Wainwright/Cochran (1963): Clarence Earl Gideon, an indigent drifter from Florida, made history when, in a handwritten petition, he persuaded the Court that poor people had the right to a state-appointed lawyer in non-capital criminal cases. [Box #1400]

Griswold v. Connecticut (1965): Among the 20th-century's most influential decisions, it invalidated a Connecticut law forbidding the use of contraceptives on the ground that a right of "marital privacy," though not specifically guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, is protected by "several fundamental constitutional guarantees." [Box #1412]

Hannegan v. Esquire (1946): A major blow against censorship. The Court severely limited the Postmaster General's power to withhold mailing privileges for allegedly "offensive" material. [Box #1423]

Holtzman v. Schlesinger (1973): A dramatic lawsuit, brought by the ACLU for a New York congresswoman, to halt the bombing of Cambodia as an unconstitutional Presidential usurpation of Congress's authority to declare war. After a federal order to stop the bombing was stayed on appeal, the ACLU sent a lawyer across the country to the remote vacation hideaway of Justice William O. Douglas, who vacated the stay and, though later overruled, succeeded in halting the bombing for a few hours. [Box #1439]

In re Gault (1966): The most important landmark for juveniles, as it established specific due process requirements for state delinquency proceedings and stated, for the first time, the broad principle that young persons have constitutional rights. [Box #1398]

Jacobellis v. Ohio (1964): Justice Potter Stewart's famous statement, that although he could not define "obscenity," he "knew it when [he] saw it," crowned the Court's overturning of a cinema owner's conviction for showing "The Lovers," by Louis Malle. [Box #1455]

Kent v. Dulles (1958): The Court ruled that the State Department had exceeded its authority in denying artist Rockwell Kent a passport because he refused to sign a "noncommunist affidavit." The right to travel, said the Court, is protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. [Box #1475]

King v. Smith (1968): The court invalidated a "man in the house" rule that denied welfare to children whose mother was living with a man, unmarried. The decision benefited an estimated 500,000 poor children, who had previously been excluded from aid. [Boxes #1477 and 1696]

Levy v. Louisiana (1968): The Court invalidated a state law that denied an illegitimate child the right to recover damages for a parent's death. The ruling established the principle that the accidental circumstance of a child's birth does not justify denials of rights. [Box #1499]

Loving v. Virginia (1967): A civil rights landmark that invalidated the anti-miscegenation laws of Virginia and 15 other southern states. The Court ruled that criminal bans on interracial marriage violate the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause and "the freedom to marry," which the Court called "one of the basic civil rights of man." [Box #1508]

Mapp v. Ohio (1961): A landmark, in which the Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment's exclusionary rule, first applied to federal law enforcement officers in 1914, applied to state and local police as well. [Box #1514]

Miranda v. Arizona (1966): This famous decision established the "Miranda warnings," a requirement that the police, before interrogating suspects, must inform them of their rights. The Court embraced the ACLU's amicus argument that a suspect in custody has both a Sixth Amendment right to counsel and a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. [Box #1549]

New York Times v. Sullivan (1964): A victory of freedom of the press. Public officials could not recover damages for defamation, ruled the Court, unless they could prove that a newspaper had impugned them with "actual malice." A city commissioner in Montgomery, Alabama, had sued over publication of a full-page ad written by civil rights activists. [Box #1584]

O'Connor v. Donaldson (1975): The Court's first ruling on the rights of mental patients supported a non-violent man who had been confined against his will in a state hospital for 15 years. Mental illness alone, said the Court, could not justify "simple custodial confinement" on an indefinite basis. [Box #1347]

Poe v. Ullman (1961): Though unsuccessful, this challenge to Connecticut's ban on contraceptive sales set the stage for the Griswold decision of 1965. In a 33-page dissent, Justice John Harlan argued that the challenged law was "an intolerable invasion of privacy in the conduct of one of the most intimate concerns of an individual's private life." [Box #1626]

Pruneyard Shopping Center v. Robins (1980): A victory for freedom of expression as the court rejected shopping mall owners' claim that their property rights compelled reversal of the California Supreme Court's requirement that a shopping center allow distribution of political pamphlets on its premises. [Box #1639]

Reed v. Reed (1971): A breakthrough women's rights decision that struck down a state law giving automatic preference to men over women as administrators of decedents' estates. For the first time, the Court ruled that sex-based--like race-based--classification violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. [Box #1645]

Rochin v. California (1952): Reversing the conviction of a man whose stomach had been forcibly pumped for drugs by a doctor at the behest of police, the Court ruled that the due process clause outlaws "conduct that shocks the conscience." [Box #1657]

Smith v. Collin (1978): Related to Skokie v. National Socialist Party, the peculiar facts of this, one of the ACLU's most controversial First Amendment lawsuits ever, attracted enormous attention: American Nazis wanted to march through a Chicago suburb, Skokie, where many Holocaust survivors lived. The ACLU's challenge to the village's ban on the march was ultimately upheld. [Box #1304]

Speiser v. Randall (1958): Arguing before the Court on his behalf, ACLU lawyer Lawrence Speiser won his challenge to a California law requiring that veterans sign a loyalty oath to qualify for a property tax exemption. [Box #1710]

Tinker v. Des Moines (1969): A landmark lift for symbolic speech and students' rights. The Court invalidated the suspension of public school students for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, writing that students did not "shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate." [Box #1735]

Trop v. Dulles (1958): An American stripped of his citizenship for being a deserter in World War II suffered cruel and unusual punishment, said the Court, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. [Box #1740]

U.S. v. New York Times (1971): The Pentagon Papers case, a landmark among prior restraint cases, in which the leaking of the Papers to the press for publication by Daniel Ellsberg, a former Defense Department official, did not, said the Court, justify an injunction against publication on national security grounds. [Box #1584]

U.S. v. Nixon (1974): This test of Presidential power involved Richard Nixon's effort to withhold crucial Watergate tapes from Special Prosecutor Leon Jaworski. In the only amicus brief filed, the ACLU argued: "There is no proposition more dangerous to the health of a constitutional democracy than the notion that an elected head of state is above the law and beyond the reach of judicial review." The Court agreed and ordered the tapes handed over. [Box #1774]

U.S. v. Seeger (1965): In one of the first Vietnam War decisions, the Court extended conscientious objector status to those who did not necessarily believe in a Supreme Being, but who opposed war based on sincere beliefs that are equivalent to religious faith. [Box #1785]

U.S. v. Vuitch (1971): The Court's first abortion rights case, involving a doctor's appeal of his conviction for performing an illegal abortion. The Court upheld the constitutionality of the statute used to convict, but expanded the "life and health of the woman" concept to include psychological well-being, and ruled that the prosecution must prove the abortion was not necessary for a woman's physical or mental health. [Box #1795]

Wallace v. Jaffree (1985): This important church/state separation decision found Alabama's "moment of silence" law, which required public school children to take a moment "for meditation or voluntary prayer," in violation of the First Amendment's establishment clause. [Box #1816]

Watkins v. United States (1957): Under the First Amendment, the Court imposed limits on the investigative powers of the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which had found a labor leader in contempt for refusing to answer questions about his associates' membership in the Communist Party. [Box #1825]


Series 4 is arranged alphabetically by project and case name, respectively.

Physical Description

1 item

Series 5: Printed Materials, dates not examined. 1 item.
Scope and Contents

Series 5 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Printed Materials Series, 1917-1995.


Series 5 is arranged by form and alphabetically or chronologically therein.

Physical Description

1 item

Series 6, Audio-Visual materials, circa 1920-1995. 1 item.
Scope and Contents

Series 6 Finding Aid: American Civil Liberties Union Records: Audiovisual Materials Series, circa 1920-1995.

The Audio Visual Series contains VHS video cassette tapes, Beta video cassette tapes, 1" and 2" video tape, 16 mm film, 2-inch videotape, microfilm, audio cassettes, 33 1/3 rpm and 45 rpm records, photographs, and reel-to-reel audio tapes. All of the audio-visual material is arranged by format, then chronologically, except for the photographs which are arranged alphabetically by subject or individual.

The VHS video tapes contain a few sessions from the 1989 Biennial Conference, but primarily consist of TV talk shows, press conferences, network news, and documentaries covering a wide range of civil liberties issues. Most shows feature one or more ACLU-affiliated guests. The VHS tapes span 1979 through 1992, and 1995.

The audio cassettes consist almost entirely of recordings of the sessions from the 1985, 1987, and 1989 Biennial Conferences. Also included are three tapes from Series 3, Subject Files: Deprogramming. For the 1985 Conference, a list of the presenter(s) of the various sessions is provided, however, this information was not available for the 1987 and 1989 Conferences.

The reel-to-reel audio tapes are divided into two sections: seven-inch reels and five-inch reels. The seven-inch reels contain debates involving Fulton Lewis III from the early 1960s, recordings from the 1970 Biennial Conference, and various ACLU board meetings from 1973-1976. The five-inch reels contain ACLU public service announcements. There are a few reels, both seven- inch and five-inch, that are presently unidentified.

The 16mm films include TV shows and films that the ACLU had significant interest in, including "Operation Abolition," a 1960 propaganda film prepared by the House Committee on Un-American Activities distorting the events of a student protest against the HUAC hearings in San Francisco. Also included is the response film "Operation Correction."

The photographs are primarily portraits and group photos of ACLU officials. Negatives for some of the photographs are also enclosed. There are also a few slides. The 2" video tapes consist of eight reels from the "Rights of Americans" series and "commercial spots" for the Amnesty Project.


Series 6 is arranged by form and alphabetically or chronologically therein.

Physical Description

1 item

Print, Suggest