The Alliance For Justice (AFJ) was founded in 1979 by Nan Aron, when its predecessor, the Council for Public Interest Law, decided to expand its activism beyond the statutes governing “public interest” nonprofit groups. Today AFJ describes itself as “a national association of over 100 organizations, representing a broad array of groups committed to progressive values and the creation of an equitable, just, and free society.”
AFJ’s stated mission is to “ensure that the federal judiciary advances core constitutional values, preserves human rights and unfettered access to the courts, and adheres to the even-handed administration of justice for all Americans.” The means by which the Alliance has most commonly sought to achieve these objectives, has been to promote the appointment and confirmation of activist federal judges with leftist ideologies.
The central hub of AFJ’s programs, the Judicial Selection Project, routinely depicts Republican judicial nominees as “right-wing extremists,” “ultraconservatives,” or racists and sexists whose political views range far outside the boundaries of “mainstream” public opinion; as people who defend only the rights of “the privileged few” and the “powerful corporations” while turning a deaf ear to the needs of “ordinary people”; and as heirs to a conservative tradition that has “eroded our right to privacy and free speech, encouraged discrimination in pay, discouraged communities from integrating their public schools, and insulated large corporations from liability for the harm their products cause.” To keep the public informed about these purported conservative menaces, AFJ produces a continuous stream of updates and fact sheets on issues related to the federal judiciary, including vacancies, nominations, and overall trends.
The first major victory of AFJ’s Judicial Selection Project occurred in 1987, when it helped derail President Reagan’s nomination of Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Immediately after Bork’s nomination, AFJ sent messages to the editorial offices of every newspaper in the United States, urging the Senate to reject. The day after the nomination was announced, AFJ representatives held closed-door strategy meetings with Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee. “We’re in triple gear,” said Nan Aron, exhorting the American Bar Association to declare Bork unqualified for the post.
AFJ’s efforts had a profound influence on the mainstream media, which produced a multitude of articles caricaturing Bork as a puppet of the radical right. The spirit of this propaganda campaign was articulated in Senator Edward Kennedy’s assertion that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.” In the end, the Bork nomination was scuttled.
Emboldened by its success in denying Bork a seat on the nation’s highest Court, AFJfocused next on attacking other Republican judicial nominees at all levels. Most noteworthy was the Alliance’s opposition to President George H.W. Bush’s nomination of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. Nan Aron, for her part, said that Thomas was opposed to protecting the civil rights of minorities; she claimed that there was “something in [Thomas’s] record to offend most everybody”; and she accused him of harboring “a radical philosophy that exalts his own views over the Constitution.” When this first wave of attacks failed to derail Thomas’s nomination, AFJ researchers dredged up his former assistant, Anita Hill, to bring sexual-harassment allegations against him.
By contrast, AFJ proudly led successful efforts to confirm 15 federal circuit court judges nominated by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. In 1999, Nan Aron asserted that Clinton “has a duty to fill judicial vacancies and appoint jurists who share his views.” But when George W. Bush succeeded Clinton in the White House, AFJ reverted to the modus operandi it had employed during the administration of Bush’s father—i.e.,striving to prevent “dozens” of his “most extreme nominees” from securing positions on the federal bench. For example:
- In 2001, Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen was nominated by Bush to sit on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Led by the urgings of AFJ, the Senate Judiciary Committee—with Democrats controlling the Senate—rejected Owen in a straight party-line vote. Specifically, the Alliance objected to the fact that Owen had once upheld a Texas law that required minors seeking an abortion to notify their parents prior to undergoing the procedure. AFJ also criticized Owen for her allegedly pro-corporate, anti-consumer biases. (After Republicans regained control of the Senate in 2004, Owen was successfully appointed to the Appellate Court.)
- Before the 2002 mid-term elections, AFJ attacked Appeals Court nominee Charles Pickering as a “throwback to the old, segregated South,” where civil rights for blacks were routinely trampled. Hoover Institution Fellow Thomas Sowell explained how patently absurd this charge was, noting that Pickering had been “a federal judge in Mississippi who defended the civil rights of blacks for years and defied the Ku Klux Klan back when that was dangerous.” “No one even mistakenly thought he was a racist,” added Sowell. “The point was simply to discredit him for political reasons—and it worked.” Joining AFJ in the smear campaign against Pickering were such groups as the AFL-CIO, the AFSCME, the Congressional Black Caucus, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the NAACP, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Women’s Law Center, the National Women’s Political Caucus, People For the American Way, the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. When Senate Republicans failed to overcome a filibuster of Pickering’s nomination, President Bush gave Pickering a recess appointment to the Fifth Circuit on January 16, 2004.
- In 2007, AFJ posted on its website a petition that called for the firing of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (a Bush appointee)—on grounds that Gonzales had “displayed flagrant disrespect for our system of laws and the principles of check[s] and balances on which our government is founded.” Specifically, AFJ objected to the fact that Gonzales had defended President Bush’s decision to authorize warrantless wiretapping in terrorism investigations; that Gonzales had supported the use of coercive interrogation techniques on terrorist suspects; that he had approved aphoto-ID law designed to prevent voter fraud in American elections; and that he had fired eight U.S. attorneys previously appointed by President Bill Clinton.
The election of Barack Obama as U.S. President in 2008 caused AFJ to celebrate the fact that the persistent “efforts by conservative administrations to stifle progressive nonprofits and stack the federal judiciary with extremist judges” had finally come to an end. In Obama’s presidency, the Alliance saw a “historic opportunity … to deliver on our promise to advance justice and democracy.”
AFJ boasts that in 2009 it “helped pave the way for the confirmation of [Obama nominee] Sonia Sotomayor as the first Hispanic woman Justice on the Supreme Court.” Similarly, in 2010 the Alliance issued a statement supporting Obama’s nomination of Elena Kagan as yet another Supreme Court Justice, and urged her “speedy confirmation.” According to AFJ, Kagan “has excelled at every stage of her education and career, and her record indicates that she will put her remarkable intellect, legal acumen, and skills of persuasion to good use in the service of justice.”
In addition to its Judicial Selection Project, which focuses on the appointment of judges, AFJ’s major issues of concern also include:
1) Protecting the Voting Rights Act: AFJ strongly objected to the Supreme Court’s June 25, 2013 decision which struck down a 1965 Voting Rights Act provision requiring a number of Southern states to obtain “pre-clearance” from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division or the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before being permitted to make any change to their voting laws—e.g., by instituting Voter ID requirements, restricting absentee voting, or reconfiguring congressional districts. According to the Court, the pre-clearance mandate, which was based on the premise that those states had historically engaged in voter suppression prior to 1965, was no longer relevant in light of America’s changing racial circumstances.
But AFJ disagreed, stating not only that the Voting Rights Act “has become the keystone in the arch of protection for people of color,” but also that those who agreed with the Court’s decision “still seek to deny these Americans the right to vote.” For example, said AFJ, on Election Day of 2012 “African-American and Hispanic voters were more than twice as likely as white voters to have been forced to endure long lines at their polling place” due to “a deliberate effort to reduce the minority vote.”
2) Marriage Equality: AFJ supports the 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Section 3 of the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had barred same-sex married couples from being recognized as “spouses” for purposes of federal laws—effectively preventing them from receiving federal marriage benefits. The Court ruling, said AFJ, made “millions of legally-married same-sex couples truly equal in the eyes of the federal government,” and laid the groundwork to “do the same for same-sex couples who want to marry in the future.”
AFJ also applauded a 2013 Supreme Court ruling that struck down Proposition 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative that had amended California’s constitution to define marriage, explicitly and exclusively, as a union between one man and one woman.
By AFJ’s calculus, these two Supreme Court decisions “bent the arc of history toward justice,” much as when the Court had invalidated restrictions against interracial marriage in 1967.
3) Fixing the Senate: AFJ complains that “in addition to obstructing scores of judicial nominees, the abuse of rules, particularly the filibuster, has killed one essential piece of legislation after another.” In particular, AFJ objected to Republican filibusters that “derailed energy and climate legislation [i.e., cap-and-trade], halted the DREAM Act,… and blocked any debate on the Employee Free Choice Act” early in the Obama administration. In an effort to “restore balance between the will of the majority and the rights of the minority,” and to save the Senate from “paralysis,” AFJ has assumed a leadership role in a coalition called Fix The Senate Now.
4) The Corporate Court: “With decision after decision coming down on the side of big business,” said AFJ in 2013, “the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts has proven itself to be willing and eager to twist the law to favor powerful corporate interests over everyday Americans.” By AFJ’s reckoning, the Roberts Court “has radically rewritten laws in order to shield big business from liability, insulate corporate interests from environmental and antitrust regulation, make it easier for companies to discriminate against women and the elderly, and enable powerful interests to flood our election process with special interest dollars.” This modus operandi, claims the Alliance, has “thrown [fairness] out the window” and enabled “the 1% [to] keep winning while the 99% keep losing.”
5) Supreme Court Ethics Reform: AFJ complains that “the Code of Conduct for U.S. Judges, which requires judges to ‘act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary’ and explicitly bans political activity, shockingly does not apply to the Supreme Court.” To rectify this, the Alliance demands that the Supreme Court “adopt the same rules that hold sway in every other federal courtroom.”
6) Access to Justice: “Over the past several decades,” says AFJ, “a conservative-led campaign has eviscerated the ability of Americans to have their day in court. Victims of corporate malfeasance, medical malpractice, unsafe products, illegal working conditions, civil rights violations, and environmental pollution have seen their ability to hold perpetrators accountable undermined and the courtroom doors shut.” The Alliance maintains that “the Roberts Court has accelerated this charge, siding with the Chamber of Commerce and other pro-corporate groups in rewriting federal pleading standards to make it harder to get to trial, narrowing consumers’ and workers’ ability to band together in class actions, overturning decades of settled law to allow corporations to force consumers into mandatory arbitration, and undermining crucial federal labor, civil rights, and environmental protections.”
In an effort to address these problems, AFJ “tracks Supreme Court and lower court decisions affecting the legal rights of everyday Americans, educates the public on efforts to narrow those rights, and works with [its] allies to advocate for progressive legislation and courts that will respect the access to justice that is so fundamental to American values.”
7) Citizens United: What Now?: AFJ strongly objected to the January 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, which: (a) struck down a ban on corporations and labor unions using money from their general funds to produce and air campaign ads in races for congressional and presidential races, and (b) overturned a prohibition against corporations and unions airing campaign ads during the 30 days immediately preceding a primary or the 60 days preceding a general election. This “sweeping decision” by “the five conservative justices on the Supreme Court,” says AFJ, “fundamentally changed the rules of the game when it comes to our nation’s elections.”
More About The Alliance For Justice
AFJ has trained many thousands of organizations to become “effective advocates” for left-wing ideals through its publications, Internet resources, and technical assistance. Most notably, the Alliance has taught foundations how to use their philanthropy to “promote public policies that advance social and economic justice on the state and local levels.” AFJ’s Nonprofit and Foundation Advocacy Project, for instance, was established in 1992 and has given hundreds of workshops and forums designed to teach 501(c)(3) nonprofits how to stay within IRS regulations and “navigate laws governing public policy initiatives, including lobbying, funding advocacy, initiative and referendum activities, and voter education.” Similarly, AFJ’s Foundation Advocacy Intitiative was launched in 1995 to help philanthropies increase their support for left-wing advocacy groups.
AFJ also runs programs to recruit and train law-school and college students for careers as inside-the-Beltway political operatives. Central to this effort are the Alliance’s “First Monday” activities, held annually since 1994 on the opening day of each Supreme Court session. In collusion with sympathetic law school professors, law students, and a few prominent left-leaning celebrities, First Monday typically produces a one-sided documentary that is thereafter shown on college campuses and used as a tool for further organizing. Over the years, First Monday presentations have taken such positions as: opposing gun ownership; opposing the death penalty; supporting looser immigration laws; defending “civil liberties in post-September 11th America”; addressing “inadequate housing and homelessness”; promoting reforms to an inequitable criminal-justice system; and depicting corporations as greed-driven despoilers of the natural environment. All told, First Monday events have been held at more than 250 law schools and colleges across the United States.
A member of the Abolition 2000 anti-war coalition, AFJ was a signatory to a November 1, 2001 document characterizing the 9/11 attacks as a legal matter to be addressed by criminal-justice procedures rather than military retribution. Suggesting that the hijackers were motivated by a desire to draw atention to global injustices perpetrated by the United States, this document explained that similar future calamities could be averted only if America would finally begin to “promote fundamental rights around the world.”
In the early 2000s, AFJ established a sister organization called the Alliance For Justice Action Campaign, which, as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, is permitted to engage in political lobbying and advocacy, whereas 501(c)(3) groups like AFJ are not. But from a donor’s perspective, contributions to a 501(c)(4) are not tax-deductible, while donations to a 501(c)(3) organizations are.
In 2004 AFJ endorsed the Democrat-sponsored Civil Liberties Restoration Act, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Particularly anathema to AFJ was the USA PATRIOT Act. In June 2004 AFJ launched an online initiative dubbed “Spy-der-man,” which characterized then-U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (who sought to strictly enforce the PATRIOT Act) as “the intrusivesuper-villain invading people’s privacy, stealing library and medical records, and accessing e-mail.” Calling for Ashcroft’s resignation, Nan Aron denounced “anti-terrorism policies that intrude on free speech, privacy, and due process,” and charged Ashcroft with “abuse of power and disregard for civil rights.”
Viewing the U.S. as a nation rife with discrimination against women, AFJ was a Co-sponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington, DC—a rally that advocated unrestricted access to taxpayer-fundedabortion-on-demand.
In early 2007 AFJ posted on its website a petition demanding that detainees suspected of terrorism be given habeas corpus protections. The petition read, in part:
“In the fall of 2006, Congress passed a law governing military commissions, which included a provision that stripped certain detainees of their habeas corpus rights.… Without habeas rights, detainees are denied a fair hearing in federal court to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. The government is left free to imprison people indefinitely without charge or trial or other fair hearing, no matter how inhumane the conditions of confinement or the treatment of the detainees. Such a policy … undermines our national character.”
Among AFJ’s more prominent member groups over the years have been: the AARP; the Center for Constitutional Rights; the Center for Reproductive Rights; theChildren’s Defense Fund; the Earth Day Network; the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund; the Energy Foundation; Green For All; the Human Rights CampaignFoundation; the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law; the League of Conservation Voters Education Fund; the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund; NARAL Pro-Choice America; the National Abortion Federation; theNational Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers; the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy; the National Council for Research on Women; the National Education Association; the National Immigration Forum; the National Immigration Law Center; the National Lawyers Guild; the National Organization for Women‘s Legal Defense and Education Fund; the National Partnership for Women and Families; the National Wildlife Federation; the National Women’s Law Center; theNatural Resources Defense Council; Physicians for Human Rights; the Planned Parenthood Federation of America; the Service Employees International Union; theSierra Club Foundation; the Tides Center; USAction; and the Wilderness Society.
AFJ has received financial support from numerous major philanthropies, including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Beldon Fund, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the JEHT Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, George Soros‘s Open Society Institute, the Public Welfare Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, theRockefeller Brothers Fund, the Scherman Foundation, the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy, the Streisand Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Tides Foundation, and the Turner Foundation.
For additional information on AFJ, click here.