David Cole is the National Legal Director of the ACLU, leading our Supreme Court practice and overseeing the work of the organization’s nearly 300 lawyers.
In his role as national legal director, Cole will direct a program that includes approximately 1,400 state and federal lawsuits on a broad range of civil liberties issues. He will directly manage 100 ACLU staff attorneys in New York headquarters, oversee the organization’s U.S. Supreme Court docket, and provide leadership to more than 200 staff attorneys who work in ACLU affiliate offices in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C. Another 1,700 volunteer cooperating attorneys throughout the country are engaged in ACLU litigation. With an annual headquarters budget of $140 million and 1.3 million supporters, the ACLU is the nation’s largest and oldest civil liberties organization.
Cole has litigated many constitutional cases in the Supreme Court, including Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which extended First Amendment protection to flag burning; National Endowment for the Arts v. Finley, which challenged political content restriction on NEA funding; and Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, which challenged the constitutionality of making it a crime to advocate for peace and human rights under the statute prohibiting “material support” to terrorist groups.
Cole’s victories include: successfully defending for over 21 years a group of Palestinian immigrants whom the government sought to deport for their political affiliations; challenging restrictions on federally funded AIDS education; obtaining an injunction against Randall Terry and Operation Rescue for blocking access to abortion providers; and freeing several Arab and Muslim immigrants detained on secret evidence. Cole, who began his career at the Center for Constitutional Rights, litigated many of these cases in cooperation with ACLU attorneys across the country.
Cole writes regularly for The Nation, New York Review of Books, Washington Post, and many other journals. He is the author or editor of 10 books. “Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror,” published in 2007, and co-authored with Jules Lobel, won the Palmer Civil Liberties Prize for best book on national security and civil liberties. “Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism” received the American Book Award in 2004. Cole’s first book, “No Equal Justice: Race and Class in the American Criminal Justice System,” is one of the first to examine the ways that the criminal justice system exploits and exacerbates racial disparities. It was named Best Non-Fiction Book of 1999 by the Boston Book Review. His most recent book, “Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law,” published in 2016, examines the strategies civil society organizations employ to change constitutional law.
Listen to his Perspective on Public Interest podcast where he discusses his work at the ACLU preserving our basic rights and liberties here.