The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California is an affiliate of the ACLU social-liberal activist organization based in the northern part of California in San Francisco.
The ACLU of Northern California was founded in 1934 while the Foundation was founded in 1972.1
Korematsu v. United States
In 1942, executive director for ACLU Northern California Ernest Besig petitioned on behalf of Fred Korematsu, who had been detained for resisting President Franklin Roosevelt’s order confining Japanese Americans to internment camps during World War II. Korematsu agreed to be a plaintiff in what would eventually become a landmark Supreme Court case. Korematsu’s conviction was affirmed at every court level including the Supreme Court where, in 1944, Roosevelt’s executive order was historically described as a “military necessity” and not based on race. In 1983, Korematsu’s conviction was overturned in District Court after it was exposed that particular intelligence documents were withheld from the Supreme Court. 2 Three years after the Supreme Court’s decision on Korematsu’s case, The Court ruled in Ex parte Mitsuye Endo that citizens who have shown no disloyalty to the United States cannot be detained. 3
American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California v. Burwell
In 2016, ACLU Northern California filed a complaint against the United States Department of Health and Human Services for granting funds to private refugee recovery organizations that refused to provide abortion procedures. The ACLU argued that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment was violated by providing Federal funds to religious institutions. 4 In 2018, Judge Laurel Beeler concluded that HHS did not violate the Lemon test, a three-prong litmus test to determine religious entanglement with the federal government, and subsequently denied the ACLU’s motion for summary judgment. 5
Advocacy for Women in Combat
In 2020, Shilpi Agarwal represented Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) in a dispute related to women in military combat roles. Service Women’s Action Network vs. Esper, originally Hegar, et al. v. Panetta in 2012, argues that no constitutional clause supports a ban of women in combat roles, and that such a prohibition “outdates stereo types of women and ignores the realities of the modern military and battlefield conditions.” 6
While the military has made experimental policies to allow women in combat training since the case originated, the case itself continues to be introduced with incumbent Secretaries of Defense as the defendants. While Agarwal was not employed with the ACLU at the time of the case’s origination in 2012, ACLU NorCal attorneys Margaret C. Crosby and Elizabeth O. Gill represented SWAN in Hegar et al. v. Panetta. Crosby and Agarwal are both representing SWAN in Service Women’s Action Network v. Esper. 7
Crosby has also campaigned against federal law that prohibited abortions aboard military installations. Despite current law that prohibits abortions on military installations except in circumstances of rape, incest, or health anomalies, Crosby maintained that abortions should be allowed for any reason since, she claims, many women will not report sexual assault and thus would not be exempt from the law if they wanted to abort their baby. 8 The U.S. military health insurance provider, TriCare, currently only covers abortions in cases of rape, incest, and health anomalies, even if the patient is seeking an abortion off base. 9
- ACLU of Northern California website. www.aclunc.org. Accessed July 17, 2021. https://www.aclunc.org/history; Form 990: American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, 2019.
- “Facts and Case Summary – Korematsu v. U.S.” United States Courts. Accessed April 27, 2020. https://www.uscourts.gov/educational-resources/educational-activities/facts-and-case-summary-korematsu-v-us.
- “Ex Parte Endo, 323 U.S. 283 (1944).” Justia Law. Accessed April 27, 2020. https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/323/283/
- “ACLU of Northern California v. Burwell – Complaint.” American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/aclu-northern-california-v-burwell-complaint.
- “ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT.” Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/IM-CA-0080-0010.pdf.
- “Hegar Et Al. v. Panetta.” Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, November 27, 2012. https://www.clearinghouse.net/chDocs/public/EE-CA-0346-0001.pdf.
- “Service Women’s Action Network v. Esper.” Law360. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://www.law360.com/cases/50b74a51a895c03f4f00430c.
- Crosby, Maggie. “California’s Military Women Support Our Freedom. Shouldn’t We Support Theirs?” American Civil Liberties Union, February 17, 2012. https://www.aclu.org/blog/reproductive-freedom/abortion/californias-military-women-support-our-freedom-shouldnt-we/.
- “Covered Services: Abortions.” TRICARE. Accessed April 24, 2020. https://tricare.mil/CoveredServices/IsItCovered/Abortions.