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Hundreds of lawyers attend ACLU summit

Feb 4, 2017

More than 400 attorneys attended a “lawyers summit” hosted by the ACLU of Michigan on the University of Michigan’s campus in Ann Arbor Saturday.

Robbie Gaines is an attorney from Detroit who practices automotive liability law and attended the summit. He credits his fiancé, also a lawyer, with igniting his involvement with the ACLU of Michigan. However, Gaines says he believes a broad swath of Americans see President Donald Trump’s recent executive order on immigration as an attack on American values.

“I don’t think it’s unique to the ACLU,” Gaines said. “I think people across the country who aren’t normally coming out to these types of events and fighting this fight are offended by some of the actions that have went on.”

Gaines, who is African-American, views the executive order as a restriction of civil liberties of people from majority-Muslim countries, and perhaps a bad omen.

“The executive order that (Trump) issued, and how he tailored it to a specific set of people, basically woke people up,” Gaines. “Things like this really hit home because, it could be you next.”

According to Michael J. Steinberg, the legal director of ACLU Michigan, the organization has been flooded with financial donations and calls from attorneys hoping to volunteer their time since the presidential election.  

David Cole, the ACLU national legal director, was a featured speaker at the all-day summit, along with Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack.

Cole said he’s been encouraged by public protest since the presidential election, referencing the women’s marches across the country the day following inauguration, and recent protests and volunteer efforts at the nation’s airports following the executive order on immigration.

“If you want to change the law or if you want to enforce liberties you can’t just file a brief in the Supreme Court and make a clever argument,” Cole said. “You need to engage the citizenry in a variety of forums outside the courts.”

Steinberg says he’s been contacted by attorneys who have said they “never imagined” they would want to volunteer for the ACLU, but nonetheless called to offer support. According to Cole, the ACLU recently surpassed 1 million members for the first time.

Continuing his lecture on the importance of social activism, Cole highlighted the National Rifle Association as an organization with a strong membership that has successfully and powerfully lobbied to preserve the civil liberties endowed by the Second Amendment.

“The secret to their strength is their people. (The NRA) has five million members. We’ve just hit the million mark,” Cole said. “And they defend one right; we defend the whole bill of rights except (the second amendment) because that one’s covered.”

He says the members of the NRA are more engaged than members of any other social organization including the ACLU, and that a more engaged citizenry would be more successful at protecting liberties.  

The summit also offered participating attorneys training sessions on immigration law, transgender rights, resisting water shut-offs in Detroit, and other issues.