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social sciences

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Romero, Anthony (b. 1965)  
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Following the attacks, the Bush Administration pushed through the Patriot Act and instituted policies that threatened the openness of government and the rights of privacy and other civil liberties.

In response, Romero and the ACLU lobbied against the Patriot Act, winning some concessions and litigating other points of contention; challenged in court the National Security Agency's domestic-spying program; and litigated against the torturing, kidnapping, and arbitrary detentions associated with the "war on terror," ultimately securing a number of court rulings that checked the assertion of unbridled Executive-branch power made by the Bush Administration.

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In addition, the ACLU won suits compelling the correction of the "no-fly" lists of possible terrorists and forcing the FBI and other agencies to make public files they compiled on peaceful groups, including the ACLU itself.

Romero has been particularly concerned about the effects of the "war on terror" on the American legal system, especially the presumption of innocence, and on immigrants. In 2003, he told the New York Times that the "war on terror quickly turned into a war on immigrants."

In the climate of fear generated by the Bush Administration, membership in the ACLU grew to unprecedented numbers, increasing from fewer than 300,000 when Romero assumed office to 600,000 in 2008. Moreover, donations to the organization more than doubled during these years.

Romero strengthened the ACLU by doubling its staff and significantly increasing the salaries paid to staff attorneys. He established a new Human Rights Program and funneled new money into the organization's 53 affiliates, many of which were barely functioning when he was appointed.

By increasing the presence of the ACLU across the country, Romero truly made it the nation's leading public interest law firm. As Leonard Rubenstein, the head of Physicians for Human Rights, remarked in 2007: "You can't underestimate the extraordinary work the ACLU has done over the last five years."

Rubenstein's assessment is echoed by such legal experts as University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone and David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center, both of whom have praised the work of the ACLU in the aftermath of 9/11. Cole remarked of Romero and the organization, "They've done a superb job in defending civil liberties, doing public education on civil liberties and challenging a variety of Bush Administration measures."

Romero's achievement is all the more remarkable because for much of the first five years of his tenure, he was embroiled in an acrimonious dispute with dissident members of his notoriously contentious Board of Directors. Ironically, and painfully for him, the internecine warfare, which threatened Romero's job, was led by Ira Glasser, his former mentor who suggested that he apply for the position in the first place.

Romero's detractors pointed to his failure to keep the Board abreast of a settlement he agreed to after a technical glitch in the ACLU website mistakenly made accessible to the public the names and addresses of people who placed orders for ACLU tote bags and other products and to his agreeing to vague anti-terrorism language in grant contracts he signed with the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations and with the Combined Federal Campaign, a United Way-type fund for federal employees.

Although these errors were in themselves minor, the dissidents alleged that they were major scandals that betrayed Romero's lack of understanding of the ACLU's core values. They also accused Romero of attempting to intimidate his staff and members of the Board who criticized him. The battle was played out in newspaper columns, leaked memos, and competing websites.

During the bitter contretemps, Romero maintained the loyalty of a solid majority of the Board and the affiliates and of the civil liberties family generally. Leaders in the world of civil liberties such as the NAACP's Julian Bond, the National Organization for Women's Kim Gandy, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights' Kate Kendell rallied to his defense, as did such long-time ACLU leaders as Strossman, Norman Dorsen, and Aryeh Neier.

While admitting to have made mistakes, Romero defended his record vigorously. He told one reporter, "I'm willing to stack it up: what I've accomplished, what I've done, how I've done it, how I've conducted myself, what I've done right, what I've done wrong, what I've learned from it, what I've done to remedy it. I say, 'Open the kimono!'"

There has been much speculation as to why the dissidents, and especially Glasser, turned against Romero with such vitriol. Some of Romero's allies have characterized Glasser as someone who retired too early and became "a King Lear raging against his irrelevance." Others have attributed jealousy of Romero's successes as contributing to Glasser's disaffection for his protégé.

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