The organization began when a group of Idaho attorneys and civil libertarians - Jack Van Valkenburgh, Liz Brandt, Alan Herzfeld and Alan Kofoed - decided to start a Boise affiliate of the 90-year-old American Civil Liberties Union. The group works to preserve the rights of individuals guaranteed by the Constitution.
The Idaho Statesman caught up with Monica Hopkins, who has been executive director for more than four years.
Other standouts include the Boise City nudity ordinance. Exotic dancers came to us and told us the law would harm their ability to make a living.
We also worked with the city in the wake of the tragic police shootings (in the late 1990s) to talk about installing an ombudsman. To date, Boise is the only city in the Treasure Valley with an ombudsman.
We worked on the No on One campaign (also known as the anti-gay initiative, defeated at the polls in 1994).
Q: How has the organization evolved?
A: When you literally have documents to guide you, there's not a lot of mission drift.
But change is easy to see in the ACLU of Idaho and in the general life cycle of nonprofits. Early on we had a huge core of volunteers that did the bulk of the work - volunteer lawyers, people who helped with everything from file management to envelope stuffing. We still have amazing volunteers, but we also have a professional staff, including our first full-time legal director, a full-time paralegal and a legal panel of 18 attorneys.
Q: What's the organization working on now?
A: For the last four years we have been working on indigent defense. Two years ago a study of seven Idaho counties found the state has abdicated responsibilities to counties. In all seven cases, investigators said they would be hard-pressed to find legal services that passed Constitutional muster.
We've been waiting for legislators or the criminal justice system to fix this. If they don't, we will take legal action.
Q: In some circles, the ACLU has the reputation as a leftist organization. How do you work to dispel that?
A: We're nonpartisan. Think of the ACLU in the wake of 9/11. The organization, like Butch Otter, was against the Patriot Act. When the Real ID issue came to our state, we went to the governor and said this is your issue, and it's ours.
Even the drone bill that has come up in the Legislature this year. I've been having conversations with Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise. He has concerns about people's privacy. We do too.
The ACLU worked with Catholic Charities, Right to Life and the sheriff's department to get a law passed that lets pregnant women in prison to give birth without being shackled. People oftentimes forget about those things.
Anna Webb: 377-6431