Georgetown Law Professor David Cole will serve as the American Civil Liberties Union’s new national legal director, the organization announced July 22.
Cole, the GULC’s inaugural George J. Mitchell Professor, will take leave from Georgetown to spearhead the ACLU’s work, litigate on its behalf before the Supreme Court and ensure a unified vision in the accomplishment of its goals.
Cole’s role will include overseeing the work of one hundred of the ACLU’s national office lawyers and two hundred of its lawyers working for affiliates across the country, as well as managing the distribution of its resources and personnel.
“This is what I have been teaching, studying and litigating in for my entire career and the opportunity to do it with the assistance of such a fantastic organization is just to good to pass up,” Cole said. “This is a new challenge and a new opportunity and it’s a particularly critical time, I think, for civil liberties.”
Throughout his professional career, Cole has litigated constitutional law cases including Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman, which both found prohibitions of flag burning to violate the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.
Cole is also the legal affairs correspondent for The Nation, a regular contributor to the New York Review of Books and the author of several books himself. His most recent, Engines of Liberty: The Power of Citizen Activists to Make Constitutional Law, delves into the importance of ordinary citizens in effectuating constitutional change – a tenet he believes is integral to the ACLU.
During his tenure, Cole said he aspires to tackle issues including racial justice, immigration reform, women’s and LGBT rights, capital punishment and the preservation of privacy, free speech and association.
“It’s a huge template, but the ACLU is involved in every one of those struggles and I don’t have any illusion that we’re going to solve all of those problems,” Cole said. “But I think that you have to look at these issues as matters of long-term struggle, that rights are not self-enforcing, they require the engagement of citizens through organizations that are focused on defending these rights, and that’s what the ACLU is.”
GULC Dean William Treanor remarked that Cole’s 25 years as a professor at Georgetown will inform an illustrious career at the ACLU.
“David is really remarkable, he’s a gifted teacher, he’s a very important scholar,” Treanor said. “He’s a brilliant litigator, someone who’s really made a great mark litigating cases before the Supreme Court and so we’re very proud that he is taking on this new role with the ACLU. We think he will make important contributions to the law, and we also look forward to his eventual return to the law school and to teaching.”
ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said Cole’s work is widely admired and he is greatly anticipated as the next legal director.
“David is an exceptionally effective litigator and advocate, and someone who cares very deeply about all of the issues the ACLU works on,” Jaffer said in an email to The Hoya, “He’ll be an excellent legal director.”
Reflecting on the new chapter in his career, Cole emphasized how greatly he enjoyed inspiring his students to engage in public service and his intention to one day return as a professor.
“I love teaching. I love the students who come to Georgetown, a large majority of them, committed to using law to pursue justice and do good rather than just to make a lot of money,” Cole said. “It has been a great fit for me and I look forward to many years to come when I return.”
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