President of the American Civil Liberties Union Susan Herman entered a room packed with Yale students Wednesday night to discuss civil liberties in the age of President Donald Trump.
During the talk, which was co-hosted by the Yale College Democrats and the Yale Undergraduate Legal Aid Association, Herman addressed the challenges the nation is currently facing in areas ranging from individual liberties to voting rights as a result of legislation passed in the last decade. In a Q&A session following Herman’s address, audience members inquired about the work the ACLU does and brought up topical issues, including the Trump administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program rollback and the recently revised travel ban. Students interviewed by the News after the event expressed excitement about having Herman, a national figure, speak on campus.
After the talk, Herman told the News she was excited to speak to Yale students, who she said represent the “future.”
“They are the troops,” Herman said. “We need all hands on deck.”
The talk kicked off with a short review of ACLU’s history, which was followed by a discussion on the scaling-up of government surveillance following the 9/11 terrorist attack and problems with U.S. voting procedures.
Using a map depicting the distribution of states that voted for Hillary Clinton LAW ’73 and Trump in the 2016 presidential election, Herman explained that the electoral college — which propelled Trump to victory — has its roots in slavery. According to Herman, the system was used as a tool for plantation states such as Virginia to hold sway on a federal level.
“The electoral college looks a little bit like an original sin,” Herman said. “After the Civil War, the electoral college should have gone the same way as the three-fifths law.”
Herman urged the student attendees to lobby their local congressional representatives to thwart Trump’s efforts to rescind DACA. Additionally, Herman emphasized that, contrary to a Washington Street Journal story that ran last month, the ACLU will continue to represent all people with free speech concerns, regardless of political ideology.
Keera Annamaneni ’20, communications director for the Yale College Democrats, said the group invited Herman to campus because of her leadership in the field of law and her valuable insights on the current political climate.
Alex McGrath ’21 said that as a card-carrying member of the ACLU, he was thrilled to attend the talk and was interested to hear about the diversity of issues the ACLU has been involved with.
Anna Gumberg ’21 said the talk was fascinating, adding that she was surprised to learn about the bills currently in work in various state legislatures that would potentially obstruct voting rights.
Herman assumed the position of ACLU president in 2008.
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