By Jonathan Turley
Why would the ACLU be involved in a civil defamation trial?
In this week’s massive defamation award to actor Johnny Depp, his ex-wife Amber Heard was left holding a bill for $15,000,000. Even after a reduction for her own award and a statutory reduction of the punitive damage portion, Heard is still looking at $8,350,000 in damages. Many view that amount (which is $1.35 million more than her divorce settlement) to be justified in light of the damage caused to Depp’s reputation and career. However, the stain of this verdict should be shared with others, even if they avoided the sting of actual damages. That includes many in the media (including the Washington Post staff) who rushed to paint Heard as a victim and Depp as an abuser. Yet, the greatest condemnation should be reserved for the organization that not only pushed that narrative but actually helped draft the defamatory column: the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The ACLU’s role in this scandal emerged during the trial. While Heard was accused of reneging on her public pledge to give the divorce settlement to charity, she did give a large donation to the ACLU. The organization then made her “Ambassador for women’s rights, with a focus on gender-based violence.”
During the trial, evidence was introduced on how the ACLU staff helped Heard crafted the defamatory column. ACLU staffer Robin Shulman said in an email to Heard that she tried to capture Heard’s “fire and rage” in a draft. It was also reported that the ACLU’s executive director, Anthony Romero, and legal director, David Cole, also made contributions.
ACLU staffer Jessica Weitz acknowledged in an email that she was aware that there was the chance of litigation and told Heard “I want to make sure nothing was said in here that puts you in jeopardy with your [non-disclosure agreement].”
It is not uncommon for celebrities to use ghost writers and editors. However, many of us questioned what Romero and the ACLU were doing in the middle of this celebrity scandal. The answer is that the ACLU long ago abandoned its celebrated legacy as a fearless organization fighting for civil liberties and individual rights.
Under Romero, the ACLU has become openly political and increasingly scandal-prone. The political agenda has corrupted the organization in the sense of cutting it adrift from the strong principles that once held it firmly to its original mission. I have no doubt that the new direction is motivated by deeply held political values. I also do not believe that it has taken this course for purely monetary gains or donations. It is corrupted in the sense of debasing its legacy. The ACLU once represented something more than just another political advocacy group.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Citizens Journal