The Corner

Politics & Policy

The ACLU, Betsy DeVos, WFB, and More

Nadine Strossen, the lawyer and civil libertarian (David Shankbone / Wikimedia )

Nadine Strossen is a famous civil libertarian. From 1991 to 2008, she was president of the American Civil Liberties Union. And she is my guest on Q&A, here.

The ACLU, as you know, has filed suit against Betsy DeVos, the secretary of education, for the department’s new Title IX regulations. These have to do with the rights of accusers and the rights of the accused. Strossen strongly dissents from the ACLU, backing the new regulations to the hilt.

Veteran National Review fans may be familiar with Nadine Strossen, because she was a friend and sparring partner of William F. Buckley Jr. More on that in a moment.

Strossen grew up in Hopkins, Minn., the Raspberry Capital of the World. Many of her classmates picked raspberries in the summer. She, however, starting at 13, gave piano lessons and accompanied ballet lessons. She went to Harvard College on a National Merit Scholarship, majoring in history. She then went to Harvard Law School, where she had, among other professors, the Dersh. Whom she talks about in our podcast.

All civil libertarians are not created equal. Or rather, there are individuals in the general bunch. “I am a bleeding-heart liberal, there’s no doubt about it,” Strossen tells me, but “I have deep respect for rights that are not championed aggressively by the ACLU, such as Second Amendment rights.”

She and WFB debated on television and on campuses. They disagreed on most issues, but agreed strongly with each other on drug decriminalization. (For.) She says that WFB loved to poke fun at himself and his image, and she relates a few stories.

Once, they were traveling to a Bible college in the South. They went by private plane. Strossen had never been on a private plane and was kind of wowed. She did not hide this fact from Bill. “He looked at me with astonishment and amazement and said, ‘Is there any other way to travel?’”

There was no liquor allowed on campus, but Bill had brought his own — which was very Bill.

Another time, they were on opposing teams in a Firing Line debate held at Bard College, in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Someone had crafted the resolution this way: “The American Civil Liberties Union is full of baloney.” WFB said, “I would have phrased it differently. I would have said, ‘full of pâté de foie gras.’”

Strossen says that Obama-era Title IX regulations have been baleful: for due process, for free speech, and so on. The new regs, she says, are a significant step forward. She goes into considerable detail on the subject.

I bring up a vexation of mine: Why are college administrations involved in sexual-assault cases? I mean, you call the cops, right? There are jails, courts — the whole nine yards. A system. There is a law of the land, not a law of the campus, right? Sexual assault does not mean one thing on campus and another thing off.

As I see it, college administrations are meant to decide how many sections of Spanish 101 there will be. Whether astronomy will be its own department or folded into physics. Whether rowing will be a club sport or a varsity sport. But sexual assault? Crimes?

Nadine Strossen speaks about this in an informed, eloquent way, as about other issues.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Geoffrey Stone, the professor at the University of Chicago Law School who is the main author of the “Chicago Principles,” which pertain to free speech on campus. We spoke of threats to free speech from left and right. (For that interview, go here.)

At the end of my conversation with Strossen, I bring up the same issue: threats from left and right. In her answer, she cites the title of a book by the late, great Nat Hentoff: Free Speech for Me — But Not for Thee: How the American Left and Right Relentlessly Censor Each Other.

Nadine Strossen is a breath of fresh air. Whether you agree with her or not — I myself am a shaky civil libertarian, always have been — I think you will find her so. Again, our podcast is here.


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