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ACLU National Director David Cole speaking at a conference. Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage via Getty Images

The American Civil Liberties Union is defending its position on free speech after a leaked memo last week revealed the organization was having an internal debate on how it weighed free speech against other civil rights.

Why it matters: The ACLU is obligated, as a non-partisan civil rights organization, to defend clients seeking help — even if it doesn't agree with them.

"We can and do defend in court the rights of those whose views we openly denounce. "
— David Cole, National Director of the ACLU

Cole said the ACLU has and is currently defending those they disagree with, including former senior editor for Breitbart News, Milo Yiannopoulos, in a free-speech case against the Washington, D.C. transit authority. The organization reaffirmed that free speech is extended to all, "even to the most repugnant speakers — including white supremacists," Cole said.

The details: Former ACLU board member Wendy Kaminer criticized the ACLU last week after an internal memo revealed the company was considering how it weighed free speech when it violated the civil rights of other marginalized groups.

  • The memo did not outline the debate as a policy change and said branches would be able to weigh free speech through their own discretion.
  • In the memo, the ACLU said it was still committed to defending free speech and protecting first amendment rights as an organization.

The backdrop: According to the memo, the ACLU began to consider how to prioritize who they're defending after the Charlottesville rally in 2017. The city initially tried to block the group's right to protest, but the ACLU defended it. The organization faced criticism after.

Go deeper

Updated 53 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

In photos: Thousands rally for George Floyd ahead of Derek Chauvin's trial

Demonstrators on March 7 outside the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with murdering George Floyd, will begin in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Photo: Chandan Khanna/AFP via Getty Images

Thousands of protesters marched through Minneapolis' streets Sunday, urging justice for George Floyd on the eve of the start of former police officer Derek Chauvin's trial over the 46-year-old's death, per AFP.

The big picture: Chauvin faces charges for second-degree murder and manslaughter over Floyd's death last May, which ignited massive nationwide and global protests against racism and for police reform. His trial is due to start Monday, with jury selection procedures.

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
5 hours ago - Health

Pfizer CEO feels "liberated" after taking COVID vaccine

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla. Photo: "Axios on HBO"

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tells "Axios on HBO" that he recently received his first of two doses of the company's coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: Bourla told CNBC in December that company polling found that one of the most effective ways to increase confidence in the vaccine was to have the CEO take it.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
5 hours ago - Economy & Business

Ripple CEO: SEC lawsuit is "bad for crypto" in the U.S.

Ripple CEO Brad Garlinghouse tells "Axios on HBO" that if his company loses a lawsuit brought by U.S. regulators, it would put the country at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to cryptocurrencies.

Between the lines: The SEC in December sued Ripple, and Garlinghouse personally, for allegedly selling over $1.3 billion in unregistered securities. Ripple's response is that its cryptocurrency, called XRP, didn't require registration because it's an asset rather than a security.

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