"It was an organization that was very much non-ideological and nonpartisan. Its executive director, John Pemberton, was in fact, a Republican. And the causes it espoused then were causes that could be defended in terms of the public interest. There were values for which all good men could--and should--stand firm, for the rights of individuals against the larger society, for civility and for common decency."
What drove Owen away from ACLU ranks, he says, was the organization's determination "to take positions that made sense only through the most dogmatic and sophistical interpretation of legal language--so that some minor error in a judge's instructions to a jury, for example, or a typographical error in a transcript would result in a child molester going free. And this would be hailed as a victory. It is not my belief that turning convicted felons loose in any way serves the public good."
Increasingly the organization has espoused causes that make no sense to most of us--and may in fact serve no useful purpose, though they do manage to keep the organization in the headlines.
Most Americans, as a result, probably have a sense of what the ACLU is and what it represents. When asked whether they like it, the answer probably won't be one civil libertarians would appreciate, though the language in which it is stated they would no doubt feel compelled to defend. If so, that is probably the ACLU's own fault.