ACLU Position in Polovchak Case

Dershowitz is entitled to his opinion on the case of Walter Polovchak, the 12-year-old boy who didn’t want to return to the Soviet Union with his parents.

The issues in the case present a conflict of rights. On the one hand, Walter expressed a desire to live in a free country, a desire we can all understand and share. On the other hand, Walter was removed from his parents’ custody after a hearing in a language they did not understand. They were not notified about the hearing in advance and they were not represented by a lawyer. Substantial due-process rights were involved and it was that interest that the ACLU of Illinois sought to protect.

The case was a difficult one, with civil liberties concerns on both sides of the courtroom. It is important to note that six courts looked at the issues and each and every one agreed with the ACLU. After all, no parent should lose a child without a proper hearing.

Dershowitz is not entitled, however, to use the case as a springboard for the preposterous charges that the ACLU has been “captured” by a non-existent conspiracy of “feminists and leftists” or that it has succumbed to political pressure in deciding its positions on civil liberties issues. In recent cases, the ACLU has supported the rights of anti-abortionists to picket abortion clinics and of a student newspaper editor to publish articles denying that the Holocaust took place and to associate with others--including Ku Klux Klan members--who share his beliefs. Even Dershowitz could hardly define these clients as “leftists.”


Although the ACLU endorses women’s right to choose when and whether to become mothers, opposes discrimination against people on the basis of sexual orientation, and resists political witch-hunters of the left and right, we do not “prefer” abortion to motherhood, lesbianism to heterosexuality, or any other political system (communist or fascist) to democracy. On the contrary, we continue to believe that the Bill of Rights gives all Americans the freedom to decide these matters for themselves.



Los Angeles


Gale is president and Ripston is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.