Most lawyers concerned about endangered species work for environmental groups. But New York University law professor Burt Neuborne, a specialist in constitutional law, is concerned about what he says is a new endangered species -- individual liberty.
So, Neuborne has taken the job of national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, which Neuborne called "the enforcement arm of the Bill of Rights."
Neuborne says he's taking the job, at about $65,000 a year, in the midst of a popular revolt against the independence of the federal court judges as protectors of individual rights. In a press release, Neuborne said that system is under attack by "cynical politicians and single-issue fanatics" who want to destroy the federal judiciary and who urge "irresponsible officials" to ignore the constitution's guarantee of fundamental freedoms.
Neuborne, in a telephone conversation, said popular anger with the courts, which he believes comes in historical cycles, is a danger, but not a crisis, for civil liberties.
Neuborne said he believes the conservative trend focuses on the economy, and "stops short of those basic, consensus values like the importance of freedom of expression, the moral imperative of treating people equally and the basic respect for fairness in procedure."
Neuborne, 41, who began his affiliation with the ACLU 15 years ago, has had his share of ACLU-style cases: a dispute over the right to a Medicaid-funded abortion; the Socialist Workers Party's fight for a place on the New York state ballot; an Air Force pilot's refusal to fly combat missions in Vietnam, to name just a few from a long list.
As the ACLU's legal director, Neuborne will oversee the group's U.S. Supreme Court litigation and coordinate nationwide with 4,000 volunteer ACLU lawyers across the country. Neuborne replaces Bruce Ennis, who is now in private law practice in Washington.