The King County prosecutor chose a novel way to show his unease about the Trump presidency. A longtime Republican, he joined the combative ACLU.
Folks are dealing with the roiling political times in different ways. The approach of King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg raised a few eyebrows recently.
“After the election, my wife and I went and joined the ACLU!” Satterberg told a crowd at a forum on police issues last month.
Satterberg is a Republican. His office was just made nonpartisan by voters in the last election. But he has run as a Republican throughout his career and has donated to GOP candidates, such as Dino Rossi in a run for governor.
It’s not completely unheard of to have a Republican join the American Civil Liberties Union. But many in the party have longed viewed it as a progressive front group. Its informal nickname on the right has long been the “anti-Christian Liberals Union.”
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These are not ordinary times, though.
Former Republican state party chairman Chris Vance also says he just signed up for the ACLU. Last weekend, while reading the text of the refugee and Muslim country travel executive order, he said he just couldn’t take it anymore.
“I went online and joined the ACLU right then, over my morning coffee,” Vance says. “I did it because they are like the tea party — they know how to fight. It looks like they are going to be the main group filing lawsuits against Donald Trump, so I’m in.”
Prime example: It was the national ACLU that filed the first challenges to Trump’s travel restrictions last weekend. The local chapter assisted with the case that resulted Friday in a Seattle judge temporarily halting the order nationwide.
Satterberg and Vance are part of the largest surge in ACLU membership in the local chapter’s 85-year history. The group had only 18,000 members statewide before the election. As of Friday, that had soared past 50,000.
Fifteen years ago the Washington state chapter had fewer than 10,000 members.
Two Republicans signing up hardly qualifies as a trend (journalism rules say you need three for that!). But it could be a glimmer of a notion that some of the needed checks and balances on the Trump administration might, eventually, come from within the GOP.
Satterberg said at the forum, held in January, that he joined out of concern the new administration might seek to roll back a number of local justice efforts. Included were reform of police use-of-force practices in Seattle, and alternative approaches to drug enforcement — both initiatives pushed hard by the ACLU.
“My hope is that on those issues of local concern, that the White House just leaves us alone,” Satterberg said.
The ACLU was thrilled to learn of Satterberg joining, though it could be an uneasy relationship. The group periodically sues King County in First Amendment cases. The ACLU also has aided defendants in misconduct cases against King County prosecutors.
An ACLU spokesman said the group has no figures on the party affiliations of its new members. He said it’s a myth the group is solely liberal anyway.
“Our client is the Bill of Rights,” said Doug Honig. “Many of our stances are neither ‘right’ nor ‘left’ per se, so that helps in Republicans becoming members.”
Vance, who is one of the few “Never Trump” Republicans who have remained vocal since the election, said Satterberg is “a classic moderate Republican”— the very type who might be troubled by Trump’s norms-smashing overreach.
“Satterberg just cares about the law and the Constitution and making it work in the criminal justice system,” said Vance, who used to be on the Metropolitan King County Council. “He should be worried about Trump.”
It will be interesting to see if any broader Trump concern spreads in the GOP. Despite Friday’s court victory in the travel-ban case, Trump skeptics have very little political clout in the national government. It will be difficult to check or mitigate his more extreme actions without some healthy skepticism also coming from within his own party.
Republicans don’t have to go so far as to join the anti-Christian Liberals Union. Though if they want to, it’s never been more open for business.