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If you like Anthony Romero's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Willie Brown,
Ruth Bader Ginsburg,
Alberto Gonzales,
Frank Johnson,
Anthony Kennedy,
Wendy Kopp,
John Lewis,
Ralph Nader,
Antonia Novello,
Rosa Parks,
Albie Sachs,
Barry Scheck,
John Sexton and
Antonio Villaraigosa

Anthony Romero can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

and in the Curriculum Module Social Advocacy

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Romero on ACLU
Homeland Security
Dept. of Justice

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Anthony Romero
Anthony Romero
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Anthony Romero Biography

Executive Director, ACLU

Anthony Romero Date of birth: July 9, 1965

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  Anthony Romero

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Anthony Romero was born in New York City, and spent his first years in a public housing project in the borough of the Bronx. His parents, Demetrio and Coralie Romero, had come to New York from the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico, where neither had completed high school. Demetrio Romero worked as a houseman at a large Manhattan hotel and was repeatedly turned down for a more lucrative job as a banquet waiter there on the grounds that his English was not good enough, although it was in fact adequate for the job. With the assistance of his union's attorney, Demetrio filed a grievance and eventually won his case, which led to more lucrative work for him and an improved standard of living for the family. The role the union's attorney had played in improving the family's life made a powerful impression on young Anthony, and he decided that he too would become an attorney and fight for the rights of the disenfranchised.

With this change in their fortunes, the Romero family moved to suburban New Jersey, where young Anthony excelled in school and became the first member of his family to earn a diploma. He received a scholarship to Princeton University, completing his undergraduate degree at the university's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Following Princeton, he was awarded a second scholarship to Stanford Law School.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
After law school, Romero quickly earned a reputation as a gifted attorney with a commitment to the public interest. For nine years, he worked as Program Officer for Civil Rights and Racial Justice at the Ford Foundation -- ultimately serving as the foundation's Global Director for Human Rights and International Cooperation.. In this capacity, he oversaw grants of $100 million a year to human rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU was originally founded to combat the abuses of civil liberties that arose during the First World War. In addition to the Union's first Executive Director, Roger Baldwin, the founders included Helen Keller. In the following decades, the organization championed free speech and the rights of criminal defendants, supported the rights of union members, combated racial segregation and pursued miscarriages of justice such as the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. The ACLU provides legal representation to plaintiffs filing suit against the government, and to criminal defendants whose rights have been violated. It also files "friend of the court" (amicus curiae) briefs addressing specific legal questions in cases where the parties already have direct representation.

In 2001, when the previous Executive Director of the ACLU stepped down, he recommended Anthony Romero for the job, and in 2001, Romero became the sixth person to head the 80-year-old organization. He is both the first Latino and the first openly gay man to hold this post. As it happened, his first day on the job was September 4, 2001.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
One week later, agents of the Al Qaeda terror network crashed hijacked airliners into the twin towers of New York's World Trade Center, as well as the Pentagon, home of the Department of Defense, outside Washington, D.C. The attacks killed thousands of Americans and provoked the administration of President George W. Bush to declare an all-out "war on terror." Congress quickly passed the USA PATRIOT (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) Act of 2001. A Department of Homeland Security was created, combining existing agencies and adding a new one, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The National Security Administration (NSA) was given expanded powers to conduct surveillance on American citizens without receiving the customary warrants from a criminal court. These powers came to include the monitoring of phone lines and Internet traffic.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
When the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime had given Al Qaeda a safe haven, suspected terrorists captured there and elsewhere were transported to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. For civil libertarians this was particularly troubling, as the prisoners were offered neither the protections prescribed for prisoners of war under the Geneva Convention, nor those afforded criminal defendants under the U.S. Constitution. Instead the Bush administration created a new form of military tribunal to try the suspects, but even these trials were delayed indefinitely in many cases. Some terror suspects were subjected to so-called "enhanced interrogation" methods, including waterboarding, a practice the U.S. had previously regarded as torture. In a practice known as "extraordinary rendition," foreign nationals detained overseas were in some cases transferred to the custody of other countries, where torture was more permissible, or to CIA "black site" prisons outside of the United States.

For many Americans, these measures appeared to threaten the very liberty the United States was founded to protect. Romero and the ACLU went into action, to ensure that the struggle to preserve America's freedoms did not end by destroying them. The ACLU filed suits against the NSA's domestic spying program, and a class-action suit against the demonstrably inaccurate "no-fly" lists of suspected terrorists employed by the TSA.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
ACLU membership had held steady at around 300,000 for many years before September 11; under Romero's leadership it quickly grew to 550,000. By 2007, the group's annual budget was more than twice that of 2001, and its assets ultimately tripled. The ACLU maintains 53 local affiliate offices: three in California, one each in the other 49 states and Puerto Rico. When Romero took office, the local affiliates received $6.5 million annually from the national office; by 2007 that figure had grown to $31 million. Romero assigned a fulltime attorney in each state for the first time. This growth enabled the organization to expand its activities on many fronts, including racial justice, religious freedom, privacy rights, reproductive freedom, and gay and lesbian rights. Romero created a new Human Rights program within the ACLU, and a division dedicated to privacy issues arising from new surveillance technology, including data mining and the collection of genetic data.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the ACLU gained the release of more than 100,000 pages of government documents relating to torture and other abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo. The ACLU mounted a successful court challenge to Section 505 of the Patriot Act, which gave the FBI power to obtain sensitive records without judicial approval, and won its case forcing the FBI to open the files it had kept on antiwar groups -- and on the ACLU itself.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
In addition to its ongoing cases with the federal government over surveillance and detention issues, the contemporary ACLU opposes the death penalty, supports same-sex marriage and the right of gay couples to adopt, supports access to birth control and abortion, and opposes government preference for religion over non-religion. The ACLU won a settlement with the federal government in Collins v. United States, securing back pay for gay members of the military discharged under the now-abandoned "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy. It represented same-sex couples in California who sued successfully to overturn the state's ban on gay marriage, and won a historic victory in the U.S. Supreme Court, winning federal recognition of gay marriages.

Anthony Romero Biography Photo
Under Romero's leadership, as in earlier times, the ACLU's commitment to the Bill of Rights has allied it with more conservative figures and causes as well. The ACLU produced a brief in support of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh when the state of Florida seized his private medical records in a drug abuse investigation THe ACLU has also represented the Second Amendment Foundation over a Washington State library system's attempt to block access to gun-related Internet sites, and has assisted gun owners in recovering firearms confiscated by law enforcement agencies. While the ACLU advocates increased public funding of political campaigns, it also filed an amicus brief in the Citizens United case, supporting unrestricted independent expenditures by corporations and other associations as a form of constitutionally protected political speech.

In 2005, TIME magazine named Anthony Romero one of the "25 Most Influential Hispanic Americans." He received the 2011 Margaret Sanger Award given by Planned Parenthood "to recognize leadership, excellence, and outstanding contributions to the reproductive health and rights movement." Anthony Romero has recounted his and the ACLU's ongoing struggles in his 2007 book In Defense of Our America: The Fight for Civil Liberties in the Age of Terror.

This page last revised on Mar 14, 2014 17:54 EDT
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