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ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 is the voice for the Constitution in the 2012 presidential election. We're watching the issues, the candidates and the media to hold them accountable to the Constitution and our civil liberties. Because words matter. Because our rights matter. Because freedom can't protect itself.
The highest overall rating went to former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a Republican-turned-Libertarian, who opposes the Patriot Act and - unlike Obama - supports the right of gays and lesbians to marry. Among the leading Republican candidates, libertarian-leaning Rep. Ron Paul also got a higher score than Obama despite low ratings in several categories.
The ACLU gave the Texas congressman high marks for opposing the Patriot Act and indefinite detention of suspected terrorists, condemning waterboarding and voting to repeal "don't ask, don't tell." But it criticized Paul's call for an end to "birthright citizenship" for children of illegal immigrants, his support of the law that denies federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples and his opposition to abortion.
Obama, endorsed by abortion-rights groups in 2008, was given three torches on "reproductive choice" by the ACLU, which cited his support for federal funding of Planned Parenthood and family-planning programs but also his bowing to Republican demands to ban funding for poor women's abortions in Washington, D.C., as part of legislation to prevent a government shutdown.
Obama also accepted restrictions on insurance coverage for abortion in the national health care law that passed in 2010.
Our experts found that Republicans Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman earned solid scores, with four, three and two torches across most major categories, although both received one torch on marriage equality and none on reproductive rights.
President Obama also achieved solid scores or better across most categories, including four torches for ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. However, he received just one torch and none for keeping Guantánamo Bay open and continuing unconstitutional surveillance under the PATRIOT act, respectively.
Republican-turned-Libertarian Gary Johnson scored even better than Paul, Huntsman and Obama, earning four and three torches on most major issues.
They stand in stark contrast to the other major GOP candidates, three of whom — Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum — didn’t earn a single torch in any of the seven major categories.
Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich received torches in only one category: two torches each for promoting a humane immigration policy, including their support for a path to legal status for some long-term residents.
Ultimately, the good news from the report card is that genuine support for our constitutional values and freedoms has no partisan boundaries. Indeed, Ron Paul’s recent surge in Iowa has been attributed to his adherence to the Constitution and civil liberties.
Like the Constitution, the ACLU Liberty Watch report card is a dynamic, living document that we’ll continue to update throughout the 2012 election. Because our rights matter. And because we’re choosing our president in 2012, not our liberties.