Last week, I attended the Greater Flint Branch of the ACLU of Michigan’s annual dinner where the sold out and enthusiastic crowd showed that the defense of civil liberties was alive and well in Flint!

As a native of Lapeer, meeting and honoring those who have worked and continue to work to preserve civil liberties in the Flint area was a wonderful way to begin my summer as a legal intern with the ACLU of Michigan.

The dinner honored Judge Paul V. Gadola as the Thomas A. Baltus Civil Libertarian of the Year. Judge Gadola, a founding member of the Flint Branch who recently concluded over 20 years of service on the federal bench, shared a few of the highlights of his distinguished career and spoke about the experiences that shaped his commitment to civil liberties.

Judge Gadola specifically pointed to the racial discrimination and inequalities that existed in Flint as prompting him to help found the Flint Branch of the ACLU in 1963. He described community efforts to address residential segregation in Flint through the Flint Fair Housing Ordinance. On his part this included a 3 a.m. trip to the courthouse to ensure that supporters of the ordinance could rally for its passage in front of city hall the next day.

Judge Gadola also spoke about what he felt was the most important decision of his career, granting habeas corpus to a woman convicted of first-degree murder on the grounds that she was denied her right to effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.

Although Judge Gadola’s decision in that case was overturned, the ACLU of Michigan continues to defend the right to counsel through their current challenge to Michigan’s indigent defense system in Duncan v. Michigan and by working as part of the Michigan Campaign for Justice to advance legislative reforms to the system.

While Judge Gadola, a Republican and Reagan appointee, might not be the type of person who comes to mind as a “card carrying” member of the ACLU, his career demonstrates that a commitment to civil liberties transcends political labels and stereotypes.

Thank you to the Flint Branch for a great evening and inspiration to last the summer!

By Libby Benton, first year at Harvard Law School, intern with the ACLU of Michigan through the summer