Anthony D. Romero took the helm of the American Civil Liberties Union in September 2001, a week before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The air in lower Manhattan, where the nation's preeminent civil-liberties organization is headquartered, was still thick with smoke when the administration began pressuring Congress to remove checks and balances on law-enforcement.
It was not the first time that Americans were asked to trade away freedoms for increased security, and it would not be the last-but the ACLU stood its ground under Romero's leadership, steadfastly maintaining that it is possible to be both safe and free.
Romero, an attorney with a history of public-interest activism, also presided over the most successful membership drive in the ACLU's 82-year history. In his first year, 75,000 individuals became card-carrying members of the organization for the first time.
He is the ACLU's sixth executive director, and he is the first Latino and openly gay man to serve in that capacity. He came to the organization from the Ford Foundation's Human Rights and International Cooperation Program, which he led through a period of extraordinary growth, transforming it into Ford's largest and most dynamic grant-making unit. As director of that program, he channeled approximately $90 million in grants to civil-rights, human rights and peace projects in 2000, and launched groundbreaking initiatives in affirmative action, voting rights and redistricting, immigrants' rights, women's rights, reproductive freedom and lesbian/gay rights.
Romero also served for nearly five years as a Ford Foundation Program Officer for Civil Rights and Racial Justice; and for two years at the Rockefeller Foundation, where he led a foundation review that helped to determine future directions in civil-rights advocacy.
Born in New York City to immigrant parents from Puerto Rico, Romero was the first in his family to graduate from high school. A graduate of Stanford University Law School and Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs, he was a Dinkelspiel Scholar at Stanford, a Cane Scholar at Princeton, and a National Hispanic Scholar at both institutions.
He sits on several not-for-profit boards and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and the New York State Bar Association.