Massachusetts residents enjoy the most secure and extensive personal and political liberties in the nation.
As the most privileged of the 50 states, at least as far as civil liberties are concerned, the Commonwealth is thus arguably the world's freest political entity.
The Bay State can thank John Adams for this glorious distinction. Adams was the creative force behind the drafting of the Massachusetts Constitution, which predates the United States Constitution, and, as a result, is the world's oldest written constitution still in use. Not only is the Massachusetts Constitution venerable, its Declaration of Rights is far more ambitious and inclusive than the national Bill of Rights.
No one has labored with more love and assiduity to keep those liberties established by Adams secure than John Reinstein, who has enjoyed a long and distinguished career as the top lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Reinstein, a graduate of Hamilton College and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, enlisted with the ACLU 40 years ago as a $100-a-week lawyer.
Throughout his career Reinstein has worked the often bloody crossroads where the law and politics collide.
Those campaigns give a jagged but still distinct symmetry to Reinstein's labors. They mirror a roadmap of progressive aspiration: the gender-equality movement that was a hallmark of the 1970s; the efforts to keep speech free during the reactionary 1980s when Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush were president; the struggle to maintain a modicum of humanity in a criminal-justice system perverted, during the 1990s, by a racially skewed war on drugs; and in the years following 9/11, a fight to protect personal privacy against the ginned-up intrusions of a federal government waging yet another ill-conceived war — this time on "terror."
Reinstein, a modest, soft-spoken, and at times even shy man, working from his base within the ACLU, has had an impact on public policy to which few elected officials can aspire.
Often working against the odds and the social currents of the day, Reinstein has managed to do more than keep civil liberties alive and vital in Massachusetts. In ways large and small, he has successfully used litigation to make our freedoms not only more secure, but also broader, more expansive, more far-reaching.
Thanks to Reinstein and the ACLU, those accused of wrongdoing enjoy greater protection than those in other states, including more secure rights to counsel and more stringent safeguards against intrusive police searches.
Free speech is more secure in venues that range from online forums to high schools classrooms.
And should the radical right wing succeed in its never-ending campaign to deny American women choice by reversing Roe v. Wade, Massachusetts will stand as a haven — because of the landmark Moe v. Secretary of Administration & Finance decision by the Supreme Judicial Court, which would still protect abortion access in Massachusetts.
This, at a glance, is what Reinstein has helped achieve. Massachusetts should be thankful.
Like petulant children, Mitt Romney and Scott Brown — the Bay State's highest-profile Republicans — greeted President Barack Obama's visit to Massachusetts earlier this week with public raspberries, in the form of critical opinion articles in the local papers. Both men made themselves look more foolish than their target, as crybabies usually do.