City Club of Chicago: ACLU of Illinois Executive Director Colleen Connell
April 10, 2017
Colleen Connell – Executive Director – ACLU of Illinois
In January of 2001, Colleen Connell became the first woman attorney to lead the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. As Executive Director, Connell has expanded the organization’s legislative and communications programs, as well as presided over an ambitious expansion of the organization’s national security and informational privacy docket, and an expansion of the ACLU of Illinois’ institutional reform litigation, with active cases challenging conditions in state facilities or state subsidized facilities for children, the mentally ill, the developmentally disabled, the physically disabled, and people detained at correctional facilities.
With statewide membership numbering more than 20,000, the ACLU of Illinois directs aggressive legislative, legal, and educational programs. In recent years, the organization has won major victories to protect racial and ethnic minorities from being victims of racial profiling; to limit the authority of police to conduct mass arrests of young people on Chicago streets (by challenging Chicago’s anti-gang loitering ordinance); to protect reproductive health care; and to bring much needed improvements to Illinois’ child welfare agency, the Illinois mental health system, and the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center.
Connell joined the staff of the ACLU of Illinois in 1984. Prior to becoming the Executive Director, Connell served as the ACLU’s Associate Legal Director and Director of the Reproductive Rights Project. In that capacity, she directed the organization’s litigation efforts involving constitutional rights of privacy and protecting the rights of Illinois citizens to make decisions concerning reproductive matters and child-bearing, without undue governmental restriction. She successfully challenged several generations of restrictive abortion laws, laws restricting access to contraception, laws requiring parental notification of a minor’s decision to have an abortion, and laws restricting access to and performance of several forms of prenatal testing, such as chorionic villus screening. Connell litigated key cases defining the scope of permissible intervention and standing before the Seventh Circuit and the Supreme Court. She also litigated a wide variety of other cases, including matters involving rights of the mentally ill; equal access to education; housing discrimination; employment discrimination on behalf of women; freedom of speech and association; and other constitutional rights.
A native of North Dakota, Connell graduated from North Dakota State University and the University of Iowa School of Law, where she was Order of the Coif and Special Projects Editor of the Iowa Law Review.