Loren Khogali eyes voting, abortion rights as she takes lead at ACLU of Michigan
Voting rights and keeping abortion legal are among key issues the newly appointed executive director plans to focus her attention on as she takes the helm at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
Loren Khogali was hired by the 21-member board of directors for the ACLU of Michigan and started in the position on Nov. 1.
"The work the ACLU has done since 2016 has been historic, but I believe our most important and transformative work is ahead of us, and we can’t do it alone," said Khogali. "Threats to our most fundamental rights — access to vote and the right to make decisions about our own bodies — are looming. We need the full power of our supporters, coalition partners, donors and our allies and friends to take on the challenges and opportunities before us."
Khogali, 45, started her career as a federal public defender based in Detroit. She represented Metro Detroiters unable to afford their own lawyer in federal court cases.
She previously served a five-year term on the ACLU board.
As executive director, Khogali will lead a team of lawyers and civil rights advocates on staff in tackling court cases and other topics relating to constitutional liberties.
Khogali's ACLU colleagues praised the appointment.
“Loren is an extraordinary person, advocate and leader, who is deeply compassionate and committed to creating a fair, just and equitable world,” said Nathan Triplett, ACLU of Michigan board president.
“Her many years working both as a cooperating volunteer attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, and serving as its board president, give her unique insight and understanding of the civil rights and civil liberties challenges facing our state. This, along with her kindness, generous spirit and devotion to protecting the rights of all, will ensure the continued growth and success of the ACLU of Michigan.”
Local activists and civil rights leaders like the Rev. Charles Williams II, said he expects Khogali's tenure will be as effective as those who came before her.
"From past to present, the ACLU has been there through the years for the human rights, voting and civil rights struggle," said Williams, pastor of the Historic King Solomon Church in Detroit and president of the Michigan office of the National Action Network, a civil rights organization.
"That tradition of the work has continued through their leaders and I suspect the same with the new leadership," added Williams.
Khogali most recently also served as executive director of the Michigan Indigent Defense Commission. The commission was created by the state to develop and oversee the implementation, enforcement and modification of minimum standards, rules and procedures to ensure that indigent defendants receive effective legal representation in state courts. The organization recently implemented the standards.
She said the job is a "dream come true."
“I cannot imagine a greater privilege than being chosen to lead this premier civil rights organization, and its talented and passionate staff,” said Khogali. “As an attorney, as a mother and as a lifelong Michigan resident, I have looked to the ACLU to lead on the most important threats to constitutional and civil rights.
"Now, as the nation continues to confront its history of racism, I believe the work of the ACLU is more critical than ever," she added. "As guardians of liberty, we must continue to strive for a more perfect union, ensuring the quality of access to protections guaranteed by our Constitution are not determined by a person’s race or economic status. I am thrilled that I can bring my passion, vision and deep commitment to protecting the civil rights and civil liberties of all people to the ACLU of Michigan.”
Founded in 1920, the ACLU has 54 offices across the country and 500,000 active members and supporters, according to the organization. It also has a legislative office in Washington, D.C.
The ACLU of Michigan has represented plaintiffs and taken on many issues over the decades including bail reform, pretrial release during the COVID-19 pandemic and the high-profile case of the right to literacy.
The organization earlier this year released a 50-page report, "The Border's Long Shadow," showing that more than 98% of Border Patrol arrests in Michigan and a small portion of northern Ohio targeted longtime residents of Latin American descent rather than people trying to illegally enter the U.S. from Canada.
Along with the University of Michigan Law School’s Civil Rights Litigation Initiative, the ACLU sued the city of Detroit earlier this year on behalf of a Farmington Hills man who was wrongfully arrested for shoplifting. The agency blamed Detroit’s facial recognition program.
The group also this year asked the federal government to investigate the Taylor Police Department for alleged police brutality and excessive force, and filed a federal lawsuit against Grand Traverse County jail officials over policies the ACLU claims limit inmates receiving medication for opioid use disorder.
In 2018 the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals supporting a group of Detroit public school students who sued the state over its lack of support for literacy in public schools. The ACLU of Michigan sought a ruling in state court that the Michigan Constitution "guarantees a right to an adequate public education, including the right to read."
The group sought a similar ruling in federal court under the U.S. Constitution. In 2020 the federal Appeals Court issued a ruling recognizing a fundamental right to literacy under the U.S. Constitution. That opinion later was vacated and the students reached an agreement with the state for $94.5 million in literacy funding, a $280,000 payout among seven plaintiffs and the creation of two Detroit task forces to help ensure a quality education for students.