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Michael Ratner was the head of the Center for Constitutional Rights. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)

Michael Ratner, RIP (Rest in Power)

Michael Ratner, a friend of EFF who dedicated his life as a human rights attorney to fighting for justice, passed away on Wednesday.

Michael was a staunch defender of civil liberties, forging new pathways for using the court systems and advocacy to fight for justice. As the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights and a formidable social justice attorney, Michael crossed paths with EFF around Wikileaks and related whistleblower cases, among others. CCR was our co-counsel in the early NSA spying cases. But more importantly, Michael was one of our legal heroes, unafraid to use law and lawsuits to try to address human rights problems in the U.S. and around the world. We have modeled our EFF litigation approach, in part, on the strong work he did.  Michael’s many-decades career was colored by his commitment to human dignity, and he fought to ensure that we had a government accountable to the people—and that those who opposed government overreach would be protected and defended.  

As an author, attorney, thought-leader, activist, speaker, and friend, Michael helped further the civil liberties movement and inspired hundreds of others both in the law and outside of it. We at EFF will miss him dearly, and mourn his loss.

Michael lived the life many of us dream of living. He used his 72 years on earth as a tool for good, and he used his intellect and his courage to fight for justice, even in the most vexing of cases. He died having accomplished more to create positive change in the world than most people ever dream to create. His legacy is a democratic society that is stronger because of the dissent, transparency, free speech, and tolerance that he helped nourish.

Michael’s death is a reminder that our lives are too brief to waste on the sidelines. The threats to liberty have not abated. Our society still suffers from privacy invasions, speech restrictions, and government surveillance, while those who work to shine a light on these problems often face disproportionately harsh penalties. Such battles will not be won by those who excuse themselves from the fight, who eschew politics, fear controversy, or grow cynical and exhausted in the face of mounting pressure. Now more than ever, we need those who can live with Michael’s courage. In honor of Michael’s lifetime of advocacy, we reaffirm out commitment to bringing lawsuits and otherwise taking a stand to defend civil liberties. Michael may have left us, but the work will continue.

Read the NY Times profile of Michael.

Read the Center for Constitutional Rights statement.


Cindy Cohn

Cindy Cohn is legal director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), as well as its general counsel, coordinating over 40 national class action lawsuits against the telecommunications carriers and the government seeking to stop warrantless NSA surveillance

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