Constitutional champion

Nevadans who value their constitutional rights, worry about the erosion of individual liberties and believe the Bill of Rights actually means what it says will have to battle future government intrusions without one of their greatest advocates. Gary Peck, the tireless, highly principled executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada, has resigned to start a new chapter in his life.

Mr. Peck, 58, almost single-handedly turned around the state organization in his 13 years at its helm. The ACLU of Nevada had little money in the bank and “no program to speak of” when he took over in 1996 as its only full-time employee. It now has a staff of nine and a “very solid financial footing,” according to Mr. Peck.

More importantly, Mr. Peck’s office has established a reputation of constitutional expertise and a record of fighting hard for its positions. For years, Mr. Peck and his charges have respectfully offered counsel to elected and appointed government officials on matters affecting the public’s rights and freedoms. And when that advice was ignored, Mr. Peck has taken them to court. He usually won.

Among his office’s most grueling battles were years-long efforts to defend the rights of free expression and assembly on the Strip and at downtown’s Fremont Street Experience. When local governments tried to crack down on smut peddlers, solicitors and homeless people, Mr. Peck let them know they did not have the right to sweep away law-abiding residents traveling through public spaces, or those distributing materials they found offensive or bad for business. These were not the most popular or sympathetic figures, but Mr. Peck fought on their behalf anyway.

The ACLU of Nevada has been a relentless champion of transparency in law enforcement, demanding openness in investigations of police and judicial misconduct. It has been of invaluable assistance to members of the press, people of various faiths and politically incorrect college students on First Amendment issues.

Nevadans owe a deep gratitude to Mr. Peck for defending the rights enshrined in the Constitution and always, always being there to provide a check to government power grabs. The ACLU of Nevada has a difficult task in replacing him. Mr. Peck will be missed.

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