Louise Melling

Louise Melling

Deputy Legal Director and Director of Center for Liberty, ACLU

Louise Melling is a Deputy Legal Director at the ACLU and the Director of its Center for Liberty, which encompasses the ACLU’s work on reproductive freedom, women’s rights, lesbian gay bisexual and transgender rights, freedom of religion and belief, and disability rights.   In this role, she leads the work of the ACLU to address the intersection of religious freedom and equal treatment, among other issues. 

Melling has established the ACLU as a national leader in opposing the use of religion to discriminate and in supporting state advocacy teams that have pushed back legislation that would permit discrimination in the name of religion.  She has overseen groundbreaking litigation, including cases challenging Catholic hospitals that refuse to provide care consistent with medical ethics and businesses that claim a right to discriminate in the name of religion or speech.  

In her time as Director of the Center for Liberty, the ACLU has pursued a program of litigation, advocacy, and public education campaigns that culminated in the 2015 Supreme Court decision recognizing the fundamental right to marry for same-sex couples.  Under her leadership, the  Center has also challenged innumerable state laws that restrict women’s access to abortion, the federal government policy barring women from serving in combat, school policies that foster sex stereotypes and deny transgender students’ rights, policies and practices that discriminate against Muslims, the use and abuse of guardianship, and government promotion of religion. 

Melling has been with the ACLU since 1992, serving in several roles before becoming a Deputy Legal Director in 2010.  In 2003, she became Director of the Reproductive Freedom Project, where she oversaw nationwide litigation, public opinion research, public education campaigns, and advocacy efforts in the state legislatures.  She has appeared in federal and state courts around the country, most often to challenge laws that restrict reproductive rights. 

Melling has appeared in many media outlets, including CNN, PBS News Hour, Frontline, MSNBC, the New York Times, and USA Today.  Her opinion pieces have appeared in the Washington Post and The Guardian, among others.

In addition, she is the author of several articles, including Religious Refusals to Public Accommodations Laws: Four Reasons to Say No, 38 Harv J. of Law and Gender (2015); Follow the Money:  Ending Discrimination against Women in Hospitals, 15 Georgetown Journal of Gender and the Law 435 (2014) (co-authored with Sarah Lipton-Lubet); Lift the Scarlet Letter from Abortion, 35 Cardozo Law Review 1715 (2014); and The Legal Education of Twenty Women, 40 Stan. L. Rev. 1299 (1988) (co-authored with Catherine Weiss). 

She is a graduate of the Yale Law School and Oberlin College.  Prior to joining the ACLU, Melling clerked for Judge Morris Lasker of the Southern District of New York and worked for Rabinowitz, Boudin, Standard, Krinsky & Lieberman.


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