01/29/2012 09:59 am ET Updated Mar 30, 2012

The ACLU's Challenge To Newt And Mitt

Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney are crisscrossing Florida as the clock runs out before Tuesday's crucial primary. They're meeting with almost every key constituency from Cubans to Jews to Tea Partiers.

As the leading GOP candidates for the highest office endowed by our Constitution, they should come to Orlando to meet with another key audience: the largest gathering of professional constitutional advocates in the nation.

This weekend, the ACLU will host more than 500 advocates and attorneys from ACLU offices across the nation at our annual staff conference in Orlando. We are convening from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

Throughout the primary season, we have consistently heard the candidates invoke the Constitution and "civil liberties." Those words have too often rung hollow: they are fodder for soundbites rather than part of a substantive discussion about vital issues facing our nation.

That's why we invited all seven presidential candidates to our staff conference: so they could engage in a conversation with us about their views on key constitutional issues as well as their scores in our ACLU Liberty Watch 2012 Candidate Report Card.

That's where Gingrich and Romney come into play. They may be the frontrunners headed into Tuesday's primary, but they're at the bottom of the pack when it comes to civil liberties issues. You can see their scores here and they're downright abysmal. Between the two of them, out of a possible 72 Lady Liberty "torches," only Gingrich earns two -- just two -- for supporting a path to legal status for certain immigrants.

Otherwise, the two come up empty on all the major issues, including freedom to marry for gay couples, a woman's right to choose, racial justice and a national security policy that keeps us free as well as safe.

Already, former governors Gary Johnson and Buddy Roemer have agreed to attend our conference on Sunday and Monday, respectively. Their scores are solid and we look forward to a frank, meaningful exchange of ideas with them.

The ACLU took out a full-page ad in Sunday's Miami Herald challenging Gingrich and Romney to come to our convention and, quite frankly, explain themselves. You can see the ad here. If they don't attend, we won't and can't let up on them or any of the other candidates. A conversation about the Constitution is too important and, while the ACLU might have to accept a raincheck, the American people won't.