ACLU Attorney, Human Rights Advocate Don Haines Dies at 69
Donald Haines, an attorney with two D.C.-based labor unions, an official with both the ACLU’s national and local offices based in the nation’s capital, and an outspoken advocate for human rights, including LGBTQ rights, died April 24 of natural causes at his D.C. residence, according to family members. He was 69.
Friends and colleagues described Haines as a hard-working, innovative attorney committed to workers’ rights in his various roles working for the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) and later for the Office and Professional Employees International Union known as the OPEIU in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Attorney Beth Slavet, one of Haines’ longtime friends, said Haines won election in the early 1980s as president of the OPEIU Local 2, which represents private sector mostly white collar office workers in the D.C. area. She said he created a stir by organizing a strike by employees of AFGE, his then former employer.
“It was a successful strike where everybody walked off the job for higher wages and better conditions of employment,” Slavet said. “It is a situation where unions can be great employers and they can also be the worst employers,” she said. “He was a very active unionist.”
Haines was born and raised in East Grand Forks, Minn., a small city just east of the North Dakota line. He graduated from East Grand Forks Senior High School before beginning studies at Harvard University on a scholarship. Upon graduating from Harvard in 1973 Haines began his studies at the University Of Virginia School Of Law, where he received his law degree, according to a write-up released by family members and posted on Legacy.com.
Slavet and others who knew Haines said he began his career as an attorney in Washington at the Library of Congress’s Congressional Research Service, which provides research for members of Congress on a wide range of issues, including legal issues.
Arthur Spitzer, an official with the ACLU’s National Capital Area Office, said Haines began work at the ACLU in the 1990s when he became Legislative Counsel at the national ACLU’s Washington, D.C. Office.
“He was the main policy person on privacy,” Spitzer said in an ACLU write-up on Haines. “He was way ahead of most of us on the threats that modern technology posed to personal privacy, and sounded many alarms on the Hill,” said Spitzer, who was referring to privacy rights advocates’ calls for Congress to consider regulatory action on technology related matters that jeopardized people’s privacy.
According to Spitzer, in the late 1990s or early 2000s Haines began work at the ACLU’s National Capital Area Office, taking the position of Administrative Officer. In that position, Spitzer said, Haines played many roles, including that of office manager, editor of the office’s newsletter, recruiter and supervisor of undergraduate interns, and webmaster of the office’s original website.
Slavet said she met Haines in 1979 when she worked under him at AFGE as a young attorney just out of law school.
“He was the most incredible legislative attorney,” she said. “Learning from Don was incredible.” She said Haines at that time helped members of Congress draft legislation on labor related issues.
Haines, who was gay, also played a role in advocating for LGBTQ issues as a member of the D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance and the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group.
Johnny Barnes, the former executive director of the ACLU’s National Capital Area Office under whom Haines worked, called Haines a “learned” lawyer who brought important insight into the work he did.
“He was an intellectual,” said Barnes, who’s also an attorney. “He was sort of a different intellectual. His thinking was broader and deeper and further than most. And when you engaged him it became apparent he was a very thoughtful person,” Barnes said.
Barnes said Haines, who retired from the ACLU in 2012, remained active in civil liberties and First Amendment rights issues in his retirement. Among other things, Barnes said, Haines became a strong advocate for D.C. statehood and worked on and supported D.C. statehood rallies and other events.
Sharon House, another longtime friend of Haines, said in retirement Haines was able to pursue activities related to his lifelong interest in history and continued to enjoy books, movies and music as well as activities related to civil rights.
House said his remains were to be interred at a family grave in Minnesota and there were no immediate plans for a memorial service.
Haines was preceded in death by his mother, Helen Haines and four brothers and one sister, a write-up by his family says. He is survived by sisters Phyllis Aarhus, Beverly Heppner, Alyce Smith, and many nieces, nephews, and friends.
“Remembering Don’s values and interests, donations can be made to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC),” his family’s write-up says. “And, please support newspapers!” the write-up concludes.