Five hundred people attended the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine’s 29th annual Justice Louis Scolnik Award Dinner Tuesday – the event’s largest attendance, by far – and each of them sat down to a place setting with a pocket copy of the Constitution.

“The gravity of this moment is undeniable,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the ACLU of Maine. “But it’s nights like this and with people like you all that I feel absolutely certain that we will form a more perfect union.”

The sold-out event at Holiday Inn by the Bay was in line with the unprecedented growth of the ACLU of Maine over the past five months. The day before the presidential election, the state branch of the nonpartisan nonprofit had 1,900 members. Today, it has more than 8,500.

“When I look out over this large gathering, I’m happily amazed,” said retired judge Louis Scolnik, the first president of the organization, which got its start in 1968 when it was called the Maine Civil Liberties Union.

An award in Scolnik’s name was established in 1989 to honor outstanding commitment to the protection of civil liberties. This year, Scolnik personally presented the honor to the Lee family: siblings Adam, Cathy and Jonathan Lee and, posthumously, their father, Shep Lee.

Sons of immigrants, Lou Scolnik and Shep Lee grew up together in Lewiston. One became a well respected judge and the other became a successful car dealer. Both were active in the ACLU. Lee served on the national board.

The family business, Lee Auto Malls, is now led by Adam Lee. He and his siblings each have unique civil libertarian interests.

“We all need to speak up publicly, especially business people,” said Adam Lee, who has been a supporter of immigrants’ rights and an advocate for environmental justice.

Cathy Lee is managing director of Lee International, which advises on climate change policies. In addition to environmental causes, she has promoted women’s rights for decades, founding the University of Maine School of Law Justice for Women lecture series and co-founding the Empower the Immigrant Woman Network.

“We must fight for these freedoms whenever they are at risk, and I certainly believe they are at risk right now,” she said.

Jonathan Lee, a documentary film producer and longtime LGBT rights activist, founded Maine SpeakOut, a speakers’ bureau dedicated to educating people about issues facing the LGBT community.

“There’s no exaggeration that I go to bed less worried just knowing that the ACLU is on the front lines defending our constitutional rights,” he said.

The keynote speaker, former Sen. George Mitchell, also is a close friend of the Lee family.

“Across multiple generations, the Lee family has exemplified what it means to give back,” Mitchell said. “Shep set this standard, and his children have followed in his footsteps.”

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer and photographer from Scarborough. She can be reached at:

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