Although the national ACLU was founded in 1920, it wasn't until 1949 that there was an attempt to form a local affiliate in Hawai‘i.

During the late 1940's and early 1950's, the most prominent civil liberties issue was the fear of communism. At this time, the rights of communists and people accused of being communists were being severely restricted. While there was a strong need to defend these people's rights, the widespread fear of these individuals made it very difficult to do so. For this reason, the early history of the ACLU of Hawai‘i is marked by a number of failed attempts to establish a lasting organization.

The 1949 attempt failed, but in the early 1950's, the Hawaii Civil Liberties Committee was organized by Steve Murin. Its goal was to defend John and Aiko Reinecke, who were fired from their public school teaching jobs because of alleged communists leanings. The Committee was active for a few years but was never recognized by the national ACLU.

In 1953, about sixty people gathered, wrote by-laws, and elected a board of directors to form an official ACLU affiliate. Communism was still an issue, so the organization worked hard to prove its non-partisan nature. Allan Saunders, considered the founder of the present ACLU of Hawai‘i, spoke for the group, noting that the national ACLU had defended Fascists, Protestants, and Catholics as well as Communists. "Unless people in the community are willing to defend the civil liberties of others," Allan said, "they will be lost to everyone eventually." Unfortunately, this organization also dissolved due to lack of infrastructure.

Finally, in 1965, many supporters of the previous attempts met to form the current local affiliate. It was better organized than any in the past and in September of that year, was recognized by the national organization.

In 1972, the ACLU of Hawai‘i hired its first full-time employee and has grown steadily since. Today, we maintain 12 staff members, who along with board members and volunteers, carry out the mission of the ACLU.