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The board of directors consists of 80 persons, including representatives from each state affiliate, as well as at-large delegates.

The organization has its headquarters in 125 Broad Street, a 40-story skyscraper located in Lower Manhattan, New York City.

In 1940, the ACLU leadership voted to exclude Communists from its leadership positions, a decision rescinded in 1968.

During World War II, the ACLU defended Japanese-American citizens, unsuccessfully trying to prevent their forcible relocation to internment camps.

At its discretion, the national organization provides subsidies to smaller affiliates that lack sufficient resources to be self-sustaining; for example, the Wyoming ACLU chapter received such subsidies until April 2015, when, as part of a round of layoffs at the national ACLU, the Wyoming office was closed.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the ACLU ventured into new legal areas, involving the rights of homosexuals, students, prisoners, and the poor.In the 1960s, the ACLU continued its decades-long effort to enforce separation of church and state.It defended several anti-war activists during the Vietnam War.The ACLU has received court awarded fees from opponents, for example, the Georgia affiliate was awarded 0,000 in fees after suing a county demanding the removal of a Ten Commandments display from its courthouse; Most of the organization's workload is performed by its local affiliates. Each affiliate consists of two non-profit corporations: a 501(c)(3) corporation that does not perform lobbying, and a 501(c)(4) corporation which is entitled to lobby.

There is at least one affiliate organization in each state except Wyoming, as well as one in Washington, D. ACLU affiliates are the basic unit of the ACLU's organization and engage in litigation, lobbying, and public education.

Under laws such as this, the ACLU and its state affiliates sometimes share in monetary judgments against government agencies.