Los Angeles - Southwestern Law School Professor Isabelle R. Gunning began her term as president of the ACLU of Southern California Tuesday after she was unanimously elected by the organization's executive board last month.

Gunning, who has her B.A. and law degree from Yale University, has been a board member of the ACLU for the past 14 years. She is the first African-American woman to serve as the organization's president.

"We have an important job at the ACLU to ensure the civil rights and civil liberties of all people especially immigrants and communities of color are protected," Gunning said. "It's never been more important to keep a vigilant eye on our rights."

Gunning cited the increase of racial profiling in the wake of 9/11 and the decrease in ranking of California schools as top priorities for the ACLU. She also plans to continue past-president Gary Williams' vision of a biannual conference for ACLU members in Southern California.

"Isabelle has been integral in our executive legal committee where she has especially helped to drive our work in education and women's rights," said Executive Director Ramona Ripston.

Gunning was motivated to study law during the civil rights movement of the 1970s when she saw that "some very positive things could be accomplished through the courts." She taught for six years as a member of the faculty at the UCLA School of Law before her appointment to Southwestern in 1992. She previously served as a public defender in Washington, D.C. and clerked for Judge William Bryant of the U.S. District Court in D.C.

Gunning is a mediator and an arbitrator and has served as a pro bono mediator through the Los Angeles County Bar Association's Dispute Resolution Services Project, and Gay and Lesbian Mediation Project, as well as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference's Martin Luther King Jr. Dispute Resolution Center. She has also co-chaired the Asian Pacific American Dispute Resolution Center.

She lives in Los Angeles with her partner, daughter, their three dogs and a cat.

Term limits precluded past ACLU President Gary Williams from continuing to serve, but he remains a board member.