From Left to Rights: Civil Liberties Lawyering between the World Wars
Law, Culture, and the Humanities, Forthcoming
36 Pages Posted: 15 Mar 2016 Last revised: 13 Apr 2016
Date Written: March 10, 2016
In the formative years of the modern First Amendment, civil liberties lawyers struggled to justify their participation in a legal system they perceived as biased and broken. For decades, they charged, the courts had fiercely protected property rights even while they tolerated broad-based suppression of the “personal rights,” such as expressive freedom, through which peaceful challenges to industrial interests might have proceeded. This article focuses on three phases in the relationship between the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the courts in the period between the world wars: first, the ACLU’s attempt to promote worker mobilization by highlighting judicial hypocrisy; second, its effort to induce incremental legal reform by reshaping social values; and third, its now familiar reliance on the judiciary to insulate minority views against state intrusion and majoritarian abuses. By reconstructing these competing approaches, the article explores the trade-offs — some anticipated and some unintended — entailed by the ACLU’s mature approach.
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