Saturday, August 12, 2006

The NLG Connection

I had lunch with Marjorie Cohn last week in Escondido. Marjorie is a law professor, online columnist, and regular guest on Pacifica radio. She's also the President Elect of the National Lawyers Guild, which was founded in 1937 as a progressive alternative to the American Bar Association. Carey McWilliams was an active member of the Guild from its inception. In fact, he was president of the Los Angeles chapter in 1943, when the Zoot Suit Riots and Sleepy Lagoon trial were making headlines.

The Guild had a tough time during the McCarthy era. Morris Ernst, who had been counsel for the ACLU during the 1940s, led a controversial (and unsuccessful) attempt to purge the Guild of its Communist members. It later came out that Ernst was an FBI informant. The Guild was also a factor when McCarthy began to investigate the army. Army counsel Joseph Welch represented a young colleague at his law firm who was also a member of the Guild, which McCarthy regarded as the legal bulwark of the Communist Party. Welch had made a deal with Roy Cohn, McCarthy's counsel, to remain silent on Cohn's draft status if Cohn didn't mention the Guild. When McCarthy unknowingly broke the deal, Welch issued his famous riposte: "Have you no decency, sir, at long last?" See American Prophet, pp. 205-09, for more.

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