The National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of Democracy

Originally published in Lawyers Guild Review 10:4 (Fall 1950)

Counter-demonstrator at a 1950 Free Julius and Ethel Rosenberg rally. Photo © Elliott Erwitt, Magnum Photos

By the National Executive Board

The essence of the democratic process is that issues be considered on their merits. It is in the give and take of rational discussion—not in name-calling, or impugning of motives, or appeal to prejudice—that the sound and best decision is to be reached.

The Committee on Un-American Activities has flagrantly violated this cardinal principle of democracy. Its report makes no attempt whatsoever to discuss the merits of the issues on which the Guild has taken a position. It does not contain even a statement of what those issues are. Most of the report is simply devoted to showing that, with respect to those matters the Committee touches on, the Guild has taken a postiion similar to that of the Communist Party or alleged Communist front organizations. The remainder is largely an attempt to show that individual members of the Guild have been "associated" with the Communist Party or with alleged front organizations.

One or two examples will suffice to make the point clear. The report charges the Guild with opposing "any action on legislative or executive levels of the Government which tends to interfere with the Communist fifth-column operations in this country" (p. 6), and cites as its chief evidence the criticisms made by the Guild of the FBI. The report makes no effort to consider whether the Guild's charges against the FBI are justified. It does not discuss, or even refer to, the evidence offered by the Guild to show that the FBI constantly engages in illegal wire-tapping, mail-opening, and other forms of illegal procedures [and] makes extensive investigations into the political beliefs and associations of thousands of Americans not charged with violation of any federal law; the proof offered by the Guild that the FBI standards of loyalty do not admit of any substantial deviation from the government's official foreign policy; or the effect of these FBI practices upon freedom of political expression in the United States. In the eyes of the Committee it is enough to condemn the Guild as subversive that it has attacked the FBI and that the Soviet Union and the Daily Worker have done likewise.

The Committee concludes that the Guild is a "subversive" organization, but it nowhere makes explicit just what are its standards for determining whether conduct is "subversive."

Defense of the constitutional rights of Communists or alleged Communist sympathizers is plainly considered subversive. Representation of witnesses called before the Committee is presumptively subversive, and definitely so if the witness is advised to rely upon his constitutional right against self-incrimination. Criticism of the FBI or of the Loyalty Program is per se subversive. Opposition to the Taft-Hartley Law, the Mundt-Nixon bill, Maryland's Ober Law, and the Smith Act is subversive, or at leas opposition to all of them is. Apparently criticism of the Hobbs Concentration Camp bill, the proposed bill of attainder to deport Harry Bridges, the Voorhis Act, or any phase of our foreign policy except on Spain is likewise subversive, at least if the Communist Party is also critical of the same policy.

On September 20 of this year Attorney General McGrth, addressing the American Bar Association Convention, said: "We appear to be going through a period of public hysteria in which many self-appointed policemen and alleged guardians of Americanism would have us fight subversion by prescribing an orthodoxy of opinion, and stigmatizing all who disagree or oppose them." The Attorney General's statement aptly describes the report of the Committee on Un-American Activities.

Using the very same methods which have contributed so much to the wave of hysteria sweeping the country, the Committee now attempts to intimidate and silence a group of lawyers who have consistently and unswervingly sought to carry out their obligation as members of the Bar to supply legal leadership in advancing the cause of democracy and social progress. Our answer to the Committee is that we will not be intimidated or silenced. We will continue to press forward, to the best of our ability, with the task we have pledged ourselves to perform.