Mass Defense Project
For over 35 years, the National Lawyers Guild has worked in the defense of protesters and others whose First Amendment rights have been violated during the exercise of political speech. We document abuses of constitutional rights, provide legal defense to arrestees, and seek redress for those violations. Our unique “Legal Observing” program deploys trained observers to monitor law enforcement at public events, creating a safe atmosphere for people to express their political views as fully as possible.
Our “Greenscare Hotline” was created several years ago as a first line of defense for environmental and animal rights activists who have been contacted by the FBI. Callers are referred to Guild attorneys in their geographic area whose assistance ranges from telephone consultations to direct representation. The hotline is: 888-NLG-ECOL.
Our reports cataloguing police tactics that infringed on First Amendment activities include “The Assault on Free Speech, Public Assembly, and Dissent,” (2004) and “Punishing Protest,”(2007) which identified larger governmental trends that had a chilling effect on free speech. Our highly-popular “Operation Backfire: A Survival Guild for Animal Rights and Environmental Activists” is a pocket-sized know your rights booklet for those activists under special scrutiny by the government.
Individuals and organizations trust and rely on the National Lawyers Guild to ensure that infringements of First Amendment liberties do not go unchallenged.
Prison Law Project
The Jailhouse Lawyer's Handbook is a resource for prisoners who wish to file Section 1983 claims in federal court alleging that their Constitutional rights have been violated while in prison. Many inmates who request the handbook allege they have been denied medical care and access to the law library. If successful in their claims, they may receive medical care, rectify abysmal living conditions, and stop abuse by prison staff. As inmates work their way through a legal system that is often frustrating and unfair, we aim to let all inmates know that they are not alone in their quest for justice.
Prison Law Project (PLP) members meet weekly at the National Office to read the letters received from people in prison. Handbooks are sent to every person who requests one. Once a month, PLP meets with the co-publishers of the Handbook, the Center for Constitutional Rights, for a joint mailing session. Together, we send over 800 handbooks each month.
Each year, Guild members participate in international delegations to monitor human rights violations, sustain ties, and share information with our international colleagues. Recent trips have included monitoring of El Salvador’s presidential election, documenting the assault on Gaza by Israeli forces, and supporting the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. Guild members also convened before international criminal courts to discuss and publicize the obstacles that prevent accused persons from receiving fair trials, particularly at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). In Honduras, an NLG delegation was present to witness the effects of the constitutional crisis that began when President Manuel Zelaya was deposed and forcefully removed to Costa Rica.
This work is crucial to continuing our mission of ensuring that human rights are regarded as more sacred than property interests. For more information on the work of the International Committee, visit their web site.
From its beginning the case of the Cuban Five has been a travesty of justice that has received scarce public attention. The Five came to the United States to deter future terrorist attacks against Cuba by anti-Castro extremists. In 1998, when they presented evidence of imminent attacks to the FBI, they were indicted on charges of espionage and conspiracy to commit murder.
Their trial was riddled with violations, including holding it in the venue of Miami which was openly hostile and prejudiced against Cuba. Recent revelations that the U.S. government paid journalists in Miami to write stories critical of Cuba during the trail strongly suggest that biased press influenced public opinion and the judges. The Five continue to be held in harsh conditions scattered around the country in remote, maximum security facilities.
The National Lawyers Guild has published two reports on this topic: “Defend Cuba and the Cuban Five,” and “Luis Posada Carriles: Notes from a Tribunal.”
The National Lawyers Guild has been proud to have Mumia Abu-Jamal as its Jailhouse Lawyer Vice President for over a decade. Mumia’s constitutional rights were violated at and after the original trial, including open displays of bias and hostility by the judge, ineffective assistance from appointed trial counsel, and using his political associations and statements against him.
These violations took place when racial animosity pervaded the Philadelphia justice system. After a 1993 police corruption scandal in which 300 convictions were thrown out as improper, the District Attorney revealed that juries had routinely been selected with an eye toward excluding blacks. An earlier FBI investigation and lawsuit by the U.S. Department of Justice against former Police Commissioner, and then Mayor, Frank Rizzo for police brutality, cited nearly 300 fatal police shootings of civilians in a three-year period.
Over the years, the National Lawyers Guild has filed amicus curiae briefs in the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Since former civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart's April 2002 indictment and 2005 conviction on charges of providing materials support to terrorists, the Guild launched a broad-based, national education campaign about the impact that her indictment would have on the Sixth Amendment right to an attorney. Members of the Guild have also faulted the prosecution of Ms. Stewart based upon violations of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.
Because she represented people with unpopular viewpoints, many believe that Lynne Stewart was held up by then Attorney General John Ashcroft as an example of the Department of Justice’s implementation of an active counterterrorism program.
On November 29, 2009 Lynne Stewart surrendered to federal custody after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld her conviction two days earlier. Her resentencing took place on July 15, 2010, and she was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. She is serving out her sentence at Fort Worth in Texas.
Center for Democratic Communications
The NLG Center for Democratic Communications is a legal resource of the growing media democracy movement. The CDC is devoted to protecting the right of all people to communicate, including their right to a media system based on principles of democracy and cultural and informational self-determination that is not dominated by commercial interests. Since 1988, the CDC has worked with groups challenging the FCC’s ban on low power radio, participated heavily in the FCC’s rulemaking legalizing non-commercial Low Power FM (LPFM) stations, and provided assistance to community groups applying for and obtaining new LPFM licenses. Among other projects,the CDC is now working on network neutrality, the principle that advocates no restrictions on content, sites, or platforms for user access networks on the internet.