FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

FBI Spying on the National Lawyers Guild

by MARJORIE COHN

In 1937, the American Bar Association refused to allow people of color to join its ranks. With the blessing of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the National Lawyers Guild was founded as a multi-racial alternative to the ABA. The Guild’s founding members included the attorney general, several judges, some congressmen, and the head of the National Labor Relations Board.

Three years after the creation of the National Lawyers Guild, the FBI began to conduct secret surveillance of the Guild. From 1940 to 1975, the FBI wiretapped Guild phones, burglarized Guild offices, and sent informers into Guild meetings. The June 25, 2007 New York Times report on the FBI’s program of spying on the Guild omits FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s primary rationale for undertaking this surveillance: “to blunt the Guild’s criticism of the FBI and, if possible, to destroy the organization,” in the words of Michael Krinsky, one of the lawyers who filed the 1977 lawsuit against the FBI.

The Guild, which provided legal support for the people, was a thorn in Hoover’s side. In 1950, the Guild was about to release a big exposé on the FBI, prepared by Yale law professor and ex-Guild president Thomas Emerson. No other organization was undertaking such a comprehensive criticism of the FBI. Through illegal wiretaps and informants the FBI learned of the Guild’s impending report. In advance of the report’s release, the FBI launched a pre-emptive strike at the Guild by causing people in the press and the Senate to denounce the report. “So the story became the Lawyers Guild, not the FBI,” Krinsky said.

The FBI asked Richard M. Nixon, a member of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), to call for an investigation of the Guild, on the eve of the release of the Guild report. The investigation led to the 1950 HUAC report titled, “National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party.” It concluded with a call to the attorney general to designate the National Lawyers Guild a “subversive organization.” The AG complied in 1953, but when no evidence to support the designation was forthcoming, he dropped it in 1958.

From the 1950s through the early 1970s, the FBI continued to focus on the National Lawyers Guild. The FBI had a list called The Security Index, which identified people, including Guild leaders, to be rounded up in the event of a national emergency.

Hoover’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) engaged in illegal surveillance of other organizations and individuals as well as the Guild. For example, in a program called Racial Matters, the FBI wiretapped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s hotel rooms and tried to drive him to divorce and suicide. Dr. King’s voter registration campaign and especially his vocal opposition to the Vietnam War incurred the wrath of J. Edgar Hoover, who went after Dr. King with a vengeance. Groups such as the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) were also on Hoover’s surveillance list.

The revelation of President Richard Nixon’s illegal surveillance of groups opposed to his policies as well as hearings by a select Senate committee chaired by Senator Frank Church led to the enactment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and other curbs on the power of the FBI and the CIA. Today we are faced with President George W. Bush’s secret domestic spying program, which, as I explain in my book, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, violates not only FISA, but the Fourth Amendment as well.

Bush’s predecessors illegally targeted those who criticized their policies, under the guise of fighting communism. Bush’s rationale for bending the Constitution is fighting terrorism, but his attacks are leveled at disssenters.

The HUAC report and the AG’s designation of the Guild not only violated the Constitution; they nearly succeeded in destroying the organization. Membership in the Guild fell to about 300 members. But the Guild survived and today it boasts nearly 6,000 members.

Members of the National Lawyers Guild continue to work beside those who struggle for economic, racial and sexual equality, and against imperial wars and occupations. I’m proud to have been a Guild member for more than half of its 70-year life.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, will be published in July.

 

 

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is co-author of “Cameras in the Courtroom: Television and the Pursuit of Justice.” Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.

May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
Richard Falk
If Obama Visits Hiroshima
Vijay Prashad
Political Violence in Honduras
Paul Krane
Where Gun Control Ought to Start: Disarming the Police
David Anderson
Al Jazeera America: Goodbye to All That Jazz
Rob Hager
Platform Perversity: More From the Campaign That Can’t Strategize
Pat Williams
FDR in Montana
Dave Marsh
Every Day I Read the Book (the Best Music Books of the Last Year)
David Rosen
Job Satisfaction Under Perpetual Stagnation
John Feffer
Big Oil isn’t Going Down Without a Fight
Murray Dobbin
The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?
Gary Engler
The Devil Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Is Washington Preparing for War Against Russia?
Manuel E. Yepe
The Big Lies and the Small Lies
Robert Fantina
Vice Presidents, Candidates and History
Mel Gurtov
Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea
Howard Lisnoff
Still the Litmus Test of Worth
Dean Baker
Big Business and the Overtime Rule: Irrational Complaints
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail