FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Remembering Victor Rabinowitz

by MARJORIE COHN

On November 16, 2007, Victor Rabinowitz, one of the giants of the legal profession and a unflagging fighter for social justice, died at the age of 96. One of the founders of the National Lawyers Guild 70 years ago, Victor defended unpopular clients when other lawyers were afraid to touch them. During the McCarthy period, he and his partner Leonard Boudin represented unions that were considered to be left-wing. The firm counted as clients Daniel Ellsberg, Paul Robeson, Julian Bond, Dashiell Hammett, Dr. Benjamin Spock, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, Alger Hiss, the Black Panthers, the Salvador Allende government in Chile, and the Cuban government.

Victor handled several landmark cases. In 1950, he challenged the provision of the Taft-Hartley Act that prevented unions from representing workers unless all union officers swore a loyalty oath that they were not members of or affiliated with the Communist Party. He lost the case 5 to 4 in the Supreme Court. His work in the Supreme Court case of United States v. Yellin was instrumental in the demise of the notorious House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). In 1964, in a 8 to 1 decision, the Supreme Court held in Banco Nacional de Cuba v. Sabbatino that U.S. courts cannot review the legality of the Cuban nationalizations of U.S.-owned property under international law. Victor represented the government of Cuba in that case.

John Mage, prominent radical lawyer and Officer and Director of the Monthly Review Foundation, wrote a review of Victor’s book, Unrepentant Leftist: A Lawyer’s Memoir, for Monthly Review. Mage recalled his favorite Victor story: “In the Cuban bank litigation, Victor (representing the Cubans) was served with a discovery demand that he forwarded to the Cuban Finance Ministry, at that time headed by Che. Shortly afterwards he was in Havana for an anniversary celebration and was invited to accompany Guevara. Che directed Victor’s attention to the confetti being thrown from an office tower and said ‘remember that discovery demand? . . . There it is.'”

The Rabinowitz Boudin partnership “constituted the defining invention of radical lawyering,” said Northwestern law professor Bernardine Dohrn, a leader of the Weathermen who became the Guild student organizer when Victor was NLG president from 1967-1971. The firm “always represented the most controversial victims of oppressive state power: labor struggles, the Community Party cases, constitutional right to travel and political speech issues, defense of the Cuban revolution, support for the civil rights/Black Freedom Movement, defense of anti-Vietnam War activists, and legal defense of Palestinian political activists,” Dohrn added.

In his book, Victor characterized McCarthyism as “the era of Great Fear.” In those days, it was the fear of Communism; today, it is the fear of Terrorism that the administration uses as an excuse to decimate civil liberties. Describing the government repression against Communists, leftists, and those suspected of being associated with them, Victor wrote, “It was the worst of times . . . It was a terrible and terrifying time.” Even the ACLU “succumbed to the red scare” in those days.

“It became dangerous to utter radical or even progressive thoughts in an audible tone of voice,” he added. The motion picture industry, teachers, progressive Congress members, progressive organizations, and those who read books considered “un-American” were targeted. “Thousands of people lost their jobs, with little prospect of finding new ones quickly. Families were destroyed and friendships were wrecked,” Victor reported.

Rabinowitz Boudin “probably represented more clients before McCarthy and HUAC than any other law firm in the country, mostly for little or no fee,” said Michael Krinsky, a partner in the firm.

Victor wrote, “I was under surveillance by the FBI from the early fifties until the late sixties. The earliest report on me I’ve found in my FBI files states that on June 23, 1943, I was believed to be a member of the Communist party, and it further described me as an ‘agile-minded labor attorney’ [Thanks].” Victor joined the Communist Party in 1942 after the Soviet Union and the United States became allies; he remained a member until the early 1960s.

During the Vietnam War, the Rabinowitz Boudin firm represented hundreds of men facing the draft or criminal charges for refusing induction due to their opposition to the war.

Lawyers pick and choose the cases they take for various reasons. Victor’s decisions were always based on principle. “I had always adhered to a few basic rules,” Victor observed. “I would not represent a landlord against a tenant; I would not represent a drug dealer; I would not represent an employer against a union; I would not represent a fascist or right-wing institution.”

Victor helped found the National Lawyers Guild, to, in his words, “counter the anti-New Deal corporation-controlled American Bar Association (ABA), which at that time did not admit black lawyers or Communists to membership.” As former Guild president and Yale law professor Thomas Emerson wrote, “The National Lawyers Guild was born in revolt – a revolt that embraced the entire intellectual life of the times.”

Victor’s efforts contributed mightily to the Guild’s survival after the McCarthy period. He counted his work with the Guild as perhaps his most significant accomplishment. “There are a few things I can point to with some pride,” Victor reflected. “The National Lawyers Guild is almost sixty years old, and I played some part in building it. I cannot think of more than a handful of national progressive organizations that have lived so long in this perilous world.”

Tributes to Victor are legion. Doris Brin Walker, the first woman president of the Guild and one of its leaders during the McCarthy period, said, “Victor was inspirational, witty, insightful, tolerant/intolerant, humane, didactic – one of the most important and beloved persons in my life. And he will remain so.” Ann Fagan Ginger, another Guild leader in this era, noted, “During the McCarthy/Truman repressive period, Victor played a particularly important role in meeting with other lawyers to figure out the best strategies to defend against, and finally to attack, the Red Baiters. His principles were larger than his ego, and after the meetings, he went back to his office and saw to it that the tasks agreed on were actually carried out.” She called the Rabinowitz Boudin firm “a place of refuge and hope for many whose jobs, reputations, and family relationships were under attack.”

“In each decade, Victor managed to stay utterly committed to the revolutionary principles of his youth,” according to Dohrn, “to work with the highest intellectual and professional standards of the law, and to attract clients of the most urgent issues of the moment. His passionate love of books, his dedicated friendships, and his wry humor abide in our hearts.”

The National Lawyers Guild and all justice-loving people will miss Victor Rabinowitz. He was a giant of a man.

MARJORIE COHN is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law

 

 

Marjorie Cohn is professor emerita at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. She writes, speaks and does media about human rights and U.S. foreign policy. Her most recent book is “Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues.” Visit her website at http://marjoriecohn.com/ and follow her on Twitter at @marjoriecohn.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
Patrick Cockburn
ISIS’s Losses in Syria and Iraq Will Make It Difficult to Recruit
Russell Mokhiber
Single-Payer Bernie Morphs Into Public Option Dean
Gregory Barrett
Can Democracy Save Us?
Dave Lindorff
Budget Goes Military
John Heid
Disappeared on the Border: “Chase and Scatter” — to Death
Mark Weisbrot
The Troubling Financial Activities of an Ecuadorian Presidential Candidate
Robert Fisk
As ISIS’s Caliphate Shrinks, Syrian Anger Grows
Michael J. Sainato
Democratic Party Continues Shunning Popular Sanders Surrogates
Paul Bentley
Nazi Heritage: the Strange Saga of Chrystia Freeland’s Ukrainian Grandfather
Christopher Ketcham
Buddhism in the Storm
Thomas Barker
Platitudes in the Wake of London’s Terror Attack
Mike Hastie
Insane Truths: a Vietnam Vet on “Apocalypse Now, Redux”
Binoy Kampmark
Cyclone Watch in Australia
Weekend Edition
March 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Trump is Obama’s Legacy: Will this Break up the Democratic Party?
Eric Draitser
Donald Trump and the Triumph of White Identity Politics
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nothing Was Delivered
Andrew Levine
Ryan’s Choice
Joshua Frank
Global Coal in Freefall, Tar Sands Development Drying Up (Bad News for Keystone XL)
Anthony DiMaggio
Ditching the “Deep State”: The Rise of a New Conspiracy Theory in American Politics
Rob Urie
Boris and Natasha Visit Fantasy Island
John Wight
London and the Dreary Ritual of Terrorist Attacks
Paul Buhle
The CIA and the Intellectuals…Again
David Rosen
Why Did Trump Target Transgender Youth?
Vijay Prashad
Inventing Enemies
Ben Debney
Outrage From the Imperial Playbook
M. Shadee Malaklou
An Open Letter to Duke University’s Class of 2007, About Your Open Letter to Stephen Miller
Michael J. Sainato
Bernie Sanders’ Economic Advisor Shreds Trumponomics
Lawrence Davidson
Moral Failure at the UN
Pete Dolack
World Bank Declares Itself Above the Law
Nicola Perugini - Neve Gordon
Israel’s Human Rights Spies
Patrick Cockburn
From Paris to London: Another City, Another Attack
Ralph Nader
Reason and Justice Address Realities
Ramzy Baroud
‘Decolonizing the Mind’: Using Hollywood Celebrities to Validate Islam
Colin Todhunter
Monsanto in India: The Sacred and the Profane
Louisa Willcox
Grizzlies Under the Endangered Species Act: How Have They Fared?
Norman Pollack
Militarization of American Fascism: Trump the Usurper
Pepe Escobar
North Korea: The Real Serious Options on the Table
Brian Cloughley
“These Things Are Done”: Eavesdropping on Trump
Sheldon Richman
You Can’t Blame Trump’s Military Budget on NATO
Carol Wolman
Trump vs the People: a Psychiatrist’s Analysis
Stanley L. Cohen
The White House . . . Denial and Cover-ups
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Marines to Kill Desert Tortoises
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail