A lot of the Occupy Wall Street protesters have been arrested on various charges, such as trespassing, failure to disperse, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of government administration. And almost from the beginning, the National Lawyers Guild has been there to get them out of trouble.
In what has been called “the largest mobilization of pro bono lawyers in 40 years,” the National Lawyers Guild has been providing counsel to Occupy Wall Street protesters – by drafting and filing motions, monitoring as legal observers, advising the protesters in negotiations with city officials, setting up legal hotlines, and showing up on short notice to represent those in custody.
They go about identifying each person who is arrested, recording the badge numbers of arresting officers, and getting contact information for potential witnesses. The Guild has been engaging in this kind of activism on behalf of liberal and Left causes for decades now.
The lawyers who founded the National Lawyers Guild in 1937 were what we now call progressives – New Deal supporters, union lawyers, and civil libertarians. It was the first racially integrated bar association in the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent a written endorsement to the founding convention.
Beginning in the late 1940s, the US government started to view the National Lawyers Guild as subversive. The FBI targeted the organization during the “Red Scare” of the 1950s.
According to a lawsuit that wasn’t filed until 1977, the FBI learned through wiretaps and informants that Yale Law School professor Thomas Emerson had discussed with the National Lawyers Guild the publication of an exposé of unconstitutional investigative methods in the FBI. According to Publiceye.org:
The FBI passed this information on to Richard Nixon, then a congressman on the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and persuaded him to hold a press conference announcing a HUAC probe of the National Lawyers Guild as a communist front.
The FBI publicly launched an investigation of the organization. Leaders in the American Bar Association worked with the FBI to discredit the National Lawyers Guild.
Hoover had the FBI write a report (which HUAC issued under the Committee’s name) without hearings or an investigation. The report was titled “Report on the National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party.”
The HUAC report called upon the Attorney General to designate the Guild a “subversive” organization. He actually did in 1953, but when the evidence to support the designation wasn’t forthcoming, he dropped it in 1958.
It didn’t matter to the FBI. It kept the National Lawyers Guild under surveillance for roughly 30 years, keeping extensive files on the organization. It wiretapped phones, burglarized Guild offices, sifted through the garbage of Guild members, sent informants to meetings, and provided information on members to panels that reviewed lawyers for admission to practice law.
It wasn’t until 1989 that the FBI admitted the government engaged in a broad effort to investigate and disrupt the National Lawyers Guild – despite the absence of any finding that the group was subversive. The government didn’t admit to any wrongdoing, of course. The US attorney did manage to say, “Obviously under today’s standards, a lot of that activity would be illegal.” Yes – under today’s standards. Were warrantless searches legal under yesterday’s standards?
There are still people on the Right that disparage the National Lawyers Guild. It’s been called anti-capitalist and pro-terrorist. Totalitarian. A Legal Fifth Column. And the worst thing anything can be called in America: Marxist-inspired.