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The Peoples Lawyer

The Peoples Lawyer: The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Fight for Social Justice, From Civil Rights to Guantnamo

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: NYU Press,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Peoples Lawyer
    Book Description:

    There is hardly a struggle aimed at upholding and extending therights embedded in the U.S. Constitution in which the Centerfor Constitutional Rights (CCR) has not played a central role,and yet few people have ever heard of it. Whether defendingthe rights of black people in the South, opponents of the war inVietnam and victims of torture worldwide, or fighting illegalactions of the U.S. government, the CCR has stood ready totake on all comers, regardless of their power and wealth. Whenthe United States declared that the Constitution did not applyto detainees at Guantanamo, the CCR waded fearlessly intobattle, its Legal Director declaring, My job is to defend theConstitution from its enemies. Its main enemies right now arethe Justice Department and the White House. In this first-ever comprehensive history of one of the most important legal organizations in the United States, the Center forConstitutional Rights, Albert Ruben shows us exactly what itmeans to defend the Constitution. He examines the innovativetactics of the CCR, the ways in which a radical organization isbuilt and nurtured, and the impact that the CCR has had onour very conception of the law. This book is a must-read notonly for lawyers, but for all the rest of us who may one day findour rights in jeopardy.

    eISBN: 978-1-58367-264-8
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. CHAPTER 1 You Have the Body
    (pp. 7-18)

    He held up for traffic at the corner of Bond Street and Broadway in lower Manhattan on a May day in 2009. His cell phone vibrated in his jacket pocket. The caller wanted to know if he could be at the White House at 10:45 the next morning for a meeting with the president. He stalled. He hates to be hustled, and his immediate take was that the Obama administration wanted, if not to win his organization’s active support for the government’s Guantánamo policies, to at least blunt its criticisms and provide the administration with tacit cover. Vincent Warren told...

  4. CHAPTER 2 People’s Lawyer
    (pp. 19-34)

    “… it began as a tax-exempt place to supply funds so we could all run around the Deep South without going broke.” That’s the way lawyer William Kunstler told me the Center for Constitutional Rights got its shaky start forty-odd years ago.

    Except not so fast. The way Arthur Kinoy remembered it, he, Kunstler, and fellow attorneys Morton Stavis and Benjamin Smith founded the Center for reasons that were immeasurably more high-minded. The year was 1966. Each of them was already a veteran of civil rights work in the South. They had, Kinoy said, “come very much to the conclusion...

  5. CHAPTER 3 We Were Just Winging It
    (pp. 35-58)

    Despite its new place of business, much of the Center’s work continued to be done in Newark (and its New Jersey incorporation continues). Furthermore, it’s where you went, to the Broad Street offices of Stavis, Rossmore, Richardson & Koenigsberg if you were a staff attorney and wanted to consult with Stavis. The privilege of consulting with Stavis, of course, was probably why you accepted the Center’s offer of a heavy workload for short money in the first place.

    The year 1969 also saw the advent of Peter Weiss as a voluntary staff attorney. As distinct from full-time paid staff attorneys, voluntary...

  6. CHAPTER 4 Kinoy
    (pp. 59-70)

    The formulation is pure Arthur Kinoy. It expresses the essence of the burden he placed on his profession as he chose to style it: a “people’s lawyer.” A people’s lawyer, the noblest calling in Kinoy’s pantheon, understands that the law isn’t formed, isn’t finished, but rather is always and forever a work in progress. Further, a people’s lawyer accepts the obligation to struggle to shape this ever-developing law to make it better serve the constituency the lawyer represents: “the people.” It was Kinoy’s conviction that corporate lawyers use their ready access to all levels of government to see to it...

  7. CHAPTER 5 Stavis
    (pp. 71-84)

    Randolph Scott-McLaughlin was a young, freshly certified attorney when he presented himself at the offices of the Center for Constitutional Rights and had his first encounter with Morton Stavis. “Mort said, ‘I understand you want to be a litigator.’ I said, ‘No, no. I want to be a trial lawyer. I’m here to work with Bill Kunstler.’ ‘Then you’d better know litigation.’” He stifled an objection and instead began getting up before dawn to travel by subway, then train, then bus to be in Stavis’s Newark kitchen not a moment later than the appointed hour of 7:30. The young disciple...

  8. CHAPTER 6 Kunstler
    (pp. 85-100)

    Along with the pleasure he took in skewering the law with his sonnets, some unpublished like this one, William Moses Kunstler liked to quote Shakespeare’sKing Henry VI, Part II: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” He heeded the spirit if not the letter of that injunction by having as little as possible to do with the prosecutors trying to convict his clients in criminal trials. “I don’t talk to them unless I have to and then only on a very professional level. I don’t shake hands, I don’t palsy around. Knowing how much prosecutorial misconduct...

  9. CHAPTER 7 Smith
    (pp. 101-106)

    Young staffers at the CCR refer to him as “the lost founder.” Stavis, Kunstler, and Kinoy are legendary, but who was Ben Smith?

    When state police officers kicked in the door of a small New Orleans law office on an October afternoon in 1963, they made a mess, confiscated files, and obliged the state of Louisiana to bite off more than it was ultimately going to be able to chew. The raid led to court battles. The battles led to the state being constrained to change the way it protected its citizens from enemies both foreign and domestic.

    The proprietor...

  10. CHAPTER 8 Educating
    (pp. 107-120)

    An earlyDocket Reportinstitutionalizes a display of the founders’ extravagant presumption. Henceforth, attorneys in search of “both experience in litigation and an atmosphere in which to develop a creative outlook on the use of law as a vehicle for social change” can come to the CCR for instruction. “It is not,” the report goes on to affirm, “the purpose of the Center to win abstract legal victories, isolated in an intellectual vacuum from the daily lives of the American people. On the contrary, the Center seeks to make people aware that theyhaverights, and to make those rights...

  11. CHAPTER 9 Strike!
    (pp. 121-138)

    In May of 1994, co-president Arthur Kinoy spoke about what was being done at the CCR to address internal tensions. He recognized that a staff/board structure comes with built-in conflicts and contradictions. The Center, he was sure, was nonetheless solving its problems.

    Why was he sure? Because of his conviction that “the people” would not be confounded, would ineluctably, irresistibly get it right. “The board is made up of people involved in people’s movements all over the country.” Kinoy hadn’t the least doubt that staff and board were inseparably bound by their goal to work on behalf of those movements....

  12. CHAPTER 10 Getting Down to Cases
    (pp. 139-176)

    The cases summarized here hardly make up an exhaustive narrative of what the Center’s been up to over the course of its short life. Not all are seminal. Nor even especially representative. They have been chosen with an eye to their impact. In a few instances, the impact was on the law. Or it was on the national zeitgeist. Most often, it was on the Center and its staff. Some of the cases occupied positions on the organization’s docket for so many years they threatened to become a way of life for the staff members who were shepherding them through...

  13. CHAPTER 11 Funding
    (pp. 177-180)

    It’s 6 o’clock Christmas day. CCR development director Kevi Brannelly is in her office just in case a rescue call comes in. Ten days earlier, the JEHT Foundation announced its assets were wiped out in the 2008 Bernard Madoff debacle; the funding group was closing its doors. A $380,000 hole had abruptly opened in the Center’s 2009 budget. Into the same abyss had gone JEHT’s half-million pledge toward the Center’s next fiscal year.

    The phone rings. Brannelly is told the liberal online group MoveOn realizes that many non-profits were affected by Madoff’s collapse, and “we wanted to make sure your...

  14. CHAPTER 12 Docket Report
    (pp. 181-186)

    After so many years of working in the wilderness and walking a financial tightrope, today’s CCR is a smoothly running organization, with twenty-odd staff attorneys and legal workers backed by efficient departments for education and outreach, development, public relations, and administration. The group’s future is bright with promise, pulsing with ambition.

    Having devoted more energy and resources to the Guantánamo Initiative than to any but a few campaigns in its history, the organization is returning to its core mission. It continues to represent GITMO clients, “and will,” says Ratner, “for many years, I’m afraid. And our goal is still to...

  15. Afterword
    (pp. 187-190)

    Americans in 1933 confronted the specter of the Great Depression. The national anthem was E. Y. “Yip” Harburg’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” And yet, in the face of the most complete economic collapse of the modern era, President Franklin Roosevelt was able to assure his countrymen that the only barrier between them and a bright future was their own paralyzing fear.

    Three quarters of a century later, Americans have more to fear than fear itself.

    The gap dividing rich and poor continues to widen. The world’s willing-to-work population exceeds opportunities for gainful employment—by 50 percent in Zambia,...

  16. Index
    (pp. 191-201)