National Lawyers Guild

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  • The National Lawyers Guild is a non-profit federation of lawyers, legal workers, and law students. Since 1937, Guild members have been using the law to advance social justice and support progressive social movements. We have chapters throughout the United States, and our National Office is located in New York City.
  • If you are interested in learning more about the National Lawyers Guild, we hope you will spend some time browsing these pages. If you have any questions, feel free to contact our National Office. We look forward to having you join in our mission … (full text about).

National Board; Structure; Resources; National Campaigns; News; Report; Members; Law Students; Support us;
Address: National Lawyers Guild, National Office, 132 Nassau Street, Rm. 922, New York, NY 10038, USA;
Contact online.

History: The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) was founded in 1937 as an association of progressive lawyers and jurists who believed that they had a major role to play in the reconstruction of legal values to emphasize human rights over property rights. 

The Guild is the oldest and most extensive network of public interest and human rights activists working within the legal system.

The Early Years:

In the 1930s, Guild lawyers helped organize the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and supported the New Deal in the face of determined American Bar Association opposition. In the 1940s, Guild lawyers fought against fascists in the Spanish Civil War and World War II and helped prosecute Nazis at Nuremberg. Guild lawyers fought racial discrimination in cases such as Hansberry v. Lee, the case that struck down segregationist Jim Crow laws in Chicago. The Guild was one of the nongovernmental organizations selected by the U.S. government to officially represent the American people at the founding of the United Nations in 1945. Members helped draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and founded one of the first UN-accredited human rights NGOs in 1948, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

In the late 1940s and 1950s, Guild members founded the first national plaintiffs personal injury bar association, which became the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), and pioneered storefront law offices for low-income clients, which became the model for the community-based offices of the Legal Services Corporation. During the McCarthy era, Guild members represented the Hollywood Ten, the Rosenbergs, and thousands of victims of anticommunist hysteria. Unlike all other national civil liberties groups and bar associations, the Guild refused to require “loyalty oaths” of its members; it was unjustly labeled “subversive” by the United States Justice Department, which later admitted the charges were baseless, after ten years of federal litigation. This period in the Guild’s history made the defense of democratic rights and the dangers of political profiling more than theoretical questions for Guild members and provided valuable experience in defending First Amendment freedoms that informs the work of the organization today.

Civil Rights and the Anti-War Movement:

In the 1960s, the Guild set up offices in the South and organized thousands of volunteer lawyers and law students to support the civil rights movement long before the federal government or other bar associations were involved. Guild members represented the families of murdered civil rights activists Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman, who had heeded the Guild’s call to join the civil rights struggle and were assassinated by local law enforcement/Ku Klux Klan members. Lawsuits initiated by the National Lawyers Guild brought the Kennedy Justice Department directly into the civil rights struggle in Mississippi and challenged the seating of the all-white Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic Convention. Guild lawyers defended thousands of civil rights activists who were arrested for exercising basic rights and established new federal constitutional protections in ground-breaking Supreme Court cases such as Dombrowski v. Pfister, which enjoined thousands of racially motivated state court criminal prosecutions; Goldberg v. Kelly, the case that established the concept of “entitlements” to social benefits that require Due Process protections; and Monell v. Department of Social Services, which held municipalities liable for brutal police officers.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Guild members represented Vietnam War draft resisters, antiwar activists, and the Chicago 7 after the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. Guild offices in Asia represented GIs who opposed the war. Guild members argued U.S. v. U.S. District Court, the Supreme Court case that established that Nixon could not ignore the Bill of Rights in the name of “national security” and led to the Watergate hearings and his eventual resignation. Guild members defended FBI-targeted members of the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement and helped expose illegal FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration, and disruption tactics that the U.S. Senate Church Commission detailed in the 1975-76 COINTELPRO hearings and that led to enactment of the Freedom of Information Act and other specific limitations on federal investigative power.

International Interests: … (full long text History).

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