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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 11, 1991. Interview L-0064-8. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

The making of a civil liberties lawyer

Pollitt describes some of his initial efforts as a civil liberties lawyer in Washington, D.C., during the early 1950s. In focusing on some of the legal cases he fought alongside Joseph Rauh of Americans for Democratic Action, Pollitt demonstrates how he established a proclivity for defending liberals against infringements against their civil liberties early on in his career. In so doing, Pollitt emphasizes the importance of believing in his clients' causes.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Daniel H. Pollitt, April 11, 1991. Interview L-0064-8. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

In any event, then I went with Joe Rauh. [Phone ringing] I was working for Joe Rauh was where we were before the phone call. The first two cases I had there, you always remember the first ones, was the…. One was the Local 333 B of the Longshoreman's Union who had gone on a strike and the Governor had seized the ferry boats. They were representing the ferry boat workers in Chesapeake Bay. So we brought the suit to declare the Virginia seizure law unconstitutional and we won. That was big. There were maybe fifteen states that had laws that if there's a strike in a public utility the Governor is authorized to seize the industry and operate it until the strike is resolved and they always wait until the Union caves in. So that was my first case with Joe Rauh which was mine to write the brief and so on. The other one was Jim Kutcher who was a Trotskyite of some variety, Worker's Socialist Party, who had lost his legs in North Africa during World War II and had a job with the VA where he did some clerical type thing. They fired him as disloyal because of his membership in the Trotskyite group. So we represented him and brought the suit to challenge in the loyalty security program which we won as to him. They said Trotskyites are not dangerous. Then they threw him out of his public housing because he was a member of the Trotskyite group. There was a law there. We fought that law and won, but it was challenging loyalty security things. Then we represented the Auto Workers and the Farm Workers and the Shoe Workers and a number of unions. My first Supreme Court case which I had, the others Joe Rauh the senior partner takes over at a certain point, but the one I had was for the Farm Workers where there was a strike in the sugar cane industry in Louisiana. They got an injunction against the strike. I think there is a Louisiana law or the judge improvised one that says you can't strike during the harvest season. As soon as the harvest is over, it's okay to go on strike.
ANN MCCOLL:
When they don't need you anymore.
DANIEL POLLITT:
So we took that one and that one was mine. We went to the Louisiana Supreme Court and lost. They said that it's an important industry in the state and they can protect it against strikes. We went to the Supreme Court and I filed the brief and won on the brief. We got a reversal without an argument.
ANN MCCOLL:
That's pretty unusual, isn't it?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes, it's very unusual. I'd sort of wanted to argue. So that's the kind of things I was doing.
ANN MCCOLL:
Did you ever have a case where you didn't believe in your client's cause?
DANIEL POLLITT:
No, never.
ANN MCCOLL:
Is that because of the kind of firm?
DANIEL POLLITT:
Yes. That was the kind of firm I was in. When we represented the NAM, for example, I agreed that they had a first amendment right to do this without having to disclose it, because then later we represented a number of NAACP groups. They'd call in the secretary and say, "Bring the membership list." Then in the House Committee on Unamerican Activities they'd bring in somebody on the Communist Front Group and say, "Bring in the membership list." Disclose first amendment rights, so I felt very comfortable working for the NAM, although I was glad when the firm dissolved and I was sort of free to go elsewhere.