First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
First Amendment lawyers

Past and present

Compiled by Dan O’Neil
Legal intern

By Ronald K. L. Collins
First Amendment scholar

Law is what lawyers make of it. Yet when we think of the law of the First Amendment, we typically think of Supreme Court justices — the likes of Holmes, Brandeis, Black, Brennan, Douglas, Kennedy and Scalia, among others. But it is all too easy to overlook the lawyers who argued the landmark cases we all know.

True, many of us, if pressed, can come up with the name of one First Amendment lawyer — Floyd Abrams. Yet who is aware of his esteemed colleagues in that calling? People like Hayden Covington, the talented lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses, who argued an amazing 44 First Amendment cases in the Supreme Court. Or others like Leo Pfeffer, whose phrase “separation of Church and State” was adopted by the Supreme Court? Or still others, like the amazing Walter Pollak and Walter Nelles, who argued Gitlow v. New York (1925) and California v. Whitney (1927)?

The time is long overdue to recognize the contributions of such lawyers to our First Amendment liberty. To that end, we have compiled a selection — by no means complete — of lawyers who have represented rights claimants in famous First Amendment cases and causes. A brief biographical statement is given for each individual below, followed by a short list of notable First Amendment cases.

This list comprises primarily those who have been involved in Supreme Court litigation. It does not include First Amendment trial lawyers such as Clarence Darrow or First Amendment scholars such as the late Zechariah Chafee, Alexander Meiklejohn or Thomas Emerson, or their contemporary counterparts, such as Steven Shiffrin, Martin Redish or Frederick Schauer, among others.

We hope to add still other names along with expanded profiles. In all of this the objective is the same, namely, to acquire a better understanding of our First Amendment freedoms and to appreciate those who have struggled to realize them.

FLOYD ABRAMS (1936 - )

Photo: Cahill Gordon & Reindel

Floyd Abrams is today’s best-known First Amendment lawyer. He is a partner in the New York law firm of Cahill Gordon & Reindel and is the William J. Brennan, Jr. Visiting Professor of First Amendment Law at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He has received many awards, including the William J. Brennan, Jr. Award for outstanding contributions to public discourse, and the Learned Hand Award of the American Jewish Committee. Abrams studied under Professor Alexander Bickel at Yale Law School and worked with Bickel on the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States (1971). Abrams and Bickel also worked together on an amicus brief filed in Branzburg v. Hayes (1972). More recently, he represented reporters Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper in their efforts to avoid revealing confidential sources. He also filed an amicus brief on behalf of The New York Times in Gannett Co. v. DePasquale (1979), among other cases. He is the author of Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment (2005).

McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003)
United States v. Providence Journal Co., 485 U.S. 693 (1988)
Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539 (1985)
CBS, Inc. v. FCC, 453 U.S. 367 (1981)
Metromedia, Inc. v. San Diego, 453 U.S. 490 (1981)
Smith v. Daily Mail Publishing Co., 443 U.S. 97 (1979)
Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153 (1979)
Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U.S. 829 (1978)
Nixon v. Warner Communications, 435 U.S. 589 (1978) (co-argued with Edward Bennett Williams)
Neb. Press Ass’n v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976) (co-argued with Barrett Prettyman Jr.)


Photo: New York Times

Alexander Bickel was born in Romania and came to the United States in 1938. He graduated from Harvard Law School and clerked for Justice Felix Frankfurter. While perhaps best known for his constitutional scholarship with its emphasis on judicial restraint, which he developed while teaching at Yale Law School from 1956 until his death, Bickel also successfully argued one of the most important First Amendment cases of the 20th century — the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States. Though he described himself as “no First Amendment voluptuary,” it is notable that three justices relied on three different arguments that Bickel had raised in his brief in the Pentagon Papers case. He also authored an amicus brief filed in Branzburg v. Hayes (1972). Among other works, he authored The Morality of Consent (1975) and The Least Dangerous Branch (1962). Bickel died of cancer on Nov. 8, 1974. He was 49.

New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971)

LEONARD B. BOUDIN (1912-1989)

Photo: Associated Press, 1968

Leonard B. Boudin was born in Brooklyn in 1912. He attended City College and received his law degree from St. John’s Law School in 1936. (He was part of a unique family: His uncle was Louis Boudin, a professor of constitutional law at Yale University; his son Michael is chief judge of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals; his daughter Kathy evaded arrest for more than a decade after her involvement with a radical group and a bombing that killed three people.) Boudin argued a number of important cases before the Supreme Court, many involving freedom of association as well as the freedom of exchange of ideas across international borders. For example, in 1958 he argued Kent v. Dulles, which held that passports could not be withheld because of political affiliation — a decision based on both the First and Fifth Amendments. In 1965 he successfully argued Lamont v. Postmaster General, the first case in which the Supreme Court struck down a federal law on First Amendment grounds. Boudin is also remembered for the high-profile clients he represented and counseled, including Daniel Ellsberg, Benjamin Spock and Jimmy Hoffa. He died in 1989 at age 77.

Regan v. Wald, 468 U.S. 222 (1984)
In re Stolar, 401 U.S. 23 (1971)
Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965)
Kent v. Dulles, 357 U.S. 116 (1958)
Cafeteria Employees Union v. Angelos, 320 U.S. 293 (1943)

ROBERT L. CARTER (1917 - )

Robert L. Carter became Thurgood Marshall’s chief legal assistant in 1944, during which time the young attorney from the Florida Panhandle served at the forefront of some of the pivotal cases of the civil rights era. In 1956 he succeeded Marshall as the general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He went on to argue or co-argue 22 cases in the U.S. Supreme Court. He won 21 of them. In 1972 he was appointed to the federal bench for the Southern District of New York. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995. Judge Carter’s memoir, A Matter of Law, was published in 2005.

Bates v. City of Little Rock, 361 U.S. 516 (1960)
Henry v. Collins, 380 U.S. 356 (1965)
NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415 (1963)
Gibson v. Fla. Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539 (1963)
Louisiana v. NAACP, 366 U.S. 293 (1961)
Gomillion v. Lightfoot, 364 U.S. 339 (1960)
NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958)
NAACP v. Alabama, II, 360 U.S. 240 (1959)


Photo: Associated Press/Alex Maness

Erwin Chemerinsky is a well-known, highly regarded legal scholar who was recently appointed as the founding dean of the newly formed University of California, Irvine School of Law. A prolific author whose works include Constitutional Law: Principles & Policies (2nd ed., 2002), Chemerinsky has also found time to argue some important First Amendment cases. In Tory v. Cochran, the famous criminal defense lawyer, Johnnie Cochran got a trial court to issue an injunction against a man who had picketed Cochran’s office, claiming that Cochran owed him money and holding up signs containing insults. Chemerinsky challenged that injunction in the Supreme Court. He also argued the Van Orden case, which concerned a dispute over a monument of the Ten Commandments being displayed on the grounds of the state capital in Austin, Texas.

Tory v. Cochran, 544 U.S. 734 (2005)
Van Orden v. Perry, 545 U.S. 677 (2005)


Photo: Davis Wright Tremaine

Robert Corn-Revere is a partner of Davis Wright Tremaine, focusing on First Amendment and communications law. He has served as counsel in litigation involving broadcast-indecency rules enforced by the Federal Communications Commission, the Communications Decency Act, the Child Online Protection Act, Internet content filtering in public libraries, public broadcasting regulations and export controls on encryption software. Corn-Revere writes extensively on First Amendment, Internet and communications-related issues, and has provided expert testimony before various congressional committees and the FCC. In 2003, he successfully petitioned New York Gov. George E. Pataki to grant the first posthumous pardon in New York history to the late comedian Lenny Bruce. He is the co-author of Modern Communications Law (1999) and Implementing a Flag-Desecration Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (First Amendment Center First Report, 2005).

United States v. Playboy Entertainment Group, Inc., 529 U.S. 803 (2000)
CBS Corp. v. FCC, 535 F.3d 167 (3rd Cir. 2008)
Huminski v. Corsones, 396 F.3d 53 (2nd Cir. 2005)
Mainstream Marketing Services, Inc. v. FTC, 358 F.3d 1228 (10th Cir. 2004)
Motion Picture Association of America v. FCC, 309 F.3d 796 (D.C. Cir. 2002)
Mainstream Loudoun v. Board of Trustees of the Loudoun County Library, 2 F. Supp. 2d 783 (E.D. Va. 1998)
Branch v. FCC, 824 F.2d 37 (D.C. Cir. 1987)


Photo: Joseph M. Schaffer

Hayden Covington was born in Hopkins County, Texas, in 1911. Around the time that he was studying for his law degree, he became involved with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. He defended some Witnesses in the San Antonio area and was eventually invited by the Witness leadership to New York. He joined the organization’s legal counsel in 1939 and served until 1963. In that time as the Witnesses’ attorney, Covington is said to have presented 111 petitions and appeals to the Supreme Court, and he won well above 80% of the 44 cases he brought before the Court. The cases dealt with issues ranging from compulsory flag-salute statutes, to street preaching, to door-to-door literature distribution. Later in his career Covington assisted prize-fighter Muhammad Ali in obtaining a draft exemption as a Muslim minister. Covington’s role as lawyer for the Jehovah’s Witnesses is recounted in Shawn Francis Peters’ Judging Jehovah's Witnesses: Religious Persecution and the Dawn of the Rights Revolution (2002).

Poulos v. New Hampshire, 345 U.S. 395 (1953)
Niemotko v. Maryland, 340 U.S. 268 (1951)
Saia v. New York, 334 U.S. 558 (1948)
Marsh v. Alabama, 326 U.S. 501 (1946)
Tucker v. Texas, 326 U.S. 517 (1946)
Follett v. Town of McCormick, 321 U.S. 573 (1944)
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943)
Jones v. City of Opelika, 319 U.S. 103 (1943)
Martin v. City of Struthers, 319 U.S. 141(1943)
Jamison v. State of Texas, 318 U.S. 413 (1943)
Murdock v. Pennsylvania, 319 U.S. 105 (1943)
Taylor v. Mississippi, 319 U.S. 583 (1943)
Largent v. Texas, 318 U.S. 418 (1943)
Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568 (1942)
Cox v. New Hampshire, 312 U.S. 569 (1941)
Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940)


Photo: Dennis Cook/Associated Press

Best known as a D.C. insider through his roles under six different presidents, Lloyd Cutler was born in New York City in 1917. He graduated from Yale University and Yale Law School. He first came to Washington at the outbreak of World War II to work in the Lend-Lease Administration. In 1962 he co-founded the firm Wilmer Cutler & Pickering (now WilmerHale) and throughout his career mixed public life with private practice. Among his First Amendment cases are Rankin v. McPherson, which addressed the First Amendment protections of government employees, and NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., which involved a boycott of stores in Mississippi.

Rankin v. McPherson, 483 U.S. 378 (1987)
NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982)
Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1 (1976) (co-counsel for Respondent

BRUCE J. ENNIS JR. (1940-2000)

Photo: Jenner & Block

Bruce J. Ennis Jr. was an admired and exceptionally talented appellate attorney especially in First Amendment and commercial-speech cases. Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Ennis attended Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Law School. In 1968 he joined the New York Civil Liberties Union as a staff attorney. By 1976 he was the ACLU’s national legal director. In 1981 he entered private practice in his own firm, Ennis, Friedman, Bersoff & Ewing, which was later merged into Jenner & Block. He participated in more than 250 Supreme Court cases, arguing 16, 11 of which he won. He also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU in Gannett Co. v. DePasquale (1979) and in Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia (1980), among other cases. He is also known for his significant work in defending the rights of the mentally ill. He died in 2000 of complications from leukemia.

Los Angeles Police Dept. v. United Reporting Publishing Corp. 528 U.S. 32 (1999)
Greater New Orleans Broadcasting Assoc. v. United States, 527 U.S. 173 (1999)
Reno v. ACLU, 521 U.S. 844 (1997)
Turner Broadcasting System v. FCC, 520 U.S. 180 (1997)
Rubin v. Coors Brewing Co., 514 U.S. 476 (1995)
Barnes v. Glen Theatre Inc., 501 U.S. 560 (1991)
Peel v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm’n of Illinois, 496 U.S. 91 (1990)
McDonald v. Smith, 472 U.S. 479 (1985)

MORRIS L. ERNST (1888-1976)

Morris Ernst helped co-found the American Civil Liberties Union and was the ACLU’s general counsel from 1929-1954. Surprisingly, at one time he was accused of being a spy for J. Edgar Hoover. Ernst worked on a host of landmark cases. He represented Rafael Trujillo, the Dominican dictator who was accused of murder, and Frank Costello, a New York organized-crime boss arrested for tax evasion. Most famously in the First Amendment field, he defended the publisher of James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. Ernst was also one of the lead authors of an amicus brief on behalf of the ACLU in the landmark Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952) case. He was the author of many books, including The First Freedom (1946) and Censorship: The Search for the Obscene (1964).

Hague v. CIO, 307 U.S. 496 (1939)
United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses,” 5 F. Supp. 182 (S.D.N.Y. 1933)


Photo: Herald Price Fahringer

Herald Price Fahringer is a practicing lawyer at Fahringer & Dubno in New York City. He has received the Outstanding Practitioner Award from the New York State Bar Association, Criminal Justice Section and the Thurgood Marshall Award from the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He is a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and the State University of New York at Buffalo, School of Law. He has defended many clients in the adult-entertainment industry on First Amendment grounds, including the producers of the movie "Deep Throat" and publisher Al Goldstein. He is also known for his skill at criminal defense and has represented such clients as Claus von Bulow and Jean Harris.

United States v. R. Enterprises, Inc., 498 U.S. 292 (1991)
New York v. Ferber, 458 U.S. 747 (1982)
Flynt v. Ohio, 451 U.S. 619 (1981) (cert. dismissed)


Photo: Richard Yerxa

When Stanley Fleishman was a child, polio left him without the use of one arm and both legs. He went on to argue — on crutches — 10 cases before the Supreme Court. He received his law degree from Columbia University and argued a number of First Amendment cases, perhaps most famously representing the novelist Henry Miller against extradition to face obscenity charges. His belief in the First Amendment was unwavering. When asked in an interview how he justified defending pornographers, he answered, “My whole argument has always been that whether it’s good or bad, whether you like it or not, is irrelevant under the First Amendment. Either you have freedom, or you don’t have freedom ….You can’t start having exceptions for this or that form of expression.” In the last 20 years of his career he turned his focus toward rights for the disabled and served as director of Institute for the Disabled and Elderly at Southwestern University Law School. He died in 1999 at age 79, having argued and won a case in the 9th Circuit only two months before.

United States v. X-Citement Video, 513 U.S. 64 (1994)
Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 87 (1974)
Kaplan v. California, 413 U.S. 115 (1973)
Blount v. Rizzi, 400 U.S. 410 (1971)
United States v. Thirty-Seven Photographs, 402 U.S. 363 (1971)
Rabeck v. New York, 391 U.S. 462 (1968)
Redrup v. New York, 386 U.S. 767 (1967)
A Quantity of Books v. Kansas, 378 U.S. 205 (1964)
Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147 (1959)
Alberts v. California, 354 U.S. 476 (1957)


Osmond K. Fraenkel began working for the American Civil Liberties Union in 1933 and joined its board of directors in 1935. He was the ACLU’s general counsel from 1954 to 1977. He also served on the New York Civil Liberties Union board. He worked on the Scottsboro Boys case and he argued 15 cases in front of the Supreme Court. Fraenkel was also one of the lead authors of an amicus brief filed on behalf of the ACLU in the landmark case Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952). Among other works, he authored The Rights You Have (1972), The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties (2nd ed., 1963), and The Sacco-Vanzetti Case (1931). His papers are stored at Princeton University.

Kunz v. New York, 340 U.S. 290 (1951)
Bridges v. California, 314 U.S. 252 (1941)
De Jonge v. Oregon, 299 U.S. 353 (1937)


Photo: Courtesy Martin Garbus

Martin Garbus is a partner of the New York firm Davis & Gilbert LLP. Garbus is a leading trial lawyer and has a reputation as a “maverick who loves to defend mavericks.” He has represented the likes of Samuel Beckett, Lenny Bruce, Robert Redford, Cesar Chavez, Spike Lee, Timothy Leary and (more recently) Don Imus in his case against CBS. He is the author of six books, has taught at Columbia and Yale universities, and is a frequent contributor to major newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.

SunTrust Bank v. Houghton Mifflin Co., 268 F.3d 1257 (11th Cir. 2001)


Photo: Mia Yun

Edward de Grazia has been a First Amendment advocate and expert on constitutional law for nearly 40 years. De Grazia, originally from Chicago, has litigated censorship cases at all levels. Some of the works that de Grazia has argued on behalf of include Aristophanes’ play "Lysistrata," Henry Miller’s novel Tropic of Cancer and novelist William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch. He also once represented comedian Lenny Bruce in a Section 1983 civil rights action. He retired in 2006 from Yeshiva University, where he had been a founding faculty member of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. He is a prolific playwright and also the author of Girls Lean Back Everywhere (1992) as well as a casebook on obscenity law.

Grove Press, Inc. v. Maryland State Board of Censors, 401 U.S. 480 (1971)
Byrne v. Karalexis, 401 U.S. 216 (1971)
Attorney Gen. v. Book Named “Naked Lunch,” 351 Mass. 298 (1966)


Photo: Library of Congress

Jack Greenberg graduated from Columbia Law School in 1948 and joined the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in 1949 as a litigator. He would serve the fund for the next 35 years. Greenberg eventually replaced Thurgood Marshall as the fund’s leading counsel from 1961 to 1984. Although Greenberg is known mostly for his work in school desegregation, he also participated in a number of First Amendment cases. In 1968 he helped found the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Education Fund and since then has helped establish other global humanitarian organizations. In recent years, Greenberg has written several books and is currently the Alphonse Fletcher Professor of Law at Columbia Law School, having previously served as dean from 1989-1993.

Shuttlesworth v. City of Birmingham, 394 U.S. 147 (1969)
Walker v. City of Birmingham, 388 U.S. 307 (1967)
Edwards v. South Carolina, 372 U.S. 229 (1963)


Photo: Associated Press

A self-proclaimed “radical lawyer,” William Moses Kunstler had a reputation for defending clients no one thought defensible and for winning cases no one thought winnable. Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the early 1960s, Kunstler left his sleepy private practice to become one of the most passionate and committed advocates of the civil rights movement. He served Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a special trial counsel from 1961 until King’s death. His most famous case was undoubtedly his defense of the Chicago 7, who were charged with conspiring to incite the riots surrounding the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Other notable clients — there were many — included Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and prisoners from the Attica Prison riots. In the First Amendment field, Kunstler argued some important flag-desecration cases, including Texas v. Johnson. He was a director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1964 to 1972 and co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Kunstler wrote a number of books, including The Case for Courage (1962) and My Life as a Radical Lawyer (1994). He once said, “My purpose is to keep the state from becoming all-domineering, all-powerful.” See his autobiography (with Sheila Isenberg), My Life as a Radical Lawyer (1994).

United States v. Eichman, 496 U.S. 310 (1990)
Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)
Ward v. Rock Against Racism, 491 U.S. 781 (1989)


Photo: Wyatt McSpadden

Douglas Laycock is a professor at the University of Michigan Law School. He has frequently testified before Congress about religious-liberty issues, has argued important freedom-of-religion cases and has filed amicus briefs in many others. He has published many articles on religious liberty and also books and articles on the law of remedies. He is a member of the Council of the American Law Institute and an elected fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Laycock earned his B.A. from Michigan State University and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. He was formerly the associate dean for research and the Alice McKean Young Regents Chair at the University of Texas Law School in Austin, and before that, law professor at the University of Chicago.

City of Boerne v. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997)
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993)

LEE LEVINE (1954 - )

Photo: Emory University

Lee Levine is a founding partner of the Washington, D.C., law firm of Levine Sullivan Koch & Schultz, one of the first national law firms to specialize exclusively in media and First Amendment law, and an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center. He has represented media clients in libel, invasion of privacy, reporters’ privilege, copyright and related First Amendment cases for three decades. He is co-author of Newsgathering and the Law, first published in 1999 and now in its third edition, and co-author of the forthcoming casebook Media Law. A graduate of Yale Law School, Levine is also a past chair of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Communications Law and a past president of the Media Law Resource Center’s Defense Counsel Section. He is co-chair of the Practicing Law Institute’s annual communications-law program and served as an ABA adviser to the Uniform Defamation Act Drafting Committee of the Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. He has filed amicus briefs in a number of cases, including Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California (1984).

Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001) (co-argued)
Harte-Hanks Communications v. Connaughton, 491 U.S. 657 (1989)

EPHRAIM LONDON (1912-1990)

Ephraim London won a number of ground-breaking cases, especially those involving censorship of films. He was born in Brooklyn and earned a law degree from New York University in 1934. During World War II London served in North Africa as a captain of anti-aircraft artillery. After the war he was a special investigator for the War Crimes Commission in Germany. His best-known First Amendment case is probably Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (1952) — “The Miracle” case — which was the first time a film was protected under the First Amendment. In 1964 he defended comedian Lenny Bruce against obscenity charges. London also notably represented Robert Soblen, a convicted spy for the Soviet Union. London argued nine cases before the Supreme Court and won them all. He died in 1990 at age 78. His role in the Burstyn case is recounted in The Miracle Case: Film censorship and the Supreme Court (2008) by Lura Wittern-Keller and Raymond J. Haberski, Jr., and his role in the Lenny Bruce trial is recounted in The Trials of Lenny Bruce, by Ronald Collins and David Skover (2002).

Ashton v. Kentucky, 384 U.S. 195 (1966)
Jacobellis v. State of Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964)
Kingsley Int’l Pictures Corp. v. Regents of the Univ. of the State of N.Y., 360 U.S. 684 (1959)
Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 343 U.S. 495 (1952)

WALTER NELLES (1883-1937)

A native of Leavenworth, Kan., Walter Nelles was a Harvard-educated lawyer who took on many civil liberties cases involving issues ranging from espionage to anarchists, from sedition to deportation. He was a devout pacifist and opposed entry into World War I. In 1918 while he was acting as counsel for the National Civil Liberties Bureau, his office was raided by agents of the Department of Justice. During this time, Nelles helped oversee important First Amendment cases that began to expand the amendment’s role through incorporation to the states. Nelles was a colleague of Roger Baldwin, co-founder of the ACLU, and he served as the ACLU’s first chief counsel. Later, as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and Yale University, he focused his scholarship on the judicial power of contempt.

Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)
Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)


Photo: National Forum for Black Public Administrators

Born in Washington, D.C., Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., was educated at Antioch College and Yale University. After receiving her law degree she clerked for Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. As an attorney for the ACLU in the mid-1960s, she took on a number of First Amendment cases, including one on behalf of the National States Right Party, a racist political organization. In that 1968 case she became the first woman to argue a First Amendment free-expression case on behalf of a rights claimant in the Supreme Court. She also defended George Wallace when New York Mayor John Lindsay refused to let him hold a rally in Shea Stadium. She later headed New York City’s Human Rights Commission. She also worked on the brief in the landmark case of Brandenburg v. Ohio, (1969). In 1977 Norton was named by President Jimmy Carter as the first woman to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In November 1990, she was elected as the District of Columbia delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she is currently serving her ninth term. She has been a member of the faculty at Georgetown University Law Center since 1982.

Carroll v. President and Comm’rs of Princess Anne, 393 U.S. 175 (1968)


Photo: University of California, Los Angeles

Melville Nimmer was a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a practitioner for many years primarily in entertainment law, representing screenwriters and other members of the entertainment industry. As an advocate he is most remembered for the case of Cohen v. California, in which the Supreme Court struck down a California statute violative of the First Amendment, saying “one man’s vulgarity is another man’s lyric,” and expanding the First Amendment’s protection beyond traditional notions of public discourse. Nimmer’s scholarship is still frequently cited in the field of copyright law. He was the author of Nimmer on Freedom of Speech and Nimmer on Copyright. He died at age 62 in 1985 after battling cancer.

Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)
Cowgill v. California, 396 U.S. 371 (1970)

LEO PFEFFER (1910-1993)

Leo Pfeffer was a prominent lawyer, legal counsel for the American Jewish Congress, and director of its Commission on Law and Social Action. Born in Hungary, Pfeffer came to the United States as a child. He received his law degree from New York University in 1933. In the middle of the 20th century Pfeffer crafted the arguments for the strict separationist view between church and state that the Supreme Court eventually adopted in Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township (1947). Appearing before the Court in 1961, Pfeffer argued the case of Torcaso v. Watkins, in which a notary public was denied his commission when he refused to take an oath declaring his belief in God. The Supreme Court held that states could not compel officeholders to take such an oath. Pfeffer was also a prolific constitutional scholar. He died in 1993 at age 83 of congestive heart failure. His writings include Religion, State and the Burger Court (1984), This Honorable Court: A History of the United States Supreme Court (1965) and The Liberties of an American: The Supreme Court Speaks (1956). See also James E. Wood Jr., editor, Religion and the State: Essays in Honor of Leo Pfeffer (1985).

Comm. for Pub. Educ. & Religious Liberty v. Regan, 444 U.S. 646 (1980)
Comm. for Pub. Educ. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist 413 U.S. 756 (1973)
Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, (1968)
Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961)

WALTER POLLAK (1887-1940)

Walter Pollak attended Harvard College and Harvard Law School and soon afterward joined Simpson, Warren & Cardozo, the firm of Justice Cardozo before the jurist’s appointment to the bench. Between 1925 and 1935, Pollak argued four cases before the Supreme Court, two of which are well known in First Amendment law: Gitlow v. New York, decided in 1925, and Whitney v. California (1927). In these cases Justices Holmes and Brandeis famously dissented (in Gitlow) and concurred (in Whitney), laying the foundation for much of today’s free-speech jurisprudence. In 1932, Pollak argued Powell v. Alabama, the first of the well-known Scottsboro cases. In 1935 he argued Patterson v. Alabama, a similar case regarding biased juries. Pollak’s firm, Englehard & Pollak, went under during the Great Depression, and he practiced for the last four years of his life at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison. The eminent First Amendment scholar Zechariah Chafee described Pollak as “the foremost defender of personal liberties in the upper courts.” His son, Louis Pollak, is a senior federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927)


Photo: Robert H. Jackson Center

E. Barrett Prettyman Jr. is an attorney at the Washington, D.C., firm Hogan & Hartson, where he has worked (with some interludes in public service) since 1955. Before to his legal career, Prettyman worked as a reporter for the Providence Journal. After attending University of Virginia Law School, he was a law clerk to Justices Jackson, Frankfurter and Harlan of the U.S. Supreme Court. He has argued 19 cases in the Supreme Court, a number of them related to the First Amendment, most notably Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart. Prettyman has been associated with legal matters involving Truman Capote, Fidel Castro, Katherine Ann Porter and John Lennon, among others. He also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Gannett Co. v. DePasquale (1979) and Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court (1982), among other cases.

City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc., 475 U.S. 41 (1986) (counsel for petitioner)
Neb. Press Ass’n v. Stuart, 427 U.S. 539 (1976) (co-argued with Floyd Abrams)
In re Pappas, 408 U.S. 665 (1972)

BRUCE W. SANFORD (19xx - )

Photo: Baker Hostetler

Bruce W. Sanford has been general counsel to the Society of Professional Journalists since 1980 and through his 30-plus year career has represented various publishing companies such as the New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times, Hearst Corp., Random House, NBC, CBS, Gannett Co. and Time Warner, among others. Sanford is chairman of the board of trustees of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression at the University of Virginia. He has submitted 20 briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, mostly in First Amendment cases, including amicus briefs in Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court (1982) and Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of California (1984). He is the author of Don’t Shoot the Messenger: How Our Growing Hatred of the Media Threatens Free Speech for All of Us (1999) and of two works on libel and privacy: Sanford’s Synopsis of Libel and Privacy (1991) and the treatise Libel and Privacy (1991). He is a former staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal and a graduate of New York University Law School.

RICHARD M. SCHMIDT (1924-2004)

Photo: American Society of Newspaper Editors

Born in Winfield, Kan., Richard Schmidt moved to Denver in his youth and worked in radio broadcasting as he studied law at Denver University. He soon was working as a deputy district attorney for the city of Denver and later went into private practice. In 1965 he moved to Washington, D.C., where he was general counsel to the United States Information Agency when the Freedom of Information Act was signed into law. Later he was general counsel to Voice of America. In 1969, he joined the firm of Cohn and Marks and became general counsel for the American Society of Newspaper Editors and Washington counsel for the Association of American Publishers. He was chairman of the Communications Law Institute of Catholic University College of Law and a member of the board of trustees of the National Press Foundation. He died in 2004 at age 80.


Photo: American Center for Law and Justice

As chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, a public-interest law firm founded by Pat Robertson, Jay Alan Sekulow is the leading Supreme Court advocate of the “Christian Right.” He is also host of "Jay Sekulow Live!," a nationally syndicated radio program, and of "ACLJ This Week," a weekly television news program broadcast on the Trinity Broadcast Network. Sekulow has argued numerous First Amendment cases before the Supreme Court, most having to do with religious freedom. Prior to his work at the ACLJ, Sekulow was general counsel for Jews for Jesus and in that role he argued his first Supreme Court case, Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus. He is also chief counsel of the European Center for Law and Justice and is on the board of trustees for the Supreme Court Historical Society.

Pleasant Grove City v. Summum (2008)
Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004)
McConnell v. Federal Election Commission, 540 U.S. 93 (2003)
Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe, 530 U.S. 290 (2000)
Hill v. Colorado, 530 U.S. 703 (2000)
Schenck v. Pro-Choice Network of Western New York, 519 U.S. 357 (1997)
Lamb’s Chapel v. Center Moriches School District, 508 U.S. 384 (1993)
Bray v. Alexandria Women’s Health Clinic, 506 U.S. 263 (1993)
United States v. Kokinda, 497 U.S. 720 (1990)
Bd. of Educ. v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226 (1990)
Board of Airport Comm’rs v. Jews for Jesus, Inc., 482 U.S. 569 (1987)

PAUL SMITH (1955 - )

Photo: Jenner & Block

Paul M. Smith is a partner in Jenner & Block’s Washington, D.C., office and is co-chair of the firm’s appellate, Supreme Court, and First Amendment practices. Smith has had a dynamic Supreme Court practice for two decades, including oral arguments in 13 Supreme Court cases. He is perhaps best known for successfully arguing Lawrence v. Texas, but has also been involved with a number of First Amendment decisions, involving issues ranging from commercial speech to defamation to adult speech on the Internet. His recent trial work has included several cases involving congressional redistricting as well as challenges to state video-game restrictions under the First Amendment. Smith graduated from Amherst College and received a J.D. from Yale Law School, where he served as editor-in-chief of the Yale Law Journal. He clerked for Judge James L. Oakes of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and for Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. of the Supreme Court.

Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, 553 U.S. ___ (2008)
United States v. American Library Association, 539 U.S. 194 (2003)


Photo: Harvard University

Laurence Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University, as well as a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and one of the leading authorities on constitutional law. He is the author of many books, most notably his treatise American Constitutional Law, a frequently cited work in constitutional scholarship. Tribe clerked for Justice Matthew Tobriner of the California Supreme Court from 1966-67, and for Justice Potter Stewart of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1967-68. He joined the Harvard Law School faculty in 1968. Tribe has argued more than three dozen cases before the Supreme Court and various U.S. circuit courts. He is one of the co-founders of the American Constitution Society.

Johanns v. Livestock Marketing Association, 544 U.S. 550 (2005)
Nike, Inc. v. Kasky, 539 U.S. 654 (2003)
United States v. United Foods, 533 U.S. 405 (2001)
United States v. Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co., 516 U.S. 415 (1996)
Rust v. Sullivan, 500 U.S. 173 (1991)
Sable Communications of California v. FCC, 492 U.S. 115 (1989)
Larkin v. Grendel’s Den, Inc., 459 U.S. 116 (1982)
Heffron v. Int. Society for Krishna Consciousness, 452 U.S. 640 (1981)
Richmond Newspapers Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980)


Herbert Wechsler was a professor of law at Columbia University. He served as the chief reporter of the American Law Institute’s Model Penal Code and as director of the ALI from 1963 until 1984. As assistant attorney general in charge of the War Division after World War II, he developed the legal framework for the trying of war criminals during the Nuremberg trials. In the First Amendment field, he is known for arguing and winning New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, an important case which established the “actual malice” standard for publication of statements about the conduct of public officials. He was the co-author of the widely acclaimed casebook Federal Courts and the Federal System. His role in the Sullivan case is recounted in Make No Law (1991) by Anthony Lewis.

Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130 (1967)
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964)


John H. Weston is a Beverly Hills attorney with many clients in the adult-entertainment industry. He has tried obscenity cases across the nation for more than 40 years. Weston has argued seven cases before the Supreme Court and has also testified before Congress.

City of Los Angeles v. Alameda Books, Inc., 535 U.S. 425 (2002)
Erie v. Pap’s A. M., 529 U.S. 277 (2000)
Alexander v. United States, 509 U.S. 544 (1993)
FW/PBS, Inc. v. Dallas, 493 U.S. 215 (1990)
Fort Wayne Books, Inc. v. Indiana, 489 U.S. 46 (1989)
Brockett v. Spokane Arcades, Inc., 472 U.S. 491 (1985)
Young v. American Mini Theatres, Inc., 427 U.S. 50 (1976)

MELVIN L. WULF (1928 - )

Photo: Beldock Levine & Hoffman

Melvin L. Wulf served as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1962-1977. Of the ACLU he once remarked, “Our real client is the Bill of Rights.” Modern commercial-speech doctrine is heavily influenced by Bigelow v. Virginia, which is one of 10 cases that Wulf has argued before the Court. In that case, an advertisement led to the conviction of the Virginia Weekly’s director and managing editor. A Virginia statute made it a misdemeanor to encourage or prompt the procuring of an abortion by the sale or circulation of any publication. The Court held that the law infringed upon First Amendment rights and violated the Constitution. Wulf has filed amicus briefs in a number of cases, including Sheppard v. Maxwell (1966). Since 1983 Wulf has been a partner and of counsel at the New York law firm Beldock Levine & Hoffman.

Haig v. Agee, 453 U.S. 280 (1981)
Bigelow v. Virginia, 421 U.S. 809 (1975)
Healy v. James, 408 U.S. 169 (1972)

Dan O’Neil is a second-year student at Georgetown University Law Center and a legal intern for the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C.

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