Fertig received his B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1950, his M.A. from Columbia University in 1952, and his Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Chicago in 1955.
During the 1960s Fertig was part of the Freedom Rider movement protesting the segregation laws of the southern United States. While in Alabama, he was jailed for trespassing and unlawful assembly in violation of the local Jim Crow laws that existed at the time. A day after his incarceration, three African American lawyers secured his release. “So many went out of their way to help me,” Fertig recalls; “I figured I owed it to the civil rights movement to become a lawyer.” He would earn his J.D. from UCLA Law School in 1979. He also became an NAACP activist and a member of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.
As HLP President, Fertig played a role in persuading a federal judge in Los Angeles to strike down, as a violation of the First and Fifth Amendements, a Patriot Act provision making it illegal to give “expert advice or assistance” to designated international terrorist organizations. “It was in part a violation of the First Amendment of the Constitution which allows free association and free speech and also the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution, which grants due process before criminalizing someone,” said Fertig.
In 2001 Fertig was a signatory to a letter condemning Britain’s Terrorism Act of 2000. “We the undersigned believe,” the letter stated, “that not only does the new Terrorism Act represent a serious threat to civil liberties in this country and tarnishes [sic] Britain’s tradition of providing a haven for those seeking refuge from repressive regimes overseas, it gives succour to those states who are carrying out major human rights violations against their own people.”
Specifically, the letter objected to the British government's designation of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) as a terrorist organization: “For the British government to proscribe the PKK at this present time can only indicate a wilful [sic] blindness as to the nature of the party, which has long been pursuing a peaceful policy…” (In 1984 the Marxist-Leninist PKK had launched an armed independence campaign in southeast Turkey -- complete with suicide bombings, kidnappings, and assassinations -- which, by 2001, had killed tens of thousands of people.) Other signers of the appeal included Harold Pinter, Arthur Miller, Noam Chomsky, and the Socialist Alliance.
In April 2008 Fertig was in contention to be selected as a delegate for Obama in California’s 30th Congressional District, but he was not ultimately picked.
Fertig is the author of a historical novel, Of Love and Liberation: When the Jews Tore Down the Ghetto Walls (2001), which was a Los Angeles Times bestseller. He also wrote Men and Work: An Anthology and Commentary on the Nature of Work (1963), and the Peace Corps’ Community Development Handbook (1967).
Fertig has been the recipient of numerous honors over the years. For example, he received the People’s College of Law’s Clarence Darrow Award for outstanding legal service to those in need; the USC School of Social Work’s Jane Addams Award; the California Social Welfare Archives’ George D. Nickel Award; and, from Americans for Democratic Action, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for lifetime service in human rights.
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