National Lawyers Guild (NLG)

National Lawyers Guild (NLG)


* Uses the law to promote “basic change in the structure of our political and [capitalist] economic system”
* Has longstanding ties to the Communist Party and its front groups
* Defends all manner of America-hating radicals
* Has consistently opposed U.S. foreign policy while supporting America’s enemies across the globe
* Has consistently opposed post-9/11 national security measures by the U.S. government

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) describes itself as “a non-profit federation of lawyers, legal workers, and law students” that uses the law “to advance social justice and support progressive social movements.” By the NLG’s definition, such movements promote “basic change in the structure of our political and [capitalist] economic system,” a system where “vast disparities in individual and social wealth” render “neither democracy nor social justice … possible.” Regarding “human rights” as “more sacred than property interests,” the NLG’s crusade to transform society also includes the participation of so-called “jailhouse lawyers” – the Guild’s term for incarcerated criminals claiming to have been wrongfully imprisoned by an oppressive state for reasons related to their race, ethnicity, class, or ideology. The NLG’s overarching strategy is to “bring together,” into a unified revolutionary force, a host of groups whose members have allegedly been victimized by capitalism’s inequities – “workers, women, farmers, people with disabilities and people of color.” “The welfare of the entire nation,” says the Guild, depends upon the efforts of these allied contingents to “eliminate racism” and “maintain and protect our civil rights and liberties in the face of persistent attacks upon them.” With more than 8,000 members nationwide, the NLG has approximately 120 local chapters grouped into nine regions (covering nearly every U.S. state). It also has student chapters at 113 universities and law schools across the United States, and tens of thousands of active supporters worldwide.

The NLG’s earliest antecedent was an agency known as the International Class War Prisoners Aid Society (whose Russian-language acronym was MOPR), formed by the Communist International (Comintern) in 1922 as part of its effort to infiltrate American legal organizations. Soon thereafter, MOPR became known as International Red Aid (IRA). In 1925 an American section of IRA was established under the name International Labor Defense (ILD), which in 1936 helped organize the NLG.[1]

Officially launched in 1937 as a progressive alternative to the segregated and comparatively conservative American Bar Association, the NLG was inspired by President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, the Communist Party’s newly launched Popular Front movement, the newly revitalized trade-union movement, and the increased activity of the NAACP.[2] As evidenced by its Comintern roots, there were certainly members of the early Guild who were dedicated Communist revolutionaries. NLG founding member David Freedman, for instance, candidly advocated socialism as a desirable alternative to American capitalism. Communist Party USA (CPUSA) attorneys were also among the NLG’s founders. Indeed, the CPUSA required communist attorneys to become Guild members because the organization was evolving into the chief legal instrument of the Party. The NLG’s first executive secretary, Mortimer Riemer, was himself a CPUSA member.

But communists were by no means the only actors within the fledgling NLG. New Deal supporters, civil libertarians, law professors, government officials, senators and congressmen, future Supreme Court Justices, the general counsels of the AFL and the CIO, and other liberals were also among the Guild’s earliest members.[3]

In the late 1930s, NLG lawyers helped organize the United Auto Workers (UAW) and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) and supported the New Deal, which the American Bar Association opposed.

At the NLG’s third annual convention, its National Executive Board refused to adopt an amendment to the Guild’s constitution opposing dictatorship and supporting democracy, after communist lawyers complained that the amendment was “divisive.” Many comparatively moderate Guild members regarded this development as ominous and thus left the organization. The leadership, however, remained on the far left of the political spectrum. Indeed, in 1940 the Guild’s president, Russell Chase, also served as the attorney for the CPUSA in Ohio.

Throughout the 1940s, NLG lawyers fought racial discrimination in cases such as Hansberry v. Lee, the case that struck down segregationist Jim Crow laws in Chicago. In 1945 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.

During World War II, a number of Guild attorneys became public defenders for indigent criminals,[4] on theory that the latter were among the many unfortunate victims of capitalism’s inequities. Other NLG lawyers sought damages on behalf of people who had been harmed by defective products;[5] again, the subtext was that corporate capitalist greed had resulted in shoddy workmanship and, ultimately, in injury to unsuspecting innocents. These trends gained momentum in the postwar years.[6]

In 1946 the NLG became affiliated with the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), a newly formed Soviet front controlled by Moscow. The Guild went on to become the largest U.S. affiliate of IADL, which is described in James Tyson’s 1981 book Target America as “the world-wide Communist front group for attorneys.” In 1978 the CIA characterized IADL as “one of the most useful Communist front organizations at the service of the Soviet Communist Party, [an organization that] has so consistently demonstrated its support of Moscow’s foreign policy objectives, and is so tied in with other front organizations and the Communist press, that it is difficult for it to pretend that its judgments are fair or relevant to basic legal tenets.”

In the late 1940s and 1950s, NLG members founded the first national plaintiffs’ personal injury bar association, which became the American Trial Lawyers Association.

In 1950 the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) issued its Report on the National Lawyers Guild: Legal Bulwark of the Communist Party, which declared:

“The real aims of the National Lawyers Guild, as demonstrated conclusively by its activities … are not specified in its constitution or statement of avowed purpose. In order to attract non-Communists to serve as a cover for its actual purpose as an appendage to the Communist Party, the National Lawyers Guild poses benevolently as ‘a professional organization which shall function as an effective social force in the service of the people.’”

The HUAC report accused the NLG of attacking the FBI as “part of an overall Communist strategy aimed at weakening our nation’s defenses against the international Communist conspiracy.” The document also recommended that Guild members be barred from federal employment, and that the American Bar Association consider whether it should permit its members to belong to the NLG in light of the latter’s “subversive” character.

Decimated by the HUAC report, and viewed by many non-members with deep distrust, the NLG saw its membership fall from approximately 4,000 to about 500 during the fifties.[7] In the McCarthy era, Guild members represented the Hollywood Ten (who were Soviet agents and Communist Party members), the Rosenbergs (Communists who were convicted and executed in 1953 for passing classified information about the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union), and thousands of people whom the NLG portrayed as victims of “the anti-communist hysteria.” Unlike all other national civil-liberties groups and bar associations of the time, the Guild refused to require its members to take “loyalty oaths.” The U.S. Attorney General threatened to designate the NLG as a “subversive organization” but dropped the threat in 1957, at which point the Guild began to regroup.[8][

According to a 1959 report]( by the House Un-American Activities Committee, NLG programs of that day were largely “directed toward the weakening of the security programs of Federal and local governments” by such measures as the following:

1. “Abolition of congressional committees assigned to the task of coping with subversion in the United States”;

2. “Curbing of the investigative powers of the Federal Bureau of Investigation”;

3. “Emasculation of the recent statute which grants immunity to any witness called before a committee or a Federal grand jury if the witness furnishes information regarding subversive activities”;

4. “Repeal of the Smith Act prohibiting teaching or advocacy of forceful overthrow of the United States Government”;

5. “Discontinuance of the Attorney General’s listings of subversive organizations”;

6. “Repeal of the Internal Security Act and the Walter-McCarran Immigration Act”;

7. “Unrestricted issuance of passports to subversive individuals”;

8. “Repeal of the Federal employees loyalty-security program”;

9. “Limitations on the right of the Defense Department to discharge subversives from the Armed Forces.”

As the 1960s began, the NLG focused heavily on fighting for civil rights for black Americans, setting up offices in the South and organizing thousands of volunteer lawyers and law students to provide legal support for the civil-rights movement and its activists. The Guild’s underlying goals were twofold: to depict racism and discrimination as inevitable by-products of capitalism, and to acquire new members, both black and white. (One of the Guild’s black members, John Conyers, would be elected to Congress in 1964.)

Until 1963, the NLG was led chiefly by East Coast attorneys who were active in the trade-union movement, in leftist movements, and in such entities as the American Labor Party, the Communist Party, the left wing of the Democratic Party, and the Progressive Party of Henry Wallace.[9] In 1964 the Guild’s organizational leadership shifted to a younger contingent based in Detroit. A significant number of these new leaders were black, and they felt much greater affinity to the U.S. civil-rights movement than to the international movements with which the older NLG leaders had identified.[10]

As the 1960s progressed, the NLG defended rioters and others involved in the civil unrest that struck many American cities. The Guild encouraged young men to become draft evaders and then defended them. And it was active in defending those arrested during the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention riots as well as members of the Black Panther Party.

As the sixties drew to a close, NLG president Victor Rabinowitz (1967-1970) — a Communist who represented Fidel Castro’s Cuban dictatorship — openly advocated a Marxist future. Rabinowitz was also a member of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. He and his law firm (Rabinowitz, Boudin, and Standard) represented such clients as the Soviet spies Alger Hiss and Judith Coplon, and the American military analyst Daniel Ellsberg, who infamously leaked the top-secret Pentagon Papers to the press in 1971.

By 1967, as domestic unrest in the United States became increasingly pervasive, the NLG began to see a real potential for socialist/communist revolution. Publicly repudiating the idea that incremental reforms were sufficient for committed leftists, the Guild’s 1967 “Statement of Policy and Program” argued that “new approaches” were needed to bring about “basic structural changes in society.”

In 1968 the NLG was rocked by a fierce internal dispute when New Left and antiwar activists from California and New York attempted to seize control of the organization. At that point, the Guild essentially suspended its legislative work and shifted its focus: from passing resolutions to participating in mass actions, and from filing friend-of-the-court briefs to directly representing clients and organizations.[11]

Around this same time, prominent NLG member Arthur Kinoy (co-founder of the Center for Constitutional Rightsargued that the proper role of the radical lawyer was to facilitate the coming anti-capitalist revolution by weakening the law’s ability to function effectively against law-breaking radicals. Guild president Paul Harris quoted Lenin in arguing that a successful revolution required a “legal struggle” supported by illegal, militant, revolutionary activity. And Doris Brin Walker, a “proud” Communist Party member who served as NLG president from 1970-1971, eagerly anticipated a “Second American Revolution.”

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, NLG members represented FBI-targeted operatives of the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and the Puerto Rican independence movement. They also fought to stop FBI and CIA surveillance, infiltration, and disruption tactics (called COINTELPRO) against domestic subversive organizations.

Among the NLG’s more notable members during the 1960s and 70s, were the following individuals:[12]

In a Program Committee policy statement issued at the NLG’s 1971 national convention in Denver, the Guild made plain its desire to radically transform America: “There is no disagreement among us that we are a body of radicals and revolutionaries. We are not simply servants of the movement. We are radicals and revolutionaries who now propose to carry the struggle for social change into our lives and our profession.”

Among the NLG’s most notorious affiliations were its ties to Weatherman and later the Weather Underground Organization (WUO). Those connections dated back to the early 1960s, when militants from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) began working with NLG lawyers who were also active with the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee and the Center for Constitutional Rights. As the sixties progressed, the NLG and its Mass Defense Office provided legal representation for SDS’s increasingly violent demonstrators. NLG national organizers Ken Cloke and Bernardine Dohrn were among those who participated in Weatherman planning sessions; they also recruited radicalized law students, including many former SDS members, into the NLG. When Weatherman members who faced criminal charges disappeared as fugitives in early 1970, NLG lawyers were instrumental in helping them communicate with one another. Moreover, a number of the aforementioned radicalized law students joined Dohrn and WUO as fugitives as well. Other NLG members with links to WUO included the following:

  • Dana Biberman, an NLG national office staffer from 1968-1972, played an active role in the formation of the WUO’s overt arm, the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee, in the mid-1970s.
  • NLG official Dennis Cunningham became active with the Chicago chapter of the WUO’s Prairie Fire Organizing Committee in early 1975.
  • Michael Deutsch, who was part of the NLG’s first official delegation to Cuba in the summer of 1972, was a member of the Prairie Fire Organizing Committee’s Chicago chapter.
  • NLG attorneys Martin Garbus and William Kunstler served as co-counsels for WUO leaders Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert in the 1981 Brink’s robbery case) which had resulted in the murder of two police officers and an armed security guard. In 1975 Kunstler told Moneysworth magazine: “The thing I’m most interested in is keeping people on the street who will forever alter the character of this society: the revolutionaries. Whether it’s the American Indian Movement, or the Black Liberation Army, or H. Rap Brown – a person or an organization – I’m really interested only in spending my talents and any assets I have to keep the revolutionaries functioning.”
  • Martin Stolar, a leading New York NLG activist, represented many Black Liberation Army and WUO defendants.

In 1973 the NLG’s national convention in Austin, Texas concluded with the singing of the Communist anthem, “The Internationale.”

Throughout the Cold War, the NLG embraced pro-Soviet agendas while systematically opposing the foreign policies of the United States. In the 1970s it promoted Marxist “liberation” movements including the Palestine Liberation Organization (which the Guild recognized as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”); the Vietcong; the African National Congress; pro-Soviet Angolan and Mozambican factions; the Puerto Rican FALN; and the New People’s Army (the military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines). The Guild further launched an effort to end the U.S. embargo on Communist Cuba, a longtime friend of the organization.Also in the seventies, the NLG defended Philip Agee, who had disclosed the identities of some 250 CIA officers operating under diplomatic cover in foreign countries and, by so doing, was responsible for the December 1975 murder of the CIA’s Athens station chief Richard Welch.

In the 1980s the NLG supported the anti-nuclear movement and challenged the use of nuclear weapons under international law. Spurred by what it termed “the need to represent Central American refugees and asylum activists fleeing U.S.-sponsored ‘terror’ in Nicaragua and El Salvador,” the Guild’s National Immigration Project began working systematically on immigration issues and embraced the church-based sanctuary movement. Moreover, the NLG supported the Marxist Sandinistas in Nicaragua and the Marxist FMLN party in El Salvador.

In 1989 the NLG prevailed in a lawsuit, originally filed in 1977, against the FBI for illegal political surveillance of activist organizations, including the Guild. The suit revealed the extent to which the government had been spying on the NLG.

In his 1991 book Far Left of Center, Emory University professor Harvey Klehr wrote: “The NLG is an affiliate of the Soviet-controlled International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL)…. Over the years it [NLG] has steadfastly supported every twist and turn in Soviet policy, including the invasions of Hungary, Czech and Afghanistan.”

When the U.S. used military force to drive Saddam Hussein’s invading Iraqi army out of Kuwait in 1991, the NLG mobilized opposition to the American invasion.

Also in 1991, the NLG stated that “the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the increased concentration and coordination of world capitalism, have … made clear that we must taken a proactive role in dealing with [international] issues.”

The NLG strongly opposed the 1996 Anti-Terrorism Act, which contained a number of key provisions to combat terrorism, most notably: (a) a provision making it a criminal offense to provide “material support” or “expert advice or assistance” to terrorist groups; (b) a provision allowing federal investigators to use secret evidence in terrorism cases; and (c) a provision authorizing the U.S. government to designate organizations as terrorist groups based upon available evidence. Shortly after the bill was passed, the Guild initiated the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom (NCPPF), which endeavored to build a resistance movement of hard-left activists and organizations that collectively lobbied and litigated against U.S. counter-terrorism laws, provided legal counsel to terrorist suspects, and worked to overturn terrorist convictions in court.

Also in the mid-1990s, the NLG began to play an active role in the anti-globalization movement which came of age in the Seattle riots of 1999.

In 1999, NLG member Chip Berlet, who is also an activist with Morris Dees’s Southern Poverty Law Centerdescribed the Guild’s saturation with communists and far-left ideologies:

“The cacophony at some [Guild] meetings … [arises from] debates featuring cadres from Leninist, Trotskyist, Stalinist, and Maoist groups, along with Marxists, anarchists, libertarians, and progressive independents — interacting with a preponderance of reluctant Democrats — all intertwined with multiple alternate identities as lawyers, legal workers, labor organizers, tribal sovereignty activists, civil liberties and civil rights advocates, environmentalists, feminists, gay men and lesbians, and people of color.”

Rejecting capitalism as a viable economic system, the NLG was a signatory to a May 30, 2000 document denouncing globalization, big business in general, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in particular. A co-signer was Medea Benjamin, the founder of Global Exchange.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the NLG distributed flyers, posters, and CDs entitled “Know Your Rights,” which provided legal advice — translated into several Middle Eastern languages — for immigrants contacted by the U.S. government in the course of its anti-terrorism initiatives. These materials advised immigrants to refuse to talk to investigators — because “[t]he FBI is not just trying to find terrorists, but is gathering information on immigrants and activists who have done nothing wrong.”

The NLG endorsed the December 18, 2001 “Statement of Solidarity with Migrants,” drawn up by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, which called upon the U.S. government to “[r]ecognize the contribution of immigrant workers, students, and families, and [to] end discriminatory policies passed on the basis of legal status in the wake of September 11.” In a similar spirit, the NLG’s National Immigration Project sought “to recognize the contributions of immigrants in this country, to promote fair immigration practices, and to expand the civil and human rights of all immigrants, regardless of their status in the United States.” The Guild further rejected “all deportations and manipulations of the border carried out in the interests of capitalism,” encouraging local NLG chapters to “develop training programs and legal clinics to support mass defense efforts against deportations.” According to the Guild, government raids against “undocumented working people” constituted “an effort to terrorize and silence immigrant communities.”

Also in the aftermath of September 11th, the NLG condemned “the huge buildup of [U.S.] military might,… the attack on civil liberties after the 9/11 tragedy, the scapegoating of Muslim Americans and of Middle Eastern and Arab immigrants, and the creation of McCarthy-esque ‘antiterrorism’ measures.” Moreover, Guild members lobbied Congress in an unsuccessful effort to “turn back the worst aspects of the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act” which allegedly trampled on the civil liberties of Americans; NLGers also filed the first challenges to the detention of prisoners from Afghanistan and the use of military tribunals. For example, the San Francisco/Bay Area chapter of the Guild co-signed a February 20, 2002 document condemning military tribunals and the detention of immigrants apprehended in connection with post-9/11 terrorism investigations. The NLG was also a signatory to a March 17, 2003 letter exhorting members of the U.S. Congress to oppose Patriot Act II, on grounds that it “fail[ed] to respect our time-honored liberties” and “would severely dilute, if not undermine, many basic constitutional rights.”

In late 2002 – after Saddam Hussein‘s Iraq had repeatedly failed to live up to its post-Gulf War promises, and had repeatedly defied United Nations Resolutions for more than a decade – a U.S. invasion of Iraq grew increasingly likely. The NLG was a leading voice in the chorus condemning the prospect of such military intervention. On October 26, 2002, the Guild co-sponsored a massive anti-war rally in Washington, DC.

On April 12, 2003 – a few weeks after the U.S. had indeed invaded Iraq – the NLG co-sponsored yet another anti-war demonstration in Washington. At the time, the Guild had partial control over the Los Angeles chapter of International ANSWER (a Workers World Party front group). A year earlier, the Guild had co-founded the anti-war organization Not in Our Name; other co-founders included the All-African Peoples Revolutionary Party, the International League of Peoples’ Struggle, Refuse and Resist!, and the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Denouncing the Bush administration’s “illegal preemptive” invasion of a sovereign state, the Guild exhorted Americans to register their outrage by engaging in acts of “civil disobedience.” “U.S. government officials forfeit legitimacy and the power to enforce laws against non-violent trespass and ‘disorder’ when they pursue policies that result in war crimes,” said the NLG.

In the early stages of the 2003 Iraq War, the NLG ran anti-military-recruitment campaigns in U.S. schools. In the course of those campaigns, the Guild’s Military Law Task Force complained that “an inordinate percent of [America’s] wealth is directed away from the citizenry and its social needs, and into a military/industrial clique that saps the wealth of the nation.”

In 2003 the NLG initiated its Korean Peace Project (KPP). In September of that year, the Guild/KPP, at the invitation of the Korean Democratic Lawyers Association, dispatched to North Korea a delegation of four lawyers seeking to develop “personal and professional relationships” with leaders of that communist country. The delegates sought further to “replace [America’s] demonizing [of North Korea] with dialogue,” and to determine the “real situation,” politically and economically, of life in North Korea. In a report summarizing their observations, the KPP delegates stated:

“Much is written about the alleged starvation, even referred to as intentional, of the North Korean people by their government. On our trips in the countryside, both north and south of Pyongyang, we covered nearly 500 kilometers. During that time we had the opportunity to see agricultural communities and small towns. We noticed that the people on the whole looked well dressed and active. We saw no one who looked malnourished or emaciated and our observations were confirmed by many of the foreigners we met who had dealings around the country. … The people we passed on the road or in rural towns looked relaxed…We noted that this was not the Orwellian society George Bush and much of the media is trying to portray.”

The KPP report also noted that:

  • Korean women are not “objectified in the same ways they sometimes are in the West”
  • “The absence of other [political] parties [in North Korea] is not considered a failing, as the entire society is socialist”
  • Because of “its failure to deal fairly and in good faith” with North Korea, “the U.S. government cannot advocate the rule of law and democracy, when it fails to model it itself”
  • A North Korean general explained that his country does not “oppose the American people,” but only America’s “hostile policy and its efforts to exercise control over the whole world and inflict calamity on its people”
  • The alleged North Korean invasion of South Korea was an invention of the “U.S. Imperialist Aggressors,” designed to take down what they feared would be a successful Communist country
  • “Unresolved pain still exists about the Korean war where millions of Koreans were killed”
  • “Nearly the entire North, including cities, was leveled to the ground by U.S. bombers.”
  • “We [Americans] cannot be respected unless we respect others”
  • “The U.S. government cannot advocate the rule of law and democracy, when it fails to model it itself”
  • “The U.S. must be held accountable for its failure to deal fairly and in good faith with the DPRK” (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea)
  • “The contrast between North Korea and its lack of policemen, and North America in which armed police in bulletproof vests are commonplace, was more than striking — it was startling. If the presence or absence of armed policemen is a criterion for a free society then it speaks volumes about the nature of the two societies.”
  • North Korea’s free healthcare and education systems, and the fact that capital punishment was nonexistent in its criminal-justice framework, were preferable to their counterparts in the United States.

In April 2004, the NLG announced that it had joined “a broad coalition of groups” challenging “the executive branch’s claim to un-checked wartime powers.” Said the Guild:

“While the [Supreme Court] Justices will not rule on the constitutionality of the hundreds of detainees that are being held at Guantanamo Bay, the National Lawyers Guild believes the U.S. is unlawfully occupying the base because the treaty between the U.S. and Cuba limits its use to a ‘coaling or naval station,’ and not a prison or a concentration camp. The Lawyers Guild therefore calls for the immediate closure of the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay and the release of the prisoners. If probable cause exists for charging these prisoners with criminal offenses, they should be charged and immediately be provided with access to legal counsel, human rights organizations and their families.”

The NLG endorsed the Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004, which was designed to roll back, in the name of protecting civil liberties, vital national-security policies that had been adopted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Guild also endorsed the Community Resolution to Protect Civil Liberties campaign, a project of the California-based Coalition for Civil Liberties, which sought to persuade city councils to pass resolutions pledging noncompliance with the Patriot Act’s provisions.

In July 2006, the NLG’s Middle East Subcommittee issued a condemnation of “Israel’s crimes against humanity and brutal aggression against Palestine and Lebanon.” This subcommittee also formulated a “Resolution to Divest, in Practice and Principle, from Israel”; a “Resolution to Stop and Dismantle the Wall” (a reference to the anti-terrorism barrier constructed by Israel in the West Bank); and a “Resolution Affirming the Individual and Collective Palestinian Right of Return.”

Consistent with the NLG’s view that nonwhite immigrants and minorities are routinely harmed by America’s ubiquitous racism, sexism, and intolerance, the Guild’s United People of Color Caucus was created to counter these purported societal defects. This Caucus impugns “the capitalist United States” as a place “where economic prowess is dependent on the furthered and continued subjugation of people of color, women, the poor, queers and other oppressed people.”

In recent years, the NLG has defended a number of notorious individuals and organizations:

  • On February 17, 2005, the Guild called for a “national day of outrage” to protest the prosecution and conviction of NLG member Lynne Stewart, the self-proclaimed “radical attorney” who had illegally facilitated communication between her incarcerated client, Omar Abdel Rahman, and his Egypt-based terrorist organization, the Islamic Group. The NLG ascribed Stewart’s conviction to a Bush administration effort “to deter lawyers from representing politically unpopular clients, particularly individuals charged with terrorism-related crimes.”
  • The NLG aggressively defended Sami Al-Arian, who for several years was the North American head of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. (Former NLG executive vice president Kit Gage replaced Al-Arian as president of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom after al-Arian’s February 2003 arrest on a number of terrorism-related charges.)
  • The NLG supports Lori Berenson, a New Yorker who was arrested in 1995 [and was later convicted] in Peru for her active involvement with the terrorist group known as MRTA (or “Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement”).
  • The Guild supports former Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson.
  • The NLG supports Leonard Peltier, an American Indian Movement activist who was convicted of murdering two FBI agents.
  • The Guild supports the convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, who serves as one of the NLG’s “Co-Jailhouse Lawyer Vice Presidents“). “Mumia’s constitutional rights were violated at and after the original trial,” says the Guild, “including open displays of bias and hostility by the judge, ineffective assistance from appointed trial counsel, and using his political associations and statements against him.”
  • On June 12, 2006, the NLG denounced an FBI crackdown on domestic terror groups like the Animal Liberation Front, and the Earth Liberation Front on grounds that prosecuting such organizations for their use of explosives and high-caliber weapons evidenced a “disturbing trend of targeting protesters engaged in dissent, and in imposing draconian sentences for expressing such dissent.”

When the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was trying to craft a comprehensive immigration-reform bill, voted in May 2013 to make a third drunken-driving conviction a deportable offense for newly legalized immigrants (if at least one of those offenses were to occur after an immigrant had been approved for legal status), the NLG objected. “We cannot and will not support hard-line proposals that take away discretion and limit an individual’s ability to pursue the pathway to citizenship,” said Paromita Shah, associate director of the Guild’s National Immigration Project.

In March 2018, the NLG’s Student Chapter at Lewis & Clark University Law School signed a letter protesting — along with other student groups on campus — a scheduled speaking engagement by American Enterprise Institute scholar Christina Hoff Sommers. Said the letter:

“Under the guise of ‘open debate’ and ‘free discourse,’ the Federalist Society found it necessary to unilaterally invite a known fascist to our campus to encourage what we believe to be an act of aggression and violence toward members of our society who experience racial and gendered oppression. Christina Sommers has repeatedly made remarks in order to delegitimize the suffering felt by women across the world, and to embolden male-supremacist groups…. Sommers has called the epidemic of sexual assault on campuses and the gender wage gap ‘myths,’ refuses to recognize genderqueer and gender non-conforming persons, and denies the existence of male supremacy. Because of the way systemic oppression manifests, we know those who live at intersections of oppression—cis and trans women of color, genderqueer and gender non-conforming persons of color—bear the brunt of this attempt to legitimize gendered violence. By giving a mainstream voice to such groups, Sommers gives credibility to this reactionary rhetoric….

“We now understand how language works, and how it can be used to reproduce the systems of oppressions we know we must resist at all costs…. Free speech is certainly an important tenet to a free, healthy society, but that freedom stops when it has a negative and violent impact on other individuals. There is no debate here.”

The NLG’s major National Campaigns today include the following:

 (1) The Mass Defense Project provides free legal representation to “protesters and others whose First Amendment rights have been violated during the exercise of political speech.” The Project works in conjunction with the NLG’s “Legal Observing” program, which “deploys trained observers to monitor law enforcement at public events.” These “observers” intentionally provoke confrontations with police and later file lawsuits for wrongful arrest or for any injuries they may have sustained in those encounters.

(2) The Prison Law Project is the co-publisher – with the Center for Constitutional Rights – of the Jailhouse Lawyer’s Handbook, “a resource for prisoners who wish to file claims in federal court alleging that their Constitutional rights have been violated while in prison.”

(3) The International Human Rights Project sends delegations to “monitor human-rights violations, sustain ties, and share information with our international colleagues.” Says the Guild: “Recent trips have included monitoring of El Salvador’s presidential election, documenting the assault on Gaza by Israeli forces, and supporting the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange.

(4) The Political Prisoners Program aggressively defends far-left radicals, including such luminaries as the aforementioned Mumia Abu-Jamal and Lynne Stewart. This Program also defends the “Cuban Five” — five now-incarcerated individuals who were convicted by a U.S. jury in 2001 for their participation in a brutal Castro spy ring that engaged not only in espionage, but also in conspiracy to commit murder and to infiltrate U.S. military bases and Cuban exile groups in South Florida. According to the NLG, the conviction of the Cuban Five was “a travesty of justice.”

The NLG today has more than 20 active committees, among which are the following:

  • The Amicus Committee is “responsible for drafting amicus curiae and submitting them on behalf of the NLG.”
  • The Anti-Racism Committee “strives to make the Guild into an effective anti-racist organization, holding it to the principles on which it was founded.”
  • The Anti-Sexism Committee “works to advance the Guild’s work in the movement for women’s liberation.”
  • The Committee on Corporations, The Constitution, and Human Rights is “dedicated to fighting the corporatization of our lives and investigating the impact that corporations have on our constitutional and human rights.”
  • The Disability Rights Committee “encourages Guild members to become more aware of the issues confronting people with disabilities, and to incorporate representation of people with disabilities into their law practice.”
  • The Drug Policy Committee “focuses on domestic policy surrounding drugs.”
  • The Environmental Justice Committee “is dedicated to providing assistance to impoverished communities and communities of color, which are exposed to the disproportionate impacts of environmental hazards.”
  • The International Committee has done work in Cuba, the Middle East, Korea, Haiti, and several other countries.
  • The Labor and Employment Committee “serves as a liaison between the Guild and various” organized labor and employment legal groups.”
  • The Legal Workers Committee “represents the needs, views, and concerns of legal worker members in the NLG.”
  • The Mass Defense Committee is “a network of lawyers, legal workers, and law students committed to providing effective legal support for progressive protest movements and demonstrators.”
  • The Military Law Task Force “opposes aggressive and interventionist military policies, and works to provide support for those in and out of the military who challenge such policies.” It also “supports efforts to counter the military’s influence.”
  • The Next Generation Committee is exclusively for new attorneys and paralegals who are members of the NLG.
  • The Prison Law Project “sends the Jailhouse Lawyer Handbook to prisoners who request it and tracks the responses it receives from inmates.”
  • The Queer Caucus is “a space for queer members to come together to strategize about work and their role within the NLG.”
  • The United People of Color Caucus is “an alliance of law students, legal workers, attorneys and other people of color” that serves as “an avenue through which the concerns of people of color in the NLG can be represented.”
  • The National Immigration Project is “a network of immigration lawyers, law students, and legal workers who work to end unlawful immigration practices, to recognize the contributions of immigrants in this country, to promote fair immigration practices, and to expand the civil and human rights of all immigrants regardless of their status in this country.”
  • The National Police Accountability Project is “a non-profit organization of plaintiff’s lawyers, law students and legal workers, which is dedicated to ending police abuse of authority through legal action, public education, and support for grassroots and victims’ organizations involving police misconduct.”

The NLG has received funding from the Ford Foundation, the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Open Society Institute, and the Overbrook Foundation.

The NLG is a member organization of the Alliance for Justice coalition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights coalition, and the United For Peace and Justice coalition.

The NLG is also a coalition partner in the Advancement Project‘s Voter Protection initiative.


[1] James L. Tyson, Target America (Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 1981), p. 34.
[2] Encyclopedia of the American Left, by Mari Jo Buhle, Paul Buhle, and Dan Georgakas (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), p. 504.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., p. 505
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Ibid.
[10] Ibid.
[11] Ibid.
[12] James L. Tyson, Target America, p. 36.

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