A TRIBUTE TO ARTHUR KINOY - "THE PEOPLE’S LAWYER"
September 29, 1920 - September 19, 2003
||Arthur Kinoy, in front row, second from right, with Dr. Gwen Patton at his side (at right) and other Montgomery Civil Rights Movement friends. Photo courtesy of Dr. Patton. The photo appeared in the Montgomery-Tuskegee Times News Weekly in December of 1983.
On September 19, 2003, Arthur Kinoy, the legendary people’s lawyer, passed away at his home in Montclair, New Jersey, at the age of 82. All of us at NVRI are deeply saddened by this news. Arthur served as a longtime member of our Board of Advisors. He shared our vision that the right to vote must encompass the right to be free from the dominance of big money influence in our political process and that today’s campaign finance system, like earlier voting rights barriers, must come down. We were extremely honored to have known Arthur and to have had his steadfast support.
Arthur Kinoy was a fighter for justice and he never gave up. Born in New York in 1920, Arthur graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1941. He served in the United States Army in North Africa and Italy during World War II. Following the war, he entered Columbia Law School and graduated in 1947. He began his legal career as a lawyer for the United Electrical Workers Union, where, as the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), says "he fought against attempts to destroy the union movement through red-baiting attacks on both leaders and rank and file."
The statement from CCR, an organization he helped found in 1966, continues:
"He himself was subject to such attacks throughout the McCarthy period [including being called before the House Un-American Activities Committee, a committee before which he had represented other witnesses]. He was also a part of the legal effort to stop the execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. In their final days, after a stay of execution had been overturned, Arthur and two other attorneys joined the case and discovered that the statute under which they were convicted only applied in times of war. A last ditch effort to save the couple ended at the home of one of the most liberal judges on the federal bench, who refused to join his more conservative colleague in issuing a stay. It was a moment that made him realize how important it is to fight for democratic freedoms, especially in an atmosphere of fear and political persecution."
In the 1950s and 1960s, Arthur served as a leading lawyer for the Southern civil rights movement. Dr. Gwen Patton, a longtime civil rights worker from Alabama and a catalyst for NVRI’s vision on campaign finance, writes that he was "an unconditional friend to Montgomery’s Movement for Civil and Voting Rights." As Dr. Patton says, he gave critical support to the 1955-56 Montgomery Bus Boycott. He represented, along with Montgomery attorney Charles Conley, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in a case involving perjury charges brought by Alabama judicial authorities. In 1961, Dr. Patton writes, "Kinoy joined with Conley to save Willie Seals, a Black man, from execution on a trumped-up charge of rape. The success in overturning the guilty verdict was based upon the argument that jury selection, which excluded Blacks, was unconstitutional. This landmark case won in Alabama set in motion what we enjoy today regarding fair jury selection of peers." In 1964, he helped advise Fannie Lou Hamer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party in their challenge to unseat an all-white delegation to the Democratic Party’s national convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
In 1969, Arthur Kinoy, along with William M. Kunstler and Leonard I. Weinglass, defended the Chicago Seven, a group of actually eight leaders of the anti-Vietnam War movement, who faced charges that they had conspired to incite riots at the 1968 Democratic Party’s national convention in Chicago. The activists, who included David Dellinger, Tom Hayden, Abbie Hoffman, and Jerry Rubin, were found guilty but Arthur and the legal defense team succeeded in overturning the verdict on appeal.
As the New York Times stated in its obituary published on September 20, 2003, "Mr. Kinoy was involved in a number of landmark legal verdicts. In 1965, he successfully argued the case of Dombrowski v. Pfister before the Supreme Court, which empowered federal district court judges to stop enforcement of laws that had ‘a chilling effect’ on free speech. In a subsequent case, Dombrowski v. Senator Eastland, he established that the Counsel of the Senate Internal Security Committee was not immune from suits for violations of citizens’ civil rights…In 1972, the Supreme Court upheld his contention that President Richard M. Nixon had no ‘inherent power’ to wiretap domestic political organizations."
In 1964, Arthur combined his legal practice with a teaching career, joining the law faculty of the Rutgers University Law School, a position in which he served until 1991. In addition to his co-founding of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Arthur was a lifelong member of the National Lawyers Guild and served a term as its national president.
In 1983, Harvard University Press published his book, Rights on Trial: The Odyssey of a People’s Lawyer, an inspiring account of many of his struggles for justice. The cover of the book features a photo of Arthur being forcibly removed in 1966 from a congressional hearing of the House Un-American Activies Committee, at which he was attempting to make a legal argument on behalf of student antiwar leaders. (His subsequent conviction on a disorderly conduct charge was thrown out on appeal.) The Times of London, in its obituary published on September 25, 2003, describes that scene this way: "An abiding image is that of Kinoy, physically a small man but with courage abounding, being dragged out of a congressional committee – where he had dared to argue with the committee – by three beefy security guards."
Dr. Gwen Patton writes that years after Arthur’s work in the Southern civil rights movement, "the late Governor George C. Wallace, once Conley and Kinoy’s ruthless enemy with his staunch stand for ‘State’s Rights’ vs. Constitutional Rights, presented to Kinoy a certificate proclaiming Kinoy an ‘Honorary Citizen of Alabama.’"
Arthur once wrote: "The test for a people’s lawyer is not always the technical winning or losing of the formal proceedings. The real test is the impact of the legal activities on the morale and understanding of the people involved in the struggle."
Arthur Kinoy will be sorely missed by the many people around the world whose lives he touched. He would want us to keep on keeping on – and we will.
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