The People’s Lawyer: the Centre for Constitutional Rights
THURSDAY, 20 OCTOBER 2011
WRITTEN BY DAN POULTON
The People’s Lawyer is a philosophical exploration of just how far bourgeois law can be taken against exploitation, repression and oppression, demonstrating that the legal system is not a level playing field.
Albert Ruben, The People’s Lawyer: The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Fight for Social Justice, from Civil Rights to Guantánamo (Monthly Review Press 2011), 200pp.
The People’s Lawyer is Albert Ruben’s neatly condensed history of the Centre for Constitutional Rights (CCR). The CCR was founded in 1966 with a goal of ‘advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’.
What marks it out from other civil rights legal firms established in the sixties was its commitment to using politically motivated cases as an organising tool within the wider social movements. Cases may not end in victory for the CCR but they could play a key role in educating the public in ‘the creative use of law as a positive force for social change’.
The CCR has survived on a shoestring for decades, relying on wealthy philanthropic donors and, more recently, monthly payments from supporters. It was the CCR’s decision to challenge the US government over its monstrous Guantanamo Bay ‘detention facility’ that thrust the CCR into the spotlight and secured the organisation a more stable income. Nonetheless the decision was controversial in the context of the patriotic fervour whipped up after 9/11, and lost the CCR some of its donors. It was especially controversial amongst the legal community, a group not typically known for such humanitarian trendsetting.
The book acts – one assumes unwittingly – as a sort of philosophical exploration of just how far bourgeois law can be taken in defence of ordinary people facing exploitation, repression and oppression. The People’s Lawyer reveals the contradictory nature of the legal system in America and, by extension, elsewhere. On the one hand, time and again it is shown how the resources of the state are ranged against progressive lawyers. This is true no matter how motivated they may be, and the central figures in the CCR are truly motivated. On the other hand, the CCR has won substantial victories that shape the legal landscape of America today….
Read the entire review on Counterfire