The Law School forum broke out into controversy last night over the question of whether a lawyer has any obligation to defend a person whose political views he finds despicable. Earlier, the two panelists--Louis Nizer and Edward J. McCormack, Jr.--had agreed that the public image of a lawyer is not all it should be.
Answering a question from the audience, Nizer, one of the most successful trial lawyers in the United States, said he could not represent or "argue with passion or sincerity for a man if I despise him--if he is a Nazi or traitor or subversive."
Nizer pointed out, however, that he does not hesitate to defend a client unjustly accused of unpopular causes. He recently represented radio and TV announcer John Henry Faulk in his successful suit against Aware, Inc.
Moderator A. James Casner, associate dean at the Law School, said that it is not a lawyer's job to judge a person's guilt before he obtains a fair hearing in court and to represent him only if the lawyer pre-judges him innocent of the charges.
Casner stated that persons accused of unpopular of "despicable" political beliefs ought to have the benefit of the kind of defense a great lawyer like Nizer can provide, and that it was not sufficient for Nizer to say such persons can "get some other lawyer." In his defense, Nizer said that the right of selecting one's clients is "one given to every American."
McCormack expressed agreement with Casner's views, stating that otherwise unpopular individuals might never obtain adequate legal protection. If every lawyer shared Nizer's feelings, then the only person who could represent a Communist in court would be a lawyer who himself believed in Communism.
The former Attorney-General pointed out that he had defended the rights of jailed Black Muslims--who teach black supremacy ("something undemocratic and un-American")--to worship as they please and the rights of persons such as Lincoln Rockwell to free speech.
Nizer stated that "if democracy is to work, civil liberties should be extended only to those who believe in democracy. He protested the "excessive and arbitrary application of civil liberties, rights in which I am in general a firm believer and for which I have a record of having fought."
"I do not agree with the Civil Liberties Union," he said, "that every time a case is a matter of civil rights, every great lawyer must go running up to the Supreme Court with it. One must apply civil liberties with some degree of discretion and judgment."
Nizer said that democracy must be limited by "sensible rules." "The right of assembly should not be given to those who, if they had it, would turn around and kill you. The German democrats gave it to Hitler and killed democracy there."