1978 February 4

A.L. Wirin, Pioneering ACLU Lawyer, Dies at Age 77


A.L. Wirin, a pioneering ACLU lawyer, died on this day at age 77. Wirin was the long-time staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California in Los Angeles. He particularly distinguished himself during the Japanese-American internment (see February 19, 1942) when he and the ACLU affiliate sought an aggressive challenge to the government’s catastrophic program. A deep split developed with the national office of the ACLU, which sought to challenge the government, but on more limited legal terms. (The split became a matter of great controversy within the ACLU for decades.) In the end, the national office took control of both the pivotal Hirabayashi v. United States and Korematsu v. United States cases, and Wirin was denied the opportunity to argue a case before the Supreme Court.

A.L. Wirin was born in Russia in 1900 and emigrated to the U.S. in 1908. Once in the U.S. he changed his name to Abraham Lincoln Wirin, although he always referred to himself as “A.L.” or “AL.” He graduated from Harvard University, attended Harvard Law School for one year, and then graduated from Boston University Law School. He moved to New York City and was briefly the ACLU staff attorney in 1931. Two years later, in 1933, he became the full-time staff lawyer for the ACLU of Southern California and served in that capacity until suffering a heart attack in 1972.

Wirin claimed that his civil liberties career began as a child, when he defended peace marchers against attacks by sailors. That was undoubtedly in 1917, when Wirin was 16 or 17, as many such attacks occurred across the country after the U.S. entered World War I. On January 23, 1934, while defending farm workers in California, he was kidnapped and beaten by vigilante thugs. Such attacks were also common in farm and coal mining areas where workers attempted to organize unions.

Read a biography of Wirin: http://encyclopedia.densho.org/A.L._Wirin/

Learn more about the Japanese-American internment tragedy (and Wirin’s role): Peter Irons, Justice at War: The Story of the Japanese-American Internment Cases (1983)


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