1952 March 10

“Kill the Lawyers”: Smith Act Trial Attorneys Contempt Convictions Upheld


The Supreme Court, in Sacher v. United States, on this day upheld the contempt citations of six attorneys who had represented Communist Party leaders in the famous Smith Act trial (November 1, 1948). At the end of the trial, the Party leaders were convicted of violating the Smith Act (June 29, 1940), which prohibited advocating the overthrow of the government. (The Supreme Court upheld the Smith Act and their convictions, in Dennis v. United States, on June 4, 1951.) Judge Harold Medina also cited the six defense lawyers for contempt of court because of their conduct during the trial. On this day, the Supreme Court upheld the contempt convictions, and as a result all the lawyers served time in prison.

The lawyers were Abraham J. Isserman, Harry Sacher, Richard Gladstein, George Crockett, Louis McCabe, and Eugene Dennis (who as General Secretary of the Communist Party was one of the defendants in the trial and had acted as his own attorney). Isserman, for example, served four months in prison in 1952 and was disbarred. The disbarment of the lawyers seriously crippled the left-wing bar in the United States and had the effect of scaring away many attorneys across the country from serving as lawyers for Communists or other political radicals.

Watch Communists protest the Smith Act trial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CsldbspbtA

Read an obituary of Abraham J. Isserman: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/04/25/obituaries/a-j-isserman-a-labor-lawyer-dies-at-88.html

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

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