1949 November 23

New York County Bar Association Urges Ban on Wiretapping


In a New York Appellate Court hearing on this day, a representative of the New York County Bar Association urged the court to “stand as a sentinel” against wiretapping, which it claimed was “widespread.” The bar group had petitioned the court to invalidate all lower court orders that justified wiretapping. The effort did not succeed, however. One of the judges pointedly criticized the bar group for not offering specific examples of people who had been injured as a result of wiretapping.

The judge who criticized the lack of specific cases was Learned Hand, who is famous for two very different civil liberties opinions. During World War I, he overturned a Post Office ban on the anti-war magazine The Masses, in one of the few pro-free speech and press decisions of the war (July 24, 1917). His decision was soon overturned on appeal, however. Thirty-four years later, taking a very different position on the First Amendment, Hand authored the Circuit Court of Appeals opinion regarding the constitutionality of the Smith Act in the famous case involving the conviction of the top leaders of the Communist Party, in Dennis v. United States, on June 4, 1951.

Learn more about warrantless wiretapping todayhttps://www.aclu.org/blog/tag/warrantless-wiretapping

Read: Gerald Gunther, Learned Hand: The Man and the Judge (1994)

Learn more about wiretapping from the Electronic Frontier Foundation: https://ssd.eff.org/wire/govt/wiretapping-protections

And more about the history of wiretapping: https://www.aclu.org/criminal-law-reform/aclu-history-wiretapping-new-kind-search-and-seizure

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