Arthur Garfield Hays’s role is nearly lost to history. He was neither an activist, nor a scholar; he wrote no treatise on the First Amendment, argued no landmark case before the Supreme Court. But he was a seminal figure in he development of civil liberties. His influence was felt – at times physically – in speeches, demonstrations, and, most importantly, in debates within the American Civil Liberties Union.
Hays began working with the ACLU from the time of its founding in January 1920 and served as its co-general counsel from 1929 to 1954. He was able to subsidize his championship of civil liberties by leading what one biographical sketch referred to as a “double professional life,” maintaining a private law practice in New York City, mostly as a name partner with the firm of Hays, St. John. The fees that he earned by representing corporate clients and wealthy individuals such as Broadway showman Billy Rose allowed him to serve in less lucrative capacities. He was Clarence Darrow’s co-counsel at the famous Scopes “Monkey Trial” in 1925, and, in 1933, he assisted in the defense of Georgi Dimitrov, who had been accused by the Nazi regime of helping to burn down the Reichstag building. These were only two of the celebrated civil liberties cases and controversies that he took up in a 50-year legal career.
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