HomePoliticsMelvin Wulf, Prominent Civil Liberties Lawyer, Dies at 95 - UnlistedNews

Melvin Wulf, Prominent Civil Liberties Lawyer, Dies at 95 – UnlistedNews

Melvin Wulf, a constitutional lawyer who transformed the American Civil Liberties Union into a more aggressive litigator, argued 10 cases before the United States Supreme Court and supported future Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in bringing a landmark sex discrimination case, he died on July 8 at his home in Manhattan. She was 95.

His daughter Jane Wulf confirmed the death.

As the ACLU’s legal director from 1962 to 1977, Mr. Wulf moved the organization from a passive organization that mostly filed friend-of-court briefs in the cases of others to one that brought lawsuits directly on behalf of individuals. whose civil liberties had been violated.

“Mel really transformed the culture of the ACLU,” Alan Levine, former legal counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a telephone interview. “Directly representing clients put the ACLU in the middle of the great political movements for justice and equality, namely the civil rights, antiwar and women’s movements.”

Under Mr. Wulf’s leadership, the ACLU opposed the Vietnam War, represented conscientious objectors, and organized the Lawyers Committee on Constitutional Defense, a network of attorneys selected from various groups, including the ACLU, NAACP, and the American Jewish Committee. He provided legal representation to students, both black and white, who traveled south to register black voters during Freedom Summer in 1964.

“That, to me, was his crowning achievement,” Aryeh Neier, who was the ACLU’s executive director at the time, said in an interview.

Mr. Wulf’s public profile was modest during his 15 years at the ACLU, but grew a bit in 2018 with the film’s release. “On the basis of sex” in which Justin Theroux portrays himand which touches on his backstory with Mrs. Ginsburg, whom he met at summer camp in the 1940s. In the film, Mr. Wulf calls Mrs. Ginsburg, played by Felicity Jones, by her nickname, Kiki, and sings her a country song when she arrives at the ACLU office.

In real life as in the movie, Ms. Ginsburg persuaded Mr. Wulf to endorse her with the ACLU in appealing the federal case of a bachelor, Charles Moritzwho had been denied a small tax deduction for the costs of caring for her octogenarian mother, a break that would have been received by a wife, a widower, or a husband whose wife was disabled.

Ms. Ginsburg and her husband, Martin Ginsburg, a tax attorney, argued the case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. The court ruled in favor of Mr. Moritz in 1972, holding that discrimination based on sex was unconstitutional.

Then, Mrs. Ginsburg and Brenda Feigen Mr. Wulf and Mr. Neier had hired her as directors of the ACLU’s newly created Women’s Rights Project, which focused on persuading courts to treat sex discrimination as a constitutional issue equal to discrimination. racial discrimination and challenge all types of legally sanctioned sex discrimination.

Ms. Ginsburg won five of the six sex discrimination cases she brought to the US Supreme Court during her time at the ACLU, where she was also general counsel for the project.

“He was very deferential to her,” she said. kathleen peratis, who was hired by Mr. Wulf and Mrs. Ginsburg in 1974 to replace Mrs. Ginsburg as director of the Women’s Rights Project. “He gave her a hard time with the Moritz case. He thought that a tax case was going to be very difficult to win, because the courts were generally deferential to the IRS. But I think he realized that she had a tiger by the tail of hers, and he was never threatened by people smarter than him.”

Wulf left the ACLU in 1977 after months of tension with Neier, the CEO, and Norman Dorsen, the president. Wulf said at the time that his resignation had been “forced” due to “irreconcilable differences.” In a letter to the organization’s 85-member board of directors and its regional and state affiliates, Mr. Wulf said the union was in danger of becoming too accommodating to forces “hostile to individual liberty.”

Mr. Neier explained the departure by saying that Mr. Wulf’s forte was appeal strategy and that the union’s priority at the time was litigation, in which he said Mr. Wulf was less competent.

Mr Wulf told the Above the Law website in 2020 that she had asked Ms. Ginsburg for help as she fought to stay in the ACLU. “I asked her to come to my defense and she told me it was ‘not in her political interest,’” he said. “She didn’t say why.”

Melvin Lawrence Wulf was born on November 1, 1927 in Brooklyn and moved with his family to Troy, New York, near Albany, when he was 8 years old. His father, Jack, owned a company that made men’s suits and coats. His mother, Vivian (Hurwitz) Wulf, was a homemaker.

Mr. Wulf, intending to enter the family business, attended the Lowell Textile Institute in Massachusetts for three years. But in 1950 he transferred to Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies in 1952.

After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1955, he spent two years as a lawyer in the Navy. He joined the ACLU in 1958 as deputy legal director and was promoted to legal director four years later.

In one of Mr. Wulf’s cases, Healy vs. James, argued before the Supreme Court that Central Connecticut State College (now University), in New Britain, had infringed the students’ First Amendment rights by refusing to allow them to form a local chapter of the left-wing Democratic Students for a Society. The school said it feared disruption to the group. In 1972, the court unanimously affirmed the right of students to form the chapter.

In another case, Bigelow vs. Virginia in 1975, the court ruled, 7-2, on behalf of the editorial director of a Virginia newspaper, finding that his constitutional rights had been violated when he was convicted of printing an ad for out-of-state legal abortion services at a New York clinic.

After leaving the ACLU, Mr. Wulf formed a law firm with Mr. Levine and Ramsey Clark, the former United States Attorney General. (Ms. Peratis joined them several months later.) The firm won a Supreme Court case challenging a Long Island school district’s book ban and successfully defended two authors against defamation charges brought by the Church of Scientology. But with high expenses and other factors, the company was dissolved after five years.

Mr. Wulf moved to another firm, Beldock Levine & Hoffman, which specializes in civil rights, free speech and employment law. He retired in 2009.

In addition to his daughter Jane, Mr. Wulf is survived by his wife, Deirdre (Howard) Wulf; another daughter, Laura Wulf; A grandson; and his sister, Harriette Casnoff.

Wulf’s clients included two former CIA agents, Philip Agee and Victor Marchetti. Marchetti, with John D. Marks, wrote “The CIA and the Cult of Intelligence” (1974), which the agency tried heavily to redact, arguing that it had to clarify everything Marchetti wrote. The book was published with blank spaces where 168 passages had been deleted by the CIA.

Mr. Agee, who had released the names of undercover agents in a book and vowed to expose the agencies’ operations abroad, said his First Amendment rights had been violated when Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance revoked his passport in 1979.

Both men lost their cases.

In 1975, the Supreme Court refused to hear Mr. Marchetti’s appeal of a lower court decision that he had “effectively waived his First Amendment rights” when he signed his employment contract with the CIA. Six years later, the Supreme Court ruled that the government had the right to revoke Mr. Agee’s passport on national security grounds.

Mr. Wulf, in an interview that day with the Los Angeles Times, described the decision against Mr. Agee as “one of the biggest invasions of privacy in the history of the American people,” adding: “Now we are no different than the Soviet Union and South Africa.


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Sara Marcushttps://unlistednews.com
Meet Sara Marcus, our newest addition to the Unlisted News team! Sara is a talented author and cultural critic, whose work has appeared in a variety of publications. Sara's writing style is characterized by its incisiveness and thought-provoking nature, and her insightful commentary on music, politics, and social justice is sure to captivate our readers. We are thrilled to have her join our team and look forward to sharing her work with our readers.


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