Harold I. Cammer

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Harold I. Cammer
Harold I Cammer at Atlantic City rally.jpg
Cammer speaking at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J.
Born (1909-06-18)June 18, 1909
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
Died October 21, 1995(1995-10-21) (aged 86)
Mamaroneck, New York, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Lawyer
Known for Founder, National Lawyers Guild

Harold I. Cammer (June 18, 1909 – October 21, 1995) was an American lawyer who co-founded the National Lawyers Guild. He was known for his participation in labor law, civil rights, peace and justice issues, and freedom of speech cases; in particular, defending those accused of communist leanings.

Early life[edit]

Cammer was born in June 1909 in the borough of Manhattan in New York City to Harry and Anne (Boriskin) Cammer, poor immigrants from the Russian Empire.[1][2] He attended New York City public schools and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 from City College.[2] He attended Harvard Law School on a full scholarship,[3] receiving a Doctor of Law degree (cum laude) in 1932.[2] He married the former Florence Glantz on January 25, 1936; the couple had two children, Robert and Margaret.[2]

He began practicing law with the firm of Boudin & Wittenberg from 1932 to 1933, and Zalkin & Cohen from 1933 to 1936.[2][3] In 1936, he joined his long-time friend Lee Pressman in the firm of Liebman, Robbins, Pressman & Leider, and stayed with the firm until 1941.[2] In 1937, Cammer was one of the co-founders of the National Lawyers Guild,[1][4] the nation's first racially integrated bar association and an organization dedicated to achieving economic, racial, and social justice through the legal system.[5][6]

The National Lawyers Guild was branded a communist front by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Justice, and (later) the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).[4][7][8] After his friend, Nathan Witt, resigned from the National Labor Relations Board following accusations in December 1940 that he was a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA), Cammer formed the law firm of Witt & Cammer in 1941.[2][9][10][11]

Cammer interrupted his legal career to serve in the United States military during World War II.[3]

Later legal career[edit]

After the war, Cammer returned to the firm of Witt & Cammer. On August 20, 1948, Cammer represented Witt, Pressman, and John Abt before HUAC, less than a week before on the famous "Confrontation Day" hearing of HUAC in which Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers faced each other publicly for the first time.[12] Chambers described the day as follows:

On August l0th, a trio of witnesses collectively more interesting than [Henry] Collins appeared before the Committee. They were Lee Pressman, who had been a member of the Ware Group, Nathan Witt and John Abt, each of whom, in succession, had been its head. Witt and Abt were now law partners in New York City. Each was accompanied at his hearing by an attorney, Mr. Harold Cammer, a partner in the law firm of Nathan, Witt and Cammer.[13]

The firm changed its name briefly to Pressman, Witt & Cammer after Lee Pressman joined it in 1948,[14] But Pressman became caught up in the Hiss Case. HUAC began investigating Pressman and Witt (also a member of the group) and the stress began to wear Pressman down, even causing him to become paranoid to a degree.[14] Pressmen left the firm peremptorily in 1949.[14] Testifying again before HUAC in 1950, Pressman named Witt as a member of the CPUSA and the Ware group.[15] Cammer represented Witt and fellow attorney John Abt before HUAC in the 1950 hearings.[16]

Cammer's legal practice focused on labor law. Among his clients were the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO),[3] the United Brewery Workers union,[3] the Teachers Guild (a forerunner to the United Federation of Teachers of New York City),[17] the Teachers Union (a local union which had been ejected by the American Federation of Teachers for being communist-dominated and which, in the 1950s, belonged to the United Public Workers of America),[17] the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers,[14] the International Fur & Leather Workers Union,[14] the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers union,[14] the International Woodworkers of America,[14] the United Public Workers of America,[14] and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters.[3] In 1945, he also helped represent the Seamen's Joint Action Committee, a CIO-backed insurgent group which allied with three CIO longshoremen's unions to challenge corrupt International Longshoremen's Association president Joseph Ryan.[18] In many cases, he represented union members and others who had been accused of being members of the CPUSA or harboring communist views.[3] In 1968, Cammer played a different role in labor union issues. He served as the New York City Public Schools trial examiner in a case involving several teachers disciplined outside the collective bargaining agreement with the United Federation of Teachers.[19][20] His involvement was part of the circumstances which led to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike.

Cammer was chief defense counsel for Fur and Leather Workers' Union President Ben Gold after Gold was accused of lying when he submitted his Taft-Hartley Act-required anti-communist oath. Cammer was held in contempt of court in June 1954 for sending a questionnaire to potential grand jurors in the case.[21] Although Cammer lost his appeal, a unanimous Supreme Court of the United States overturned his conviction in Cammer v. United States, 350 U.S. 399 (1956).[22][23][24]

Cammer was interested in more than labor law issues. He worked as a pro bono attorney in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s.[1][3] He also defended nearly 700 students arrested during the Columbia University protests of 1968.[1][3] Cammer and his son, Robert Cammer (also an attorney) were members of the Lawyers Committee on American Policy Towards Vietnam. In 1965, they wrote a widely circulated memorandum entitled "American Policy Vis-a-Vis Vietnam" which concluded that American involvement in the Vietnam War was illegal.[1][3]

After Witt retired, Ralph Shapiro was elevated to partner and Cammer's firm changed its name to Cammer & Shapiro.

Retirement and death[edit]

Cammer retired from an active legal practice in the mid-1980s. He died at his home in Mamaroneck, New York, on October 21, 1995.[3] He was survived by his wife, son, daughter, grandson, and two great-granddaughters.

Cammer's papers are held at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University.[25]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e "Harold Cammer". Jewish Currents. January 1995. p. 6. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Who's Who in New York City and State. New York: L. R. Hamersly Co. 1947. p. 155. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Van Gelder, Lawrence (25 October 1995). "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer". New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Heard, Alex (2010). The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South. New York: Harper. p. 159. 
  5. ^ Lobel, Jules (2003). Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America. New York: New York University Press. p. 2. 
  6. ^ Swidler, Joseph Charles; Henderson, A. Scott (2002). Power and the Public Interest: The Memoirs of Joseph C. Swidler. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. p. 243. 
  7. ^ Finan, Christopher M. (2007). From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 223. 
  8. ^ Dyzenhaus, David; Moreau, Sophia Reibetanz; Ripstein, Arthur (2007). Law and Morality: Readings in Legal Philosophy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 711. 
  9. ^ "New York Times". 21 November 1940. 
  10. ^ "Witt Ends Work With NLRB". New York Times. 12 December 1940. 
  11. ^ "NLRB Employees Deny Any Communist Ties". New York Times. 24 December 1940. 
  12. ^ "Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government". U.S. House of Representatives. 80th Cong., 2d sess. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 31-September 9, 1948 (via Archive.org). Retrieved 18 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 622. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h Gall, Gilbert U. (1999). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 256–257 (Pressman paranoia and departure), 313–314 (Pressman joins). 
  15. ^ "Pressman Names Three in New Deal As Reds With Him". New York Times. 29 August 1950. 
  16. ^ Abt, John J. (1994). Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 173. 
  17. ^ a b Zitron, Celia Lewis (1969). The New York City Teachers Union, 1916-1964. New York: Humanities Press. p. 248. 
  18. ^ Bell, Daniel (2000). The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. pp. 198–199. 
  19. ^ Edgell, Derek (1998). The Movement for Community Control of New York City's Schools, 1966-1970: Class Wars. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. p. 324. 
  20. ^ Buder, Leonard (24 January 1969). "State Unit Backs Teachers' Charge". New York Times. 
  21. ^ "Gold's Lawyer Fined". New York Times. 16 June 1954. 
  22. ^ "Ben Gold's Lawyer Loses on Contempt". Associated Press. 6 May 1955. 
  23. ^ "Lawyer to Get Hearing". Associated Press. 11 October 1955. 
  24. ^ "High Court Voids Contempt Charge". New York Times. 13 March 1956. 
  25. ^ "Harold Cammer Papers". New York University. 

See also[edit]

External sources[edit]

  • Abt, John J. (1994). Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 
  • Bell, Daniel (2000). The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. 
  • Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. 
  • Dyzenhaus, David; Moreau, Sophia Reibetanz; Ripstein, Arthur (2007). Law and Morality: Readings in Legal Philosophy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 
  • Edgell, Derek (1998). The Movement for Community Control of New York City's Schools, 1966-1970: Class Wars. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. 
  • Finan, Christopher M. (2007). From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America. Boston: Beacon Press. 
  • Gall, Gilbert U. (1999). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. Albany: State University of New York Press. 
  • Heard, Alex (2010). The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South. New York: Harper. 
  • Lobel, Jules (2003). Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America. New York: New York University Press. 
  • Swidler, Joseph Charles; Henderson, A. Scott (2002). Power and the Public Interest: The Memoirs of Joseph C. Swidler. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. 
  • Who's Who in New York City and State. New York: L. R. Hamersly Co. 1947. p. 155. 
  • Zitron, Celia Lewis (1969). The New York City Teachers Union, 1916-1964. New York: Humanities Press.