By any rational measure, he was among the greatest civil liberties lawyers of his time. Again and again, over more than half a century, he went up against the government to defend the rights of the individual. He argued more civil liberties cases before the Supreme Court than any other constitutional attorney. Whole areas of constitutional law bear his mark. With quiet courage, he brought honor to a profession that too often scorned him when he acted in its highest traditions. And for a generation of public-minded young lawyers, he provided a model of what a life in the law could be. May that life, now come to an end at the age of 77, inspire many more.
The qualities that came together in Leonard Boudin were at once unique and exemplary. A man of the left in his attachments and affinities, he was the consummate legal professional. He loved the law; it was his passion. He reveled in its intellectual and strategic complexities. And he possessed in generous degree the analytic stamina and rhetorical brilliance the legal profession prizes. He also had a quality far rarer among lawyers: a gift for grasping the human essence of a constitutional issue. He perceived clearly the injuries--to individual citizens and to the constitutional order--inflicted by government. He dealt happily in abstractions but remained grounded in the underlying human realities.
Obituaries have made much of the extraordinary array of clients he represented: Paul Robeson and Rockwell Kent, Benjamin Spock and Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Bond and Jimmy Hoffa, the governments of Chile under Allende and of Cuba; the list goes on and on. They do not mention his countless other clients whose names are not widely known and whose cases did not yield important legal principles--citizens hounded by the government because of their beliefs and associations, whose situations were eased by his legal skills and whose lives were touched by his human qualities.
One of the many hardships that befell victims of McCarthyism was the absence of competent legal representation. When most of the bar--including organizations established to defend civil liberties--declined to represent those alleged to be subversive, Boudin and his partner Victor Rabinowitz took the cases, discharged their responsibilities as lawyers and generated much important law. For a time, their small Greenwich Village law office was the most important civil liberties institution in the nation. And when other civil liberties organizations wavered in their support of dissenters, he founded the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee, serving as its general counsel until his death. During those critical years, the 1950s, Boudin was to the practice of law what his friend and brother-in-law (they married sisters) I.F. Stone was to the practice of journalism: a lone individual who kept his bearings and acted as a guardian of important public values at a time of general institutional default.
Throughout his career he fought repression in a constellation of cases involving two basic themes: freedom of association (a person losing a job, or being denied a government benefit, or subjected to public humiliation by a Congressional committee because of membership in a suspect organization) and the free exchange of ideas across international borders (the exclusion of foreigners from the United States on ideological grounds, the deportation on such grounds of aliens living here, and restrictions on U.S. citizens' travel abroad). He fought efforts to keep foreign speakers out; he fought efforts to keep U.S. citizens in. Perhaps his greatest achievement was the passport cases, culminating in 1958 in Kent v. Dulles, which established that passports could not be withheld on political grounds.
There were other important victories, but there were also many losses. And an important part of the inheritance he bequeaths resides in those losses. For when the fundamental issues of political freedom he addressed, some of them still unresolved, arise again, defenders of civil liberties will reach for arguments first crafted, often in a losing cause, by Leonard Boudin.
Freedom of association was a personal as well as a constitutional theme for Leonard. The company he kept was rich and varied. A skeptic and a nonjoiner, he sailed smoothly through the choppy seas of left sectarianism, representing anyone who came to him with a legitimate constitutional grievance. But his life was governed more by the dictates of friendship than ideology. His friends sometimes became clients, and he rarely had a client who did not become a friend. Even his adversaries found it hard to resist his decency and charm. Senator Joseph McCarthy was openly fond of him--to the discomfort of some of Leonard's clients. And several days before his death he showed a friend a photo album which included, along with family pictures and snapshots of doctors and nurses befriended during a stay in the hospital, photos of Frances Knight, who as head of the passport office of the State Department had been his principal antagonist in the passport cases. We at The Nation are grateful to have been among the friends of Leonard Boudin. We will miss his warmth and wise counsel.