David Carliner

  • January 22, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Jacob Remes, Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History, State University of New York, Empire State College. Prossor Remes is also David Carliner’s grandson.

    The problem I see for younger activists is that today it’s harder to get a good job. It’s harder to make the money you need. I mean, we lived so simply. I watch my students and the tuition is so much higher and they’re working two or three jobs trying to support themselves. I think it is harder for people to have the time to be able to do the kinds of work we did, just because we didn’t have as many other demands on us as people who are of college age and a little bit older do. – Sarah Weddington to Time magazine, January, 2013

    In June 1969, when Norma McCorvey needed a lawyer to demand her constitutional right to an abortion, she eventually found her way to two very young lawyers, Sarah Weddington and Linda Coffee. Weddington had graduated from law school in 1967; Coffee received her law degree in February 1968. When the Supreme Court handed them their victory in Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1973, Weddington and Coffee were only six and five years out of law school.

    As progressive lawyers, reproductive rights activists, and others celebrate the 40th anniversary of Roe, it’s worth listening to Weddington’s concern about whether the work she did in her early 20s would be possible today. Both undergraduate and law school tuition have skyrocketed since the 1960s, and progressive lawyers faced increased pressure to enter higher-paying jobs instead of work for the movement.

    Progressive lawyering is difficult and poorly rewarded. ACS’s David Carliner Public Interest Award seeks to make it somewhat better rewarded. Each year, the Carliner Award’s all-star panel of judges gives a $10,000 prize to a rising star in civil rights, civil liberties, international human rights, or immigration law. Winners are between seven and twelve years out of law school (this year, that means having graduated between May 2001 and May 2006) -- long enough that they have racked up some victories and other accomplishments, but young enough that they are beginning to worry about buying a house and affording their children’s tuition all while still paying off their own student loans. The $10,000 prize isn’t enough to solve all their financial problems, but it can provide a much-needed help, and it gives recognition to lawyers who receive all too little of it.

  • January 17, 2012
    Guest Post

    By Jacob A.C. Remes, an Assistant Professor of Public Affairs and History at SUNY Empire State College. Mr. Remes is also David Carliner’s grandson.


    One should never mind being called an agitator, David Carliner liked to say. In a washing machine, it’s the agitator that gets the dirt out.  By the time Carliner – the namesake of ACS’s $10,000 public interest law prize – was 25, he had agitated himself into jail (for protesting in front of the German embassy when he was 16), onto police watch lists (for attending a party with interracial dancing), out of college (for organizing a high school protest), out of an apartment (for talking politics with the African-American maid), out of law school (after he was arrested again for passing out handbills), and onto a secret list of American citizens to be detained in camps “in case of emergency” (for the total of all these political activities).

    For all his bravery as a student activist – he traveled to every county in Virginia organizing against militarism and white supremacy, which put him at considerable risk of physical danger – it was later, as a lawyer, when Carliner really started getting the dirt out. In the 1950s, he became one of the country’s first immigration lawyers, quickly realizing that he could use his practice not only to represent immigrant workers and dissidents, but also in his battles to liberalize American society.

    Perhaps his most famous case began in 1952, when a Chinese seaman Ham Say Naim married a white woman named Ruby and applied for U.S. citizenship. Two years later, while his naturalization was still pending, Ruby sought an annulment, arguing that Virginia’s antimiscegenation law meant their marriage was invalid.  Carliner took the case to the Supreme Court, daring the justices – in the year after Brown v. Board of Educationto recognize state antimiscegenation statutes as unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the court ducked the issue and allowed the case to be decided by the Virginia Supreme Court, which found that the state had the power to “regulate marriage … so that it shall not have a mongrel breed of citizens.”