Arthur Garfield Hays

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Arthur Garfield Hays (December 12, 1881 – December 14, 1954) was an American lawyer who became prominent in civil liberties issues; he was a co-founder[1][2] of the American Civil Liberties Union and served as general counsel beginning in 1920. He also took private cases and became wealthy representing powerful or controversial clients, participating in notable cases such as the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. He was a member[3] of the Committee of 48 and a contributor to The New Republic.[3] In 1937, he headed an independent investigation of an incident in which 18 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in Ponce, Puerto Rico when police fired at them; his commission concluded the police had behaved as a mob and committed a massacre.[4]

Hays wrote several books and essays about civil liberties issues, and in 1942 published his autobiography, City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice.

Early life and education

Hays was born in Rochester, New York. His father and mother, both of German Jewish descent, belonged to prosperous families in the clothing manufacturing industry. After graduating from Columbia College in 1902, where he was one of the early members of the Pi Lambda Phi fraternity,[5] and Columbia Law School in 1905, Hays formed a law firm with two of his former classmates.

Law career

Hays and his partners gained prominence during World War I representing interests of ethnic Germans in the United States, who were discriminated against because Germany was an enemy of the Allies during the war.

Hays was active in civil liberties issues and in 1920 was hired as general counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. From this point, his career had two tracks: he vigorously defended the individual liberty of victims of discriminatory laws, but he also kept private work. He became a wealthy lawyer who represented the interests of power and fame (his more prominent clients ranged from Wall Street brokers and best-selling authors to notorious gamblers and the Dionne quintuplets.)

Hays took part in numerous notable cases, including the Scopes trial (often called the "monkey trial") in 1925, in which a school teacher in Tennessee was tried for teaching evolution;[6] the Sacco and Vanzetti case, in which two Italian anarchists in Boston were convicted and executed in 1927 for a murder they denied committing; and the Scottsboro case, in which eight black men from Alabama were convicted and sentenced to death in 1931 for allegedly attacking two white women. Hays attended the Reichstag trial in Berlin on behalf of Georgi Dimitrov, a Bulgarian Communist accused by the Nazis in 1933 of burning the Reichstag.[6]

In 1937, Hays was appointed to lead an independent investigation with a group (called the Hays Commission) to study an incident in which 18 people were killed and more than 200 wounded in Ponce, Puerto Rico when police opened fire on them. They had gathered for a parade for which the permits had been withdrawn at the last minute. His commission concluded the police had behaved as a mob and committed a massacre.[7]

Film censorship case over Whirlpool of Desire

From the IMDB entry for Remous (France, 1935) directed by Edmond T. Greville:

Albany, New York - Monday, January 23, 1939: "The French film Remous was shown Friday [January 20] to five judges of the New York State Appellate Division in proceedings in the attempt by Arthur Mayer and Joseph Burstyn to get a license to screen it in New York State. The picture has twice been denied a license, first in August 1936, when it was rejected as being "indecent", "immoral", and tending to "corrupt morals". It was again rejected in November 1937. In March 1938, it was screened for the New York Board of Regents who, on April 14, disapproved application for a license. Arthur Garfield Hays, counsel for Mayer and Burstyn at yesterday's proceedings, ridiculed the objections of Irwin Esmond and the Regents to certain scenes, pointing out that the film was French and would appeal only to an educated audience. Counsel for the Regents-based his plea on the film's theme of sex-frustration, arguing that it would be unwise public policy to show it to all classes of people."[8]

In November 1939, Mayer and Burstyn released the film in the U.S. as Whirlpool of Desire. Film censorship in the United States was not overturned until the U.S. Supreme Court case, the Joseph Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson (the "Miracle Decision") in 1952.


In addition to his work as a lawyer, Hays wrote numerous books and articles. As a gifted writer and eloquent debater, he added his perspective to virtually every individual rights issue of his day. His autobiography, entitled City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice (1942), provides a colorful account of his more noteworthy cases. His articles and book reviews demonstrate his wide-ranging knowledge of a nation and a world experiencing dramatic change in the way individual rights were perceived.[citation needed]

Marriage and family

Hays married Blanche Marks in 1908; they divorced in 1924, after having a daughter Lora.

He married Aline Davis Fleisher in 1924, and they had a daughter Jane. Aline Fleisher Hays died in 1944.


After more than four decades at the center of the individual rights debate, Hays died of a heart attack on December 14, 1954.


  • Let Freedom Ring (1928, rev. ed. 1937)
  • Democracy Works (1939)
  • City Lawyer: The Autobiography of a Law Practice (1942)


  1. ^ The Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program History
  2. ^ ACLU SOCAL National Founding
  3. ^ a b "The New Republic, Volume 31". The New Republic. 1922. 
  4. ^ Ponce Massacre, Com. of Inquiry, 1937. Archived 2010-12-14 at the Wayback Machine., Hays Commission. Law Library Microform Consortium. Retrieved 9 July 2009.
  5. ^ 2011 Pi Lambda Phi Membership Directory
  6. ^ a b Larson, Edward John (1997). Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion, pp. 68-69. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-07510-X.
  7. ^ Ponce Massacre, Com. of Inquiry, 1937 Archived 2010-12-14 at the Wayback Machine., Hays Commission, Law Library Microform Consortium, accessed 12 December 2012
  8. ^ IMDB entry

External links

  • "Arthur Garfield Hays Papers", Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library, Princeton University]
  • A film clip "Longines Chronoscope with Arthur Garfield Hays (December 7, 1951)" is available at the Internet Archive
Retrieved from ""
This content was retrieved from Wikipedia :
This page is based on the copyrighted Wikipedia article "Arthur Garfield Hays"; it is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA). You may redistribute it, verbatim or modified, providing that you comply with the terms of the CC-BY-SA