The Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program


The Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Program at the New York University School of Law is the first and principal program of its kind in the United States. Since its formation in 1958, the Directors and Fellows of the Program have engaged in extensive research on civil liberties issues, participated in litigation and policy work in cooperation with the ACLU and other organizations dedicated to individual rights, and undertaken special projects and conferences on topical constitutional issues. Above all, the Program has trained more than 300 lawyers for professional service on behalf of civil liberties and civil rights for all.

The Program was started with a memorial fund in honor of Arthur Garfield Hays, a leading New York lawyer who was a founder and for many years general counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union. Born in Rochester, New York in 1881, Hays graduated from Columbia Law School in 1905 and built a substantial law practice. Throughout his career, Hays devoted much of his time and energy to the defense of civil liberties. In one of his books, he said, “I hate to see people pushed around. I vent my emotions in trying to help them from being pushed.” In that spirit, and as a close associate of Roger Baldwin, the principal organizer of the American Civil Liberties Union, he served for twenty-five years as general counsel of ACLU. He played a leading role in many important cases, including the Scopes evolution trial in Tennessee, the Sweet segregation case in Detroit, the Countess Cathcart immigration case, the “Trenton Six” case, and the Reichstag fire litigation in Berlin.

Arthur Hays also was a major figure outside the courts. Defying bans on free speech by Mayor Frank Hague, he addressed public meetings in Jersey City, leading to a major first amendment ruling in the Supreme Court. In 1937, Hays headed an inquiry into police violations of civil liberties in Puerto Rico.

Watch Arthur Garfield Hays rebutting McCarthyism in 1951. Professor Dorsen writes: "Senator Joe McCarthy was at the zenith of his power. The country—including then-General Eisenhower, as we learned the following year during his presidential campaign—was browbeaten by McCarthy and HUAC. Hays's defense of the First Amendment as it relates to radical speech and parties was as good as it could be at the time and maybe any time."

Hays was the author of several books, including Let Freedom Ring (1928, revised 1937), Trial by Prejudice (1933), Democracy Works (1939), and City Lawyer (1942). Hays died in 1954.