THE DEATH of Vincent Hallinan removes one of the last survivors of that small group of American lawyers who were prepared to risk everything in the 1940s and 1950s to defend the victims of anti-Communist witch- hunts.
It reminds us of two other things. Although film stars and the media have been given most attention by historians of those terrible years, the real price was paid not by the Hollywood Ten but by hundreds of thousands of ordinary people hounded out of work and discredited because of political beliefs or friendships formed in the 1930s.
Secondly, while Senator Joe McCarthy gets all the blame, the real damage had been done long before, not just by the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities, but by the executive and judicial branches of the Federal government as well.
Nothing illustrates this more clearly than Vincent Hallinan's experience defending the Californian waterfront workers' leader Harry Bridges. Hallinan, born Catholic, became agnostic and socialist and was deeply influenced by Popular Front reaction to the Great Depression and resistance to the rise of Fascism in the 1930s.
Bridges, an Australian-born Catholic, had formed a breakaway left-wing union and led the 1935 San Francisco general strike. From that point the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and the whole American right tried to get Bridges deported.
They failed, thanks largely to Hallinan's defence. The government had to prove not only that Bridges was a member of the Communist Party (which was hard enough), but that he had been so before entering the US and lied about it.
At one point while Bridges was freed, Hallinan was jailed for contempt of court. 'That's what being a good lawyer is all about,' he explained. At another he ran for President as a Progressive with a black woman in 1952, at the height of the anti-Communist crusade, and came third behind Eisenhower and Stevenson, polling 135,000 votes.
The Supreme Court finally ruled in favour of Bridges in 1955, a courageous decision by the Warren court after two decades in which the government had tried harder to nail him than any other man.Reuse content