ACLU History: 'I Am The Law!'

During the late 1930's, the ACLU's battles with Mayor Frank Hague of Jersey City, NJ, resulted in an important victory for the First Amendment right to free assembly. 'Boss' Hague, as he was known, sought to attract industry to his city by suppressing and driving out labor unions, in particular the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Critics saw parallels to Hitler in Hague's repressive tactics and disregard for the law. The mayor banned all CIO leaflets, turned down meeting requests by the ACLU and political groups and illegally evicted others, at one point declaring: 'I am the law!' The courts saw otherwise, and granted the ACLU's request for an order to lift the bans. In 1938, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court's ruling in Hague v. CIO, for the first time ever defining streets and parks as a 'public forum' protected by the First Amendment.


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