Alan Dershowitz Defines Justice, ACLU Style

April 1, 1999 12:00 am

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ACLU News Wire: April 1, 1999 — Alan Dershowitz Defines Justice, ACLU Style

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VIRGINIA — David P. Baugh is my kind of lawyer, writes Alan M. Dershowitz in this month’s edition of Penthouse.

A proud African American and a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Virginia affiliate, Baugh has stepped forward to defend a white racist accused of burning a cross. Many people, both white and black, have accused Baugh of siding with the enemy.

Burning a cross is of course an act, Dershowitz says, but it is an act of symbolic speech. Its intent is to terrorize just as the use of the “n” word is intended to demean and frighten. But, he points out, just as the use of the “n” word is protected speech, so too is burning one’s own cross on one’s own property or in a public space. Indeed, no one would claim that the act of holding up a cross is not symbolic speech protected by our First Amendment.

As Dershowitz sees it, Baugh’s decision to represent the Klan is a powerful answer to the kind of “legal McCarthyism” that still prevails throughout the United States — when the public identifies the lawyer with his clients. He attributes this phenomenom to the benighted era in American History when any lawyer who represented a person accused of Communist sympathies was himself accused of such sympathies.

No one could accuse David Baugh of sympathizing with the Ku Klux Klan. Dershowitz salutes him as a man who believes strongly in free speech “for thee as well for me.”

Baugh has exercised his own free speech in court and been held in contempt because of his criticism of judges, Dershowitz reports. Here is a man who understands the difference between a principled defense of freedom of speech and the political support for the content of speech itself.

We need more principled defenders of freedom of speech, Dershowitz writes. The best test of whether a claimed believer in the First Amendment is a true believer is to have him or her defend a genre of speech that is completely antithetical to his or her interests or emotions, he writes. Feminists who defend the free-speech rights of pornographers, Jews who defend the free-speech rights of Holocaust deniers, gays who defend the free-speech rights of homophobes, minority lawyers who defend the free-speech of racists — these are the principled defenders of the First Amendment rather than selective invokers of free-speech for me but not for thee, he says.

According to Alan Dershowitz, David Baugh deserves a place of honor in the pantheon of free-speech heroes.

Source: Penthouse Magazine, April 1999

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