P, Pollak, Walter Heilprin
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman
Edited By: Kermit L. Hall
Pollak, Walter Heilprin
(b. Summit, N.J., 4 June 1887; d. New York, N.Y., 2 Oct. 1940), lawyer and civil libertarian. Pollak used persuasive Supreme Court briefs to lead the movement to establish uniform national constitutional standards in the free expression and criminal areas by “incorporating” federal *Bill of Rights protections against the states (see incorporation doctrine). Starting with the 1925 *Gitlow case, the Supreme Court embraced this process as a proper interpretation of the *Fourteenth Amendment, agreeing that freedom of *speech and press are part of the “liberty” that the Fourteenth Amendment forbids the states to take away arbitrarily. This action laid the foundation for subsequent application of most of the Bill of Rights to the states. While Pollak did not succeed in persuading the Court to void the restrictive New York law under which Gitlow was convicted, or the California *criminal syndicalism law in the 1927 *Whitney case, his “incorporation” principle subsequently served to upset the California red flag law and the Minnesota gag law in 1931 and Mayor Frank Hague’s suppression of open-air meetings in Jersey City in 1939.
Pollak was also committed to fair procedure, reflected in his work on the Wickersham Commission investigating lawless methods of law enforcement and prosecutions. He persuaded the Court to quash two separate death sentences upon the “Scottsboro boys,” first because they were not fairly represented by counsel at their initial trial (*Powell v. Alabama, 1932), and later because blacks had been excluded from the jury list (*Norris v. Alabama, 1935). His work has been called “an awesome personal achievement” and a monument in the history of civil liberties.
Paul L. Murphy