IN THE BEGINNING – MEIKLEJOHN CIVIL LIBERTIES LIBRARY (1965-1972)
In its early years, the Meiklejohn Library assisted lawyers to develop legal strategies, against the Vietnam War, including support for conscientious objectors, against racism in jury selection (Charles Garry benefited from this assistance), and on behalf of school integration. Before founding MCLI in 1965, Executive Director Ann Fagan Ginger worked at the National Lawyers Guild as the Editor of the Guild Practitioner. One of only eight women to graduate from the University of Michigan Law School in 1947, she’d struggled to find a place in the male-dominated field of law, starting as the Administrator for Membership at the NLG and working her way to Editor. In 1959, she argued a case against the House UnAmerican Activities Committee in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and won. A few years later, she helped Atty. Bertram Edises win a parallel civil liberties case.
She worked for the NLG from 1954 to 1959 and she noticed that the NLG wasn’t taking care of their archives of case materials. Recognizing the importance of the archives as the building blocks of legal strategies for resisting governmental human rights abuses, Ann decided to open a legal library. She asked her mentor Alexander Meiklejohn if she could use his name, inspired by his commitment to the First Amendment in spite of McCarthy-era government suppression. She founded the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Library to make the lessons of the past available to the activists of the future.
In the first ten years, the Meiklejohn Library continued collecting archival materials from the NLG and from civil liberties lawyers all over the country. The Library published a serial called the Civil Liberties Docket – a unique compilation of legal “briefs,” transcripts, and motions in hundreds of civil liberties cases. Ann Fagan Ginger had been publishing the Docket bi-monthly through the NLG from 1955-1965, and began publishing it through the Library in 1965. She employed interns in collecting the material and published the Docket up until 1995. The goal of the Docket was to demonstrate the connectedness of all activists struggling to uphold civil rights and to document the legal strategies for winning civil cases.
The Library was more than a publishing house though, it also trained students through internships and an on-campus office at the New College School of Law in San Francisco. The Library filed amicus briefs in many cases including the Angela Davis case and the Pentagon Papers trials. Ann Fagan Ginger taught classes in Constitutional and Labor Law, acted as counsel in civil liberties cases, and kept an open door for people in need of legal advice. The Library was always full of lawyers looking for strategies for their next case, activists researching their rights, and friends connecting in a safe place. As she says, “The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just happen.” It grew from the courage and hard work of organizations like the Meikeljohn Civil Liberties Library, at the grassroots level.
Although the name of the Library changed in 1972 to Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, the goal of uniting activists for civil liberties and documenting legal strategies for future use remains. Also in 1972, Ann Ginger wrote/edited The Relevant Lawyers, documenting strategic advice from successful lawyers on how to use the law as a tool for social change and justice.
1975-1990 – MEIKLEJOHN CIVIL LIBERTIES INSTITUTE
During this period, MCLI continued providing legal assistance and advice to lawyers and activists and submitting amicus briefs in cases including University of California v Bakke. Ann Fagan Ginger taught classes in Labor Law, Immigration Law, Sex Discrimination in Law, and more, at New College, University of Santa Clara School of Law, University of California-Hastings College of Law, among others. She continued in her efforts to strengthen and unite activists as other organizations were destroyed by the government, notably the Black Panthers and the American Commitee for the Protection of the Foreign Born.
In 1975, in response to the attacks on progressive organizations, MCLI published the first edition of Human Rights Organizations & Periodicals Directory. The Directory is a serial compiling descriptions and contact information for civil liberties, environmental, and peace groups, along with their publications and their internships. This significant publication strengthened the human rights movement by legitimizing it and helping organizations and individuals connect with one another. The 12th edition was published in 2007 and the Directory is still carried in public and college libraries across the country.
For MCLI’s 15th anniversary in 1980, we put on a symposium called “Are you now or have you ever been …?” to examine how Truman/ McCarthyism had affected our families, our jobs, our unions, our land, and the law. The event was so successful in bringing people together for healing and inspiration, that MCLI put on a string of symposiums, attended by one and all, several at old Finn Hall, and for each we published a journal:
- The KKK, Nazis, Moral Majority and New Right – 1981
- The Right to Earn a Living in the United States – 1982
- Lift Every Voice for Civil Rights – 1983
- Free Speech Movement Anniversary – 1984
- Peace and Twenty – 1985
This culminated in the publishing of The Cold War Against Labor, a rich anthology by union organizers and rank-and-file members in many industries describing their struggle against employers and McCarthyites. (2 vols).
Since its inception, in 1988, Ginger co-authored The National Lawyers Guild: From Roosevelt Through Reagan with Eugene M. Tobin, documenting the achievements of the organization through this time.
In the late 1980’s, Ann Fagan Ginger began developing a new field of law – “Peace Law.” By 1992, MCLI began presenting expert testimony on the new field we pioneered — peace law. We helped get at least one acquittal in Utah, and one community service sentence (served at Meiklejohn). The Gulf War set us quickly on PeaceNet with the first legal analysis of “Blood, Oil and the Law re U.S. Troops in Saudi Arabia.”
In 1989, MCLI conducted Peace Law Training Sessions at UC Berkeley and at the American Association for Advancement of Science, Pacific Division in Chico, CA, and presented an MCLI petition on “Peace Law and Colonialism” to the 4th Committee of the General Assembly of U.N. This led to Peace Law Packets, collections of legal material from the Docket collection, on topics ranging from First Amendment Defense-State to Socially-Responsible Cities. MCLI published the Peace Law Almanac in 1991, creating a reference of legal texts for lawyers including the U.N. Charter, the U.S. Constitution, the Nuremberg Principles, the U.S. Army Field Manual, court opinions in U.S. v. Lt. Calley and Spock v. United States, and much more.
1991 – 2001 – MEIKLEJOHN CIVIL LIBERTIES INSTITUTE
In 1991, MCLI proposed Berkeley City Council Resolution: Responsibilities of the City in View of the War in Iraq, which was adopted.
MCLI’s founder and Executive Director Emerata has edited 22 books describing law suits and legislation to work on problems of nuclear weapons, draft law, labor union rights, police misconduct, racial and gender discrimination, etc.
MCLI strives to domestically enforce international law concerning nuclear weapons. Ann Ginger’s book, “Nuclear Weapons Are Illegal: The Historic Opinion of the World Court and How it Will Be Enforced” (Apex Press) has led to numerous think-and-action pieces by MCLI on nuclear weapons issues — at Lawrence Livermore and Berkeley Laboratories and in use of depleted uranium in Kosovo.
During the U.S./NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia, MCLI prepared numerous reports on the legal issues and relevant U.N. law and treaties, and participated in countless coalitions and teach-ins. MCLI presented U.N. charter law on public radio stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, and four stations in California.
After the events of September 11th, 2001, MCLI released numerous statements urging the United States to follow its commitments to peace and international law. MCLI also prepared “Challenging Human Rights Violations Since 9/11“, an award-winning book created by the research of interns and edited by Ann Fagan Ginger, detailing U.S. government violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The book was submitted by MCLI to the U.N. Human Rights Committee in 2006 as a “shadow” report, supplementing the U.S. report on compliance with ICCPR.
In 1998, MCLI presented “Building Democracy in the Aftermath of the Cold War: Lessons from the Events & the Survivors,” dedicated to the memory of Bella Abzug. The weekend began with a Reunion of victims and veterans of the Cold War and ended with the presentation of Honorable Discharges from the Cold War and Vietnam War and Registration Papers for the 21st century.
Anti-racism is a conscious goal of MCLI and is reflected in the content of our work as well as the members of our Board. For example, Vice President Rev. Daniel Buford taught workshops on undoing racism through Peoples Institute West and brings his expertise to the Development Committee, responsible for evaluating the effectiveness of our work and shaping our strategies. He also headed a project to bring government accountability to the “San Francisco Bay Area Toxic Triangle,” a trio of highly toxic sites located in African-American neighborhoods in Alameda, Contra Costa, and San Francisco Counties. The community residents have asked MCLI to provide technical support on strategy building and leadership skills to effectively engage local and federal government in the effort to clean up these sites. The Toxic Triangle is a demonstration project that can be emulated across the country. Towards this end, MCLI will create a template for filing complaints with the Office of Inspector General regarding “Environmental Racism,” an issue we’ve reported to the U.N. treaty committees since 1995.