Morris Leopold Ernst
(1888 – 1976) was an American
lawyer and co-founder of the American Civil Liberties
He was born in Uniontown, Alabama on Aug. 23, 1888, but lived in
various locations around New York City from the age of 2.
attended the Horace Mann
School and graduated from Williams College in 1909.
admitted to the bar in 1913 after studying law at night.
Ernst practiced law in New York City and in 1915 co-founded the law
firm of Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst. In 1917, he helped found the
National Civil Liberties
, which would later become the American Civil Liberties
From 1929 to 1959, he shared the title of general counsel at the
ACLU with Arthur Garfield Hays
He became vice chairman of the ACLU's board in 1955.
In 1933, on behalf of Random House
successfully defended James Joyce
charges, leading to its
distribution in the U.S. He was compensated with royalties on the
sales of the book, ultimately earning several hundred thousand
dollars. He won similar cases on behalf of Radclyffe Hall
's The Well of Loneliness
In 1937, as attorney for the American Newspaper Guild
, he persuaded
the Supreme Cort to uphold the constitutionality of the National Labor Relations Act
(the Wagner Act) as applied to the press, establishing the right of
media employees to organize labor unions.
Ernst was a strong supporter of J.
Edgar Hoover and the FBI.
In 1940, as head of the ACLU, he agreed to
from employment there and
even discouraged their membership, basing his position on a
distinction between the rights of the individual and the rights of
He counted Justice Brandeis as a close friend and later had close
personal relationships with Presidents Franklin Roosevelt
and Harry Truman
and New York Governor Herbert Lehman
Perhaps his most controversial case found him on the opposite side
from his political allies. In 1956, Jesus de Galindez, a critic of the
regime of Rafael Trujillo in the
Republic, disappeared, abducted from New York City, it was
charged, by Trujillo's agents.
Ernst defended the Trujillo
regime citing the fundamental princcpal that every defendant has a
right to counsel.
He kept a
summer home on Nantucket and enjoyed sailing small boats.
He died at
home in New York City on May 21, 1976.
Ernst's papers are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
Published Works (partial list)
- The Best is Yet (1945)
- So Far, So Good (1948)
- Touch Wood: A Year's Diary (1960)
- Untitled: The Diary of my 72nd Year (1962)
- A Love Affair with the Law