This fall all are welcome to join UB School of Law Professor and The Baldy Center Director Samantha Barbas for the launch of her new book, "The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade." She will discuss Morris Ernst's contributions to law and his personal and professional contradictions. The event is free and open to the public with advance registration.
The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst: Free Speech Renegade by Samantha Barbas
University of Chicago Press (forthcoming, 2021)
In the 1930s and ’40s, Morris Ernst was one of the best-known liberal lawyers in the United States. An eminent attorney and general counsel of the ACLU for decades, Ernst was renowned for his audacious fights against literary and artistic censorship. He successfully defended Ulysses against obscenity charges, litigated groundbreaking reproductive rights cases, and supported the widespread broadening of protections for sexual expression, union organizing, and public speech. Yet this “human dynamo,” as friends called him, was also a man of stark contradictions, who also waged a personal battle against Communism, defended a foreign autocrat, and aligned himself with J. Edgar Hoover’s inflammatory crusades.
Arriving at a moment when issues of privacy, artistic freedom, and personal expression are freshly relevant, The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade brings this singularly complex figure into a timely new light. As Samantha Barbas’s eloquent and compelling biography makes ironically clear, Ernst both transformed free speech in America and inflicted damage to the cause of civil liberties. Drawing on Ernst’s voluminous cache of publications and papers, Barbas follows the life of this singular idealist from his pugnacious early career to his legal triumphs of the 1930s and ’40s and later-life turn toward zealous anticommunism. As she shows, today’s challenges to free speech and the exercise of political power make Morris Ernst’s battles as pertinent as ever.
“A lively and illuminating portrait of one of the major figures in the history of American civil liberties. Barbas captures Ernst in all his glory and complexity, revealing how a man who was once the country’s leading liberal lawyer became a red-baiter and Hoover ally. Meticulously researched and elegantly written, The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst is biography and legal history at its finest.” —Thomas Healy, author of The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America
“Does Morris Ernst need a biography? Yes, definitely. His is a fascinating story of a major civil libertarian who pioneered the expansion of freedom in American life then blew it all through obsessive anti-Communism. Barbas writes beautifully, and this lively, lucid book is a pleasure to read. More than that, her biography is especially significant today since so many of the issues Ernst fought against are still urgently relevant in American political discourse.” —Ellen Schrecker, author of The Lost Promise: American Universities in the 1960s
“How could one man have been both a leading defender of the First Amendment and an avid fan of J. Edgar Hoover? Barbas’s fascinating biography answers that question by telling the remarkable story of one of the nation’s most influential, and complicated, civil liberties lawyers.” —David Cole, national legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union
“Ernst was a singular warrior for the freedom of expression, ultimately undone by his paradoxical embrace of Hoover and McCarthy. Barbas’s biography is a sharp, fast-paced account of a twentieth-century civil libertarian who fought for causes that are still vital today.” —Nadine Strossen, author of HATE: Why We Should Resist It with Free Speech, Not Censorship
Samantha Barbas, PhD, JD, is the Director of The Baldy Center for Law and Social Policy and Professor of Law at the University at Buffalo School of Law. Barbas holds a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of California, Berkeley, and a J.D. from Stanford Law School. Barbas is the author of several books and her sixth book about ACLU lawyer Morris Ernst is from the University of Chicago Press (May 2021). Learn more about the author.