People's Electric: Engaged Legal Education at Rutgers-Newark Law School in the 1960s and 1970s

By Conk, George W. | Fordham Urban Law Journal, November 2012 | Go to article overview

People's Electric: Engaged Legal Education at Rutgers-Newark Law School in the 1960s and 1970s


Conk, George W., Fordham Urban Law Journal


Why Newark?
  Impact Litigation
  In Tune with the Times
  Affirmative Action
  Clinical Education and Affirmative Action
  Urban Legal Clinic
  Administrative Process Project
  Women's Rights Litigation Clinic
  Education Law
  Mt. Laurel--Open Housing
  Conspiracy on Trial--The Chicago Eight
  Constitutional Litigation Clinic
  PELS Grads in the Office of the Public Defender
Looking Back

WHY NEWARK?

The Ames Moot Court Room at Harvard Law School was packed on a Friday night in September 1969. An overflow crowd rallied for the Chicago Eight. Professor Arthur Kinoy, defendant John Froines, and Tom Hayden's defense attorney Leonard Weinglass reported on the courtroom confrontation that was front-page news every day. T-shirts and buttons saying "Join The Conspiracy" sold quickly. A motley crew of anti-war movement and "Black Power" leaders were charged with conspiracy to cross state lines to incite a riot at the 1968 Chicago Democratic Convention. ""Kinoy's stem-winder roused the young crowd--and me, fresh from two years in the Peace Corps in India and a graduate student of radical historian Howard Zinn. Like many other young activists--male and female--I changed course and applied to Rutgers-Newark, somewhere across the Rubicon in New Jersey. Kinoy had promised nights in the library until midnight, fighting to protect the "most fundamental principles, now under attack." We weren't disappointed. (1)

Three great shifts were underway, and Newark's legal community and Rutgers Law School were at the heart of it all. African Americans' demands for an end to poverty and discrimination, the anti-war movement, and the women's liberation movement converged. Civil rights and liberties were the long-standing focus of three leading civil rights movement lawyers--Professor Arthur Kinoy, William Kunstler, and Morton Stavis. They were experienced and successful advocates who frequently and sometimes with spectacular success had represented civil rights workers in the south and before the U.S. Supreme Court. (2) They founded the Law Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which had its first office on Branford Place, across the street from Hobbie's deli, a pastrami palace that fed much of Newark's bar. (3)

In the middle and late 1960s, disappointment with the slow pace of change--particularly economic change--led African Americans to join a series of civil disturbances--urban riots--mostly in major cities. Prompted in part by Urban Renewal projects (often criticized as "Negro removal" projects) that cleared large residential areas, the disturbances in Newark were particularly severe. The state National Guard patrolled the streets, and there were deaths and widespread property damage. (4) Rutgers Law School's new building had itself sparked controversy in and out of the school as protesters demanded jobs for African American and Latino construction workers. (5)

African American law students--who had been recruited--staged a dramatic protest that led to the establishment of a committee with the extravagant name "The Tripartite Commission." There, faculty members, African American students, and others met to discuss the law school's role in the current crisis. The results would shape Rutgers Law School: a Minority Student Program was created. (6)

"Poverty law," civil rights and liberties, women's rights, employment discrimination, and public education were the loci of legal education at Rutgers-Newark. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Rutgers-Newark--which we affectionately called People's Electric--presented a model of engaged legal education that was and is unique. To my knowledge, no other law school has been so thoroughly characterized by a broad progressive social agenda.

Rutgers-Newark changed the profile of who became lawyers: the school was far ahead of the curve in admitting women. In 1971 the entering class was 40% women, the second largest percentage in the country. …

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