The Rise and Fall of Morris Ernst, Free Speech Renegade
by Samantha Barbas
University of Chicago Press, 2021
eISBN: 978-0-226-65818-6 | Cloth: 978-0-226-65804-9

ABOUT THIS BOOK | AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY
ABOUT THIS BOOK
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.

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