Ann Fagan Ginger

Relentless advocate for Communist lawyers hunted during the McCarthy Era, founder of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, scholar, professor, activist, pioneer, editor of numerous civil liberties publications, and Guild historian, Ann Fagan Ginger has been revered as tireless and inspirational - “one of liberty’s staunchest champions.” Others have known Ginger as wife, mother, sister, daughter, and friend.

As biogapher Noriko Bridges writes, Ginger’s “eclectic” upbringing in an intellectual, socialist environment during the Great Depression era significantly contributed to her impulse to challenge the status quo and demand social justice. In East Lansing, Michigan, her parents were known as “the town radicals” who organized workers into the United Automobile Workers Union (CIO) and disseminated socialist ideas through weekly publications in their own newspaper, the News of Lansing. Influenced by her parents, Ginger “learned early that attending meetings was what grown-ups do,” and that political engagement and organization was a staple of life. By the age of thirteen, Ginger ran the News of Lansing linotype.

Even as Ginger worked her way through college at the University of Michigan, she “aroused FBI interest for a column in the Michigan Daily exposing Henry Ford’s ties to the German-American Bund and to the deaths of Ford auto workers.” In law school, Ann organized the first post-war student chapter of the National Lawyers Guild. Being one of seven women in a class of 150 (1945-47), Ginger embraced a personal challenge to defy the odds prescribed to her as a woman in a male-privileging society, while in the meantime, being conscientious of her relative privilege compared to Women of Color. In 1947, Ann passed the Michigan Bar and began working for the NLG in Detroit.

As the second Red Scare went into full swing by the turn of the decade, and the House Un-American Activities Committee defined Communism as a crime and pressured the American Bar Association to purge Communist lawyers, Ginger defiantly rose up. In Ohio v. Morgan, Ginger defended a faculty’s wife against the Ohio Un-American Activities Committee in the US Supreme Court and won. Ginger also refused to sign “a non-Communist oath demanded of applicants to the bar,” as well as “a like proviso” that prevented Ginger from practicing law in California until 1972.

In 1960, Ginger earned her LLM at UC Berkeley, and continued to publish articles in many periodicals including Lawyers Guild Review, Science and Society, Cornell Law Quarterly, Forensic Quarterly, as well as various international journals. In 1965, Ginger founded the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute (with the permission of its namesake, civil libertarian Alexander Meiklejohn), to support the work of progressive lawyers and clients, and to help them share and disseminate information on constitutional law and civil rights. In 1972, the Institute expanded its operations to include International Human Rights.

Through the 1960s to present, Ginger wrote and published many books, including The Relevant Lawyers: Conversations Out of Court on their Clients, their Practice, their Politics, their Life Style (1972), which features candid interviews with radical lawyers; The Law, the Supreme Court, and the People’s Rights (1977); The Cold War Against Labor (1987); Nuclear Weapons Are Illegal: the Historic Opinion of the World Court and How it Will Be Enforced (1998); Challenging U.S. Human Rights Violations since 9/11 (2005), as well as other books on human rights law, and served as editor of publications The National Lawyers Guild from Roosevelt through Reagan (1988), Landmark Cases Left Out of Your Textbooks (2006), The Living Constitution (2007), Undoing the Bush-Cheney Legacy: A Tool Kit for Congress and Activists (2008), and more.

Ginger has taught as a visiting professor to many schools since 1972, including UC Hastings, University of Santa Clara, San Francisco State, New College, Puget Sound, and Mills College. She is also considered to be a key person in the creation and success of the National Lawyers Guild’s law journal, The Guild Practitioner (now the Guild Review), which E.A. Dawley describes as “the Bible of the progressive lawyer.” As Dawley writes, “God is or might be dead, but Ginger is not; and she still bestrides the left world like a colossus, exemplifying and explaining why men for so many ages have been reluctant to ‘grant’ ‘equal rights’ to women.”

As soon as the Guild joined the International Association of Democratic Lawyers and later the American Association of Jurists, Ginger arranged to participate actively in all of their international meetings – in Beijing, Durban, Lima, et al.

Ginger served as the first chair of the Berkeley City Commission on Peace and Justice that administers the city’s anti-nuclear ordinance and is the first in the U.S. to file reports with the three U.N. human rights committees that administer the treaties the U.S. has ratified.

Ginger’s older son, Tom, as a student, helped integrate his law school, the University of Mississippi, then practiced law in Little Rock before multiple sclerosis led to his early death. Ginger’s younger son, Jim, is a warehouseman at night and a pro-union thinker and writer in the daytime. Ginger’s partner, author Richard Challacombe, was a conscientious objector in World War II.

Ginger has tirelessly devoted her life to fighting for civil liberties and social justice, as well as publishing paper trails to immortalize the legacy of progressive lawyers’ accomplishments. To this day, she continues to engage in political activism through direct action and delivering speeches, appearing in the news pictured under headlines of protests.

Speaking Freely: Ann Fagan Ginger from National Lawyers Guild on Vimeo.

More resources:
History of the Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute
Books by Ann Fagan Ginger
LawPress Bio