Harold I. Cammer

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Harold I. Cammer
Harold I Cammer at Atlantic City rally.jpg
Cammer speaking at a rally in Atlantic City, N.J.
Born(1909-06-18)June 18, 1909
Manhattan, New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedOctober 21, 1995(1995-10-21) (aged 86)
Mamaroneck, New York, U.S.
EducationJD Harvard Law School
Alma mater City College
EmployerBoudin & Wittenberg (1932–1933), Zalkin & Cohen (1933–1936), Liebman, Robbins, Pressman & Leider (1936–1941), Witt & Cammer (1941-1948), Pressman, Witt & Cammer (1948–1949), Witt & Cammer, Cammer & Shapiro
Known fordefender of Ware Group members Nathan Witt, Lee Pressman, John Abt
Notable workCo-founder National Lawyers Guild
Spouse(s)Florence Glantz
ChildrenRobert Cammer, Margaret Cammer

Harold I. Cammer (June 18, 1909 – October 21, 1995) was an American lawyer who co-founded the National Lawyers Guild. He was known for his participation in labor law, civil rights, peace and justice issues, and freedom of speech cases; in particular, defending those accused of communist leanings.

Americans citizens, or natives, of the United States of America

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Lawyer legal professional who helps clients and represents them in a court of law

A lawyer or attorney is a person who practices law, as an advocate, attorney, attorney at law, barrister, barrister-at-law, bar-at-law, civil law notary, counsel, counselor, counsellor, counselor at law, solicitor, chartered legal executive, or public servant preparing, interpreting and applying law, but not as a paralegal or charter executive secretary. Working as a lawyer involves the practical application of abstract legal theories and knowledge to solve specific individualized problems, or to advance the interests of those who hire lawyers to perform legal services.

National Lawyers Guild

The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) is a progressive public interest association of lawyers, law students, paralegals, jailhouse lawyers, law collective members, and other activist legal workers, in the United States. The group was founded in 1937 as an alternative to the American Bar Association (ABA) in protest of that organization's exclusionary membership practices and conservative political orientation. They were the first US bar association to allow the admission of minorities to their ranks. The group sought to bring more lawyers closer to the labor movement and progressive political activities, to support and encourage lawyers otherwise "isolated and discouraged," and to help create a "united front" against Fascism.



Cammer was born in June 1909 in the borough of Manhattan in New York City to Harry and Anne (Boriskin) Cammer, Jewish immigrants from the Russian Empire. [1] [2] He attended New York City public schools and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 from City College. [2] He attended Harvard Law School on a full scholarship, [3] receiving a Doctor of Law degree (cum laude) in 1932. [2]

Manhattan Borough in New York City and county in New York, United States

Manhattan, often referred to locally as the City, is the most densely populated of the five boroughs of New York City and its economic and administrative center, cultural identifier, and historical birthplace. The borough is coextensive with New York County, one of the original counties of the U.S. state of New York. The borough consists mostly of Manhattan Island, bounded by the Hudson, East, and Harlem rivers; several small adjacent islands; and Marble Hill, a small neighborhood now on the U.S. mainland, physically connected to the Bronx and separated from the rest of Manhattan by the Harlem River. Manhattan Island is divided into three informally bounded components, each aligned with the borough's long axis: Lower, Midtown, and Upper Manhattan.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States and in the U.S. state of New York. With an estimated 2017 population of 8,622,698 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 20,320,876 people in its 2017 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 23,876,155 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire, also known as Imperial Russia or simply Russia, was an empire that existed across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.


New Deal

Nathan Witt (center), Cammer's future partner, with NLRB Chair J. Warren Madden (left) and NLRB Chief Counsel Charles Fahy (right) (1937) Madden witt fahy.jpg
Nathan Witt (center), Cammer's future partner, with NLRB Chair J. Warren Madden (left) and NLRB Chief Counsel Charles Fahy (right) (1937)

Cammer began practicing law with the firm of Boudin & Wittenberg from 1932 to 1933, and Zalkin & Cohen from 1933 to 1936. [2] [3] In 1936, he joined his long-time friend Lee Pressman in the firm of Liebman, Robbins, Pressman & Leider, and stayed with the firm until 1941. [2] After his friend, Nathan Witt, resigned from the National Labor Relations Board following accusations in December 1940 that he was a member of the Communist Party (CPUSA), Cammer formed the law firm of Witt & Cammer in 1941. [2] [4] [5] [6]

Lee Pressman American spy

Lee Pressman was a labor attorney and earlier a US government functionary, publicly exposed in 1948 as a spy for Soviet intelligence during the mid-1930s, following his recent departure from Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) as a result of its purge of Communist Party members and fellow travelers. From 1936 to 1948, he represented the CIO and member unions in landmark collective bargaining deals with major corporations including General Motors and U.S. Steel. According to journalist Murray Kempton, anti-communists referred to him as "Comrade Big."

Nathan Witt Lawyer, former Secretary of the U.S. National Labor Relations Board

Nathan Witt, born Nathan Wittowsky, was an American lawyer who is best known as being the Secretary of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) from 1937 to 1940. He resigned from the NLRB after his communist political beliefs were exposed and he was accused of manipulating the Board's policies to favor his own political leanings. He was also investigated several times in the late 1940s and 1950s for being a spy for the Soviet Union in the 1930s. No evidence of espionage was ever found.

National Labor Relations Board

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is an independent agency of the Federal government of the United States with responsibilities for enforcing U.S. labor law in relation to collective bargaining and unfair labor practices. Under the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 it supervises elections for labor union representation and can investigate and remedy unfair labor practices. Unfair labor practices may involve union-related situations or instances of protected concerted activity. The NLRB is governed by a five-person board and a General Counsel, all of whom are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. Board members are appointed to five-year terms and the General Counsel is appointed to a four-year term. The General Counsel acts as a prosecutor and the Board acts as an appellate quasi-judicial body from decisions of administrative law judges.


Cammer interrupted his legal career to serve in the United States military during World War II. [3]

Hiss Case etc.

After the war, Cammer returned to the firm of Witt & Cammer, with offices at 9 East 40th Street, New York City.

During 1948, Pressman formed Pressman, Witt & Cammer; Bella Abzug started her career there.[ citation needed ]

Bella Abzug American politician

Bella Savitzky Abzug, nicknamed "Battling Bella", was an American lawyer, U.S. Representative, social activist and a leader of the Women's Movement. In 1971, Abzug joined other leading feminists such as Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Betty Friedan to found the National Women's Political Caucus.

On August 20, 1948, Cammer represented Ware Group members Witt, Pressman, and John Abt before HUAC, less than a week before on the famous "Confrontation Day" hearing of HUAC in which Alger Hiss and Whittaker Chambers faced each other publicly for the first time. [7] Chambers described the day as follows:

The Ware group was a covert organization of Communist Party USA operatives within the United States government in the 1930s, run first by Harold Ware (1889–1935) and then by Whittaker Chambers (1901–1961) after Ware's accidental death on August 13, 1935.

John Jacob Abt was an American lawyer and politician, who spent most of his career as chief counsel to the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and was accused of membership in the Communist Party and the Soviet spy network called the "Ware Group".

Alger Hiss Alleged Soviet agent and American diplomat (1904–1996)

Alger Hiss was an American government official who was accused of being a Soviet spy in 1948 and convicted of perjury in connection with this charge in 1950. Before he was tried and convicted, he was involved in the establishment of the United Nations both as a U.S. State Department official and as a U.N. official. In later life he worked as a lecturer and author.

On August 10th, a trio of witnesses collectively more interesting than [Henry] Collins appeared before the Committee. They were Lee Pressman, who had been a member of the Ware Group, Nathan Witt and John Abt, each of whom, in succession, had been its head. Witt and Abt were now law partners in New York City. Each was accompanied at his hearing by an attorney, Mr. Harold Cammer, a partner in the law firm of Nathan, Witt and Cammer. [8]

The firm changed its name briefly to Pressman, Witt & Cammer after Lee Pressman joined it in 1948, [9] But Pressman became caught up in the Hiss Case. HUAC began investigating Pressman and Witt (also a member of the group) and the stress began to wear Pressman down, even causing him to become paranoid to a degree. [9] Pressmen left the firm peremptorily in 1949. [9] Testifying again before HUAC in 1950, Pressman named Witt as a member of the CPUSA and the Ware group. [10] Cammer represented Witt and fellow attorney John Abt before HUAC in the 1950 hearings. [11]

Cammer's client Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, shown here (center) in 1913 photo with Paterson silk strike leaders Patrick Quinlan and Carlo Tresca left and Adolph Lessig and Bill Haywood right Paterson strike leaders.jpg
Cammer's client Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, shown here (center) in 1913 photo with Paterson silk strike leaders Patrick Quinlan and Carlo Tresca left and Adolph Lessig and Bill Haywood right

In 1951, Cammer joined more than half a dozen other lawyers in defending 17 Communist Party members, including Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. The communists were accused of charged conspiring to "teach and advocate violent overthrow" of the government. The other lawyers were: Abraham L. Pomerantz, Carol Weiss King, Victor Rabinowitz, Michael Begun, Mary Kaufman, Leonard Boudin, and Abraham Unger. Later, they were relieved by O. John Rogge, gangster Frank Costello's lawyer George Wolf, William W. Kleinman, Joseph L. Delaney, Frank Serri, Osmond K. Fraenkel, Henry G. Singer, Abraham J. Gellinoff, Raphael P. Koenig, and Nicholas Atlas. [12]

Later career

Cammer's legal practice focused on labor law. Among his clients were the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), [3] the United Brewery Workers union, [3] the Teachers Guild (a forerunner to the United Federation of Teachers of New York City), [13] the Teachers Union [14] (a local union which had been ejected by the American Federation of Teachers for being communist-dominated and which, in the 1950s, belonged to the United Public Workers of America), [13] the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers, [9] the International Fur & Leather Workers Union, [9] the Bakery, Confectionery and Tobacco Workers union, [9] the International Woodworkers of America, [9] the United Public Workers of America, [9] and the Amalgamated Meat Cutters. [3] In 1945, he also helped represent the Seamen's Joint Action Committee, a CIO-backed insurgent group which allied with three CIO longshoremen's unions to challenge corrupt International Longshoremen's Association president Joseph Ryan. [15] In many cases, he represented union members and others who had been accused of being members of the CPUSA or harboring communist views. [3] In 1968, Cammer played a different role in labor union issues. He served as the New York City Public Schools trial examiner in a case involving several teachers disciplined outside the collective bargaining agreement with the United Federation of Teachers. [16] [17] His involvement was part of the circumstances which led to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville strike.

Cammer was chief defense counsel for Fur and Leather Workers' Union President Ben Gold after Gold was accused of lying when he submitted his Taft-Hartley Act-required anti-communist oath. Cammer was held in contempt of court in June 1954 for sending a questionnaire to potential grand jurors in the case. [18] Although Cammer lost his appeal, a unanimous Supreme Court of the United States overturned his conviction in Cammer v. United States , 350 U.S. 399 (1956). [19] [20] [21] After Witt retired, Ralph Shapiro was elevated to partner and Cammer's firm changed its name to Cammer & Shapiro.

Cammer retired from an active legal practice in the mid-1980s. [3]


In 1937, Cammer was one of the co-founders of the National Lawyers Guild, [1] [22] the nation's first racially integrated bar association and an organization dedicated to achieving economic, racial, and social justice through the legal system. [23] [24]

The National Lawyers Guild was branded a communist front by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Justice, and (later) the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). [22] [25] [26]

Pro Bono

Cammer was interested in more than labor law issues. He worked as a pro bono attorney in the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s. [1] [3] He also defended nearly 700 students arrested during the Columbia University protests of 1968. [1] [3] Cammer and his son, Robert Cammer (also an attorney) were members of the Lawyers Committee on American Policy Towards Vietnam. In 1965, they wrote a widely circulated memorandum entitled "American Policy Vis-a-Vis Vietnam" which concluded that American involvement in the Vietnam War was illegal. [1] [3]

Personal and death

Cammer married the former Florence Glantz on January 25, 1936; the couple had two children, Robert and Margaret. [2] He died at his home in Mamaroneck, New York, on October 21, 1995. He was survived by his wife, son, daughter, grandson, and two great-granddaughters. [3]

Cammer's papers are held at the Tamiment Library and Robert F. Wagner Archives at New York University. [27]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Harold Cammer". Jewish Currents. January 1995. p. 6.Missing or empty |url= (help)
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Who's Who in New York City and State. New York: L. R. Hamersly Co. 1947. p. 155.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 Van Gelder, Lawrence (25 October 1995). "Harold Cammer, 86, Champion of Labor and Rights Lawyer". New York Times. Retrieved 25 November 2010.
  4. "Split in Two-Man Board Balks NLRB Resignation". New York Times. 21 November 1940.
  5. "Witt Ends Work With NLRB". New York Times. 12 December 1940.
  6. "NLRB Employees Deny Any Communist Ties". New York Times. 24 December 1940.
  7. "Hearings Regarding Communist Espionage in the United States Government". U.S. House of Representatives. 80th Cong., 2d sess. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, July 31-September 9, 1948 (via Archive.org). Retrieved 18 November 2012.
  8. Chambers, Whittaker (1952). Witness. New York: Random House. p. 622.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Gall, Gilbert U. (1999). Pursuing Justice: Lee Pressman, the New Deal, and the CIO. Albany: State University of New York Press. pp. 256–257 (Pressman paranoia and departure), 313–314 (Pressman joins).
  10. "Pressman Names Three in New Deal As Reds With Him". New York Times. 29 August 1950.
  11. Abt, John J. (1994). Advocate and Activist: Memoirs of an American Communist Lawyer. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. p. 173.
  12. "Judge Relieves Defense Aides In Red Trial". Washington Post. 9 August 1951. p. 2.
  13. 1 2 Zitron, Celia Lewis (1969). The New York City Teachers Union, 1916-1964. New York: Humanities Press. p. 248.
  14. "Jansen Questions Six More Teachers". New York Times. 25 April 1950. p. 3.|access-date= requires |url= (help)
  15. Bell, Daniel (2000). The End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. pp. 198–199.
  16. Edgell, Derek (1998). The Movement for Community Control of New York City's Schools, 1966-1970: Class Wars. Lewiston, NY: E. Mellen Press. p. 324.
  17. Buder, Leonard (24 January 1969). "State Unit Backs Teachers' Charge". New York Times.
  18. "Gold's Lawyer Fined". New York Times. 16 June 1954.
  19. "Ben Gold's Lawyer Loses on Contempt". Associated Press. 6 May 1955.
  20. "Lawyer to Get Hearing". Associated Press. 11 October 1955.
  21. "High Court Voids Contempt Charge". New York Times. 13 March 1956.
  22. 1 2 Heard, Alex (2010). The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South. New York: Harper. p. 159.
  23. Lobel, Jules (2003). Success Without Victory: Lost Legal Battles and the Long Road to Justice in America. New York: New York University Press. p. 2.
  24. Swidler, Joseph Charles; Henderson, A. Scott (2002). Power and the Public Interest: The Memoirs of Joseph C. Swidler. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press. p. 243.
  25. Finan, Christopher M. (2007). From the Palmer Raids to the Patriot Act: A History of the Fight for Free Speech in America. Boston: Beacon Press. p. 223.
  26. Dyzenhaus, David; Moreau, Sophia Reibetanz; Ripstein, Arthur (2007). Law and Morality: Readings in Legal Philosophy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. p. 711.
  27. "Harold Cammer Papers". New York University.

See also

External sources

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