Pollak, Walter H.

A prominent New York lawyer, Pollak was an able defender of the rights of citizens whose activities or opinions were unpopular in American society. He argued two important freedom of speech cases before the Supreme Court.

The descendant of cultured European Jewish immigrants, Pollak graduated from Harvard in 1907 and from Harvard Law School in 1910. He was associated with several New York City law firms and practiced briefly with Benjamin N. Cardozo, who would later become a Supreme Court justice. During World War I (1917-1918), Pollak served with the War Industries Board. He accepted other state and federal public service assignments as well, most notably with the New York Park Commission (1929-1939), the state’s Law Revision Commission (1934-1940), and the National (Wickersham) Commission on Law Observance and Enforcement (1929-1931).Speech, freedom ofSpeech, freedom of

Pollak is best remembered, however, for his work in numerous civil libertiesCivil rights and liberties cases during the 1920’s and 1930’s. He helped in the defense of John Scopes in the famous “monkey trial” involving evolution in 1925. He argued before the Court two of the most important freedom of speech cases in U.S. history, Gitlow v. New York[case]Gitlow v. New York[Gitlow v. New York] (1925) and Whitney v. California[case]Whitney v. California[Whitney v. California] (1927). In the former, Pollak made the pioneering argument that the First Amendment freedoms of speech and the press were part of the “liberty” that no state could infringe under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although the Court upheld Gitlow’s conviction under New York’s criminal anarchy statute, it accepted the highly significant “incorporation” argument that Pollak had advanced. In 1932 and 1935 Pollak returned to the Court to defend successfully the “Scottsboro boys,” a group of young African Americans sentenced to death, after a patently unfair Alabama trial, for an alleged sexual assault on two white women.

Civil rights and liberties

First Amendment speech tests

Gitlow v. New York

Incorporation doctrine

Powell v. Alabama

Whitney v. California