For Immediate Release

Organization Profile: 

National Lawyers Guild Files Amicus Curiae Brief in Hammer v. John D. Ashcroft, et al.

National Lawyers Guild filed an amicus curiae (“friend of the court”)
brief in the Supreme Court on November 27 in the case of Hammer v. John
D. Ashcroft, et al., in support of death row inmates’ right to
person-to-person meetings with reporters.

The Guild's brief
focuses on the fact that the current Bureau of Prison’s (BOP)
proscription of in-person communication is inappropriately based on the
anticipation that the speech will be offensive to government officials
and the public discourse. The BOP’s interest in preserving security
within the penal system does not permit it to censor speech absent a
legitimate concern to justify the restriction of this fundamental right
to free speech and free association.

The general public has a right to hear, through the media, first-hand
accounts of current conditions in prison, whether they reveal unsafe
and abusive behavior or simply the banal realities of life on death row
and what brought them there. In-person communication also affords the
wrongly accused a forum to proclaim their innocence. Lack of direct
access to the media decreases the chance that claims of innocence will
be heard and investigated.

The NLG brief argues that in Hammer v. Ashcroft, the Supreme Court has
the opportunity to uphold the fundamental right to free speech and to
afford transparency to the penal system’s workings by reversing a
recent trend of curtailing inmate’s rights.  The brief notes, “This
Court’s past decisions granting deference to corrections officials are
premised upon a limited judicial role in policymaking.  But the wisdom
of the Constitution in leaving policy decisions to the more
democratically responsive branches is undermined if this Court does not
uphold First Amendment principles that ensure an informed public, able
to serve as a meaningful check on those branches and the danger of
policymaking based on prejudice rather than facts.”


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The brief
was authored by Professor Zachary Wolfe of the George Washington
University and NLG Executive Director Heidi Boghosian.

National Lawyers Guild was founded in 1937 and is the oldest and
largest public interest/human rights bar organization in the United
States. Its headquarters are in New York and it has chapters in every

View the full text of the amicus brief at


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The National Lawyers Guild is dedicated to the need for basic and progressive change in the structure of our political and economic system. Through its members--lawyers, law students, jailhouse lawyers and legal workers united in chapters and committees--the Guild works locally, nationally and internationally as an effective political and social force in the service of the people.

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