Civil liberties without Steve Shapiro is like the Rolling Stones without Jagger. — Kathleen Sullivan
He is a giant in his world, the world of civil liberties. For some two decades he has been the man at the helm of defending freedom on various fronts ranging from free speech to NSA surveillance and more, much more. His journey began 40 years ago as a staff counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union.
He is Steven R. Shapiro.
Sometime this fall Shapiro will step down as the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. He has long been the one ultimately responsible for the ACLU’s entire legal program. Equally significant, Shapiro has been most closely involved with the ACLU’s Supreme Court docket. Ever since 1987, he helped to shape, edit, and occasionally write every ACLU brief to the Supreme Court.
- Law Clerk (1975-1976 ) Judge J. Edward Lumbard, Court of Appeals, Second Circuit
- J.D. (1975), Harvard Law School, magna cum laude.
- B.A. (1972), Columbia College
→ Since 1995 Shapiro has served as an adjunct professor at Columbia Law School, where he has taught “Civil Liberties & the Response to Terrorism,” and “Free Speech and the Internet.”
→ Shapiro is a member of the Board of Directors of Human Rights First and the Policy Committee of Human Rights Watch, as well as the Advisory Committees of the U.S. Program and Asia Program of Human Rights Watch.
→ Steven Shapiro, “The Roberts Court and the Future of Civil Liberties,” Houston Law Center, April 20, 2012
→ Natalie Singer, “Freedom Fighter, A conversation with Steven R. Shapiro ’75“
→ SCOTUSblog on Camera: Steven R. Shapiro (complete six-part series here)
The Measure of the Man: What Others Say
I invited a few of those who know Steve Shapiro and are familiar with his work to offer a few comments. Before proceeding to their full comments, I selected a set of words drawn from them that capture the measure of the man: Here are those seven words:
Nadine Strossen: “Steve Shapiro has been a supremely thoughtful, lucid, persuasive advocate of First Amendment rights and other civil liberties, both orally and in writing. Whether he is serving as Counsel of Record on a Supreme Court brief or giving a sound-bite for the national media, he always presents even the most complex, controversial positions clearly, colorfully, and compellingly.”
Robert Corn-Revere: “Through his long career in defending civil liberties, and First Amendment rights in particular, Steve Shapiro demonstrated that protecting individual rights often requires championing the right to express ideas you abhor, but that doing so is necessary to protect basic freedoms. For those of us who had the privilege of working with him, his principled advocacy will be greatly missed.”
Burt Neuborne: “Steve Shapiro set the standard for all once and future ACLU Legal Directors. I know because I didn’t reach his standard. Steve has a precise and uncannily quick analytic mind that breaks complex fact patterns down into controllable issues, together with a keen strategic sense that accurately separates a good academic argument from an argument having a chance in the real world. Couple Steve’s extraordinary legal ability with his careful approach to administration, unflappable good humor, patience, and deeply principled commitment to the ACLU, and you have the key to his enormous success. He leaves office with the respect and affection of hundreds of lawyers whose work he aided, and with the knowledge that he performed one of the nation’s most important legal tasks with brilliance and humanity.”
Erwin Chemerinsky: “Steve Shapiro has done a truly spectacular job as Legal Director of the ACLU. The ACLU legal staff has grown tremendously and likewise benefitted greatly under his leadership and has made a huge difference in so many areas of law. He has been especially effective in directing the ACLU’s presence in the Supreme Court.”
Kathleen Sullivan: “Over his remarkable tenure Steve’s energy, intellect, and suppleness enabled the ACLU to navigate profound changes in the landscape of security, privacy, and freedom. It has always been a joy to work with him.”
Paul M. Smith: “It has been my privilege and pleasure to work with Steve Shapiro on a large number of projects over the years. For a quarter century, he has been on the job at the ACLU displaying a breadth of knowledge and a depth of wisdom that has been extraordinary.”
Arthur Spitzer: “At a recent ACLU Nationwide Staff Conference where Steve Shapiro’s forthcoming retirement was announced, the event planners handed out cardboard fans that said, ‘We’re all fans of Steve.’ The humor may not have been brilliantly original, but I think no one disagreed with the sentiment. Steve is a terrific lawyer, often seeing the deep problems in a case before anyone else and then seeing the way around them. But I think his even greater value to the ACLU has been his ability to be an honest broker among all the competing viewpoints within the ACLU. As far as I’ve been able to perceive (although from afar, at the local affiliate in DC), everyone feels that Steve understands and appreciates his or her concerns, weighs them fairly, and takes them into account, even if not ultimately agreeing. That will be a hard act to follow.”
One Measure of His Work: Free Expression Cases
Below is a list of all the free speech cases (not all First Amendment cases) in the Supreme Court where the ACLU filed or signed onto a brief in the last ten terms. The direct cases are marked by an asterisk; all the others are amicus briefs.
- Williams-Yulee v. Florida Bar (supporting petitioner) [amicus brief]
- Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- United States v. Apel* (co-counsel for respondent) [reply brief]
- Wood v. Moss* (co-counsel for respondent) [reply brief]
- Lane v. Franks (supporting petitioner) [amicus brief]
- McCullen v. Coakley (brief in support of neither party) [amicus brief]
- Agency for International Development v. Alliance of Open Society International, Inc. (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Reichle v. Howards (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- FCC v. Fox Television Stations, Inc. (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- United States v. Alvarez (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Snyder v. Phelps (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Ass’n (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Citizens United v. FEC (supporting petitioner on the assumption that Austin was reaffirmed) [amicus brief]
- United States v. Stevens (supporting respondent) [ACLU video clip here] [amicus brief]
- Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Morse v. Frederick* (co-counsel for respondent) [Respondent’s brief]
- FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (supporting appellee) [amicus brief]
- Wisconsin Right to Life v. FEC (supporting appellant) [amicus brief]
- Rumsfeld v. FAIR (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Garcetti v. Ceballos (supporting respondent) [amicus brief]
- Randall v. Sorrell (co-counsel for petitioner) [amicus brief]
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