Names matter. A single name can evoke a legal challenge that shaped our justice system. Each serves as a reminder that the course of history is changed by the courage of everyday people. Here a few of the people whose efforts helped make civil liberties history in Washington.
Larry W. Baggett Refuses To Sign a Loyalty Oath
During the Cold War, Lawrence W. Baggett, a University of Washington mathematician, was the first in a long list of individuals who joined together to challenge the University of Washington’s requirement that its faculty members swear an oath of loyalty to the United States and declare that they were not subversive.
In 1964, the U.S. Supreme Court in Baggett v. Bullitt agreed with the ACLU of Washington’s argument that such laws violate the First Amendment rights of free speech and association.
Stokely Carmichael Wins Free Speech Case
African-American leader Stokely Carmichael wanted to rent Garfield High School’s auditorium for a speech in 1967, but the Seattle School Board refused. The ACLU-WA represented him in a successful lawsuit, Carmichael v. Bottomley, and he spoke to an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 people.
Carmichael, who coined the term Black Power, later changed to his name to Kwame Touré and became a leader in the Pan-African movement. He died in Conakry, Guinea, in 1998.
John Singer Seeks Equal Right To Marry
Represented by the ACLU-WA, John Singer and Paul Barwick sought the right to marry in 1972, in the first (and unsuccessful) such suit in Washington (Singer v. Hara).
In 2006, the Washington Supreme Court rejected two lawsuits seeking marriage for same-sex couples brought by the ACLU (Castle v. Washington) and the Northwest Women’s Law Center & Lambda Legal (Anderson v. Sims). Ultimately the voters did what the courts would not, making marriage legal for same-sex couples by passing Referendum-74 in 2012.
Singer also helped to end workplace discrimination. After being fired from his job at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for being openly gay and wearing women’s clothes to work, Singer, with the help of the ACLU, won reinstatement and back pay in a U.S. Supreme Court decision that prompted the EEOC to begin enforcing rules against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference.
Harold Spence Defends Right To Protest with Flag
In 1970, Harold Omand Spence, a University of Washington student, displayed an American flag upside down from the window of his Seattle apartment. He used black tape to create a peace symbol on both sides of the flag. Three police officers noticed the flag and arrested him.
The ACLU-WA successfully defended Spence, who testified that he hung the flag to protest the invasion of Cambodia and the killings at Kent State University, which had occurred just a few days prior to his arrest.1
Spence v. Washington (1974) was the first time the U.S. Supreme Court decided a flag desecration case directly on First Amendment grounds.
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