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Color blind: Discussing "The Color of Law"

Photo by Emily Kleiman

Steve Babson, author of the book “The Color of Law,” trekked through slush and snow from Detroit to Public Citizen on Jan. 27, to discuss with an audience of lawyers, law students and advocates for social justice the 10-year process that gave him the opportunity, along with co-authors David Elsila and Dave Riddle, to delve into Ernie Goodman’s lifetime commitment to defending civil liberties after he originally planned to be a corporate lawyer.

Babson said that recent struggles in the courtrooms “do not mirror, but rhyme” with litigation that Goodman brought during his career defending workers’ rights and civil rights for more than half a century. The lawyer’s courtroom victories changed our country because he showed that unpopular opinions still receive protection under the law regardless of gender, political views and race. His achievements from these prominent political cases contributed to military law reform, the desegregation of factories during wartime and the upholding of unions’ rights to free speech. While his colleagues took negligence and personal injury cases to pay the bills, Goodman dedicated his time to fight for African Americans’ rights to peaceably protest and women’s rights in the workplace.

The author revealed that Goodman’s pivotal turn to the left was likely influenced by a woman with socialist beliefs, but it caused him to defend supposed socialists and communists and protect their rights to free speech during Joe McCarthy’s reign and the Red Scare of the 1950s. Even when the FBI targeted him for custodial detention, the lawyer did not abandon his goal to accomplish social change.

Babson, who worked closely with the lawyer to collect information for the book, called the Goodman charismatic and charming and described him as “the life of the party.” He also mentioned Goodman’s sharpness, even as he approached the time in his life when “senior moments” should have prevailed, because the subject would show up to interviews with documents compiled to help him remember dates and events and prove their accuracy.

“He’s one of those lawyers I like,” Babson said in closing, as a ripple of laughter wove through the audience.

Babson ended by taking questions from audience members and signing copies of “The Color of Law” for those interested. For more information about “The Color of Law” and Ernie Goodman, visit www.erniegoodman.com.

Emily Kleiman is an intern in Public Citizen’s communications office.