William Moses Kunstler (July 7, 1919 – September 4, 1995) was an American-Jewish civil rights activist, known for his politically unpopular clients. Kunstler was an active member of the National Lawyers Guild, a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the co-founder of the Law Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the "leading gathering place for radical lawyers in the country".
Kunstler first made headlines in 1957 defending William Worthy, a correspondent for the Baltimore Afro-American, who was one of forty-two Americans who had their passports seized after violating the State Department's travel ban on Communist China (after attending a Communist youth conference in Moscow). Kunstler refused a State Department compromise which would have returned Worthy's passport if he agreed to cease visiting Communist countries, a condition Worthy considered unconstitutional.
Kunstler played an important role as a civil rights lawyer in the 1960s, traveling to many of the segregated battlegrounds to work to free those who had been jailed. Working on behalf of the ACLU, Kunstler defended the Freedom Riders in Mississippi in 1961. Kunstler filed for a writ of habeas corpus with Sidney Mize, a federal judge in Biloxi, and appealed to the Fifth Circuit; he also filed similar pleas in state courts. Judge Leon Hendrick in Hinds County refused Kunstler's motion to cancel the mass appearance (involving hundreds of miles of travel) of all 187 convicted riders. The riders were convicted in a bench trial in Jackson and appealed to a county jury trial, where Kunstler argued that the county systematically discriminated against African-American jurors.
In 1962, Kunstler took part in efforts to integrate public parks and libraries in Albany, Georgia. Later that year, he published The Case for Courage (modeled on President Kennedy's Profiles in Courage) highlighting the efforts of other lawyers who risked their careers for controversial clients as well as similar acts by public servants. At the time of the publication, Kunstler was already well known for his work with the Freedom Riders, his book on the Caryl Chessman case, and his radio coverage of trials. Kunstler also joined a group of lawyers criticizing the application of Alabama's civil libel laws and spoke at a rally against HUAC.
Kunstler gained national renown for defending the Chicago Seven (originally Chicago Eight), in a five-month trial in 1969–1970, against charges of conspiring to incite riots in Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. Under cross-examination, Kunstler got a key police witness to contradict his previous testimony and admit that he had not witnessed Jerry Rubin, but had rather been given his name two weeks later by the FBI. Another prosecution witness, photographer Louis Salzberg, admitted under Kunstler's cross-examination that he was still on the payroll of the FBI.
The trial was marked by frequent clashes between Kunstler and U.S. Attorney Thomas Foran, with Kunstler taking the opportunity to accuse the government of failing to "realize the extent of antiwar sentiment". Kunstler also sparred with Judge Julius Hoffman, on one occasion remarking (with respect to the number of federal marshals): "this courtroom has the appearance of an armed camp. I would note that the Supreme Court has ruled that the appearance of an armed camp is a reversible error". During one heated exchange, Kunstler informed Hoffman that his entry in Who's Who was three times longer than the judge's, to which the judge replied, "I hope you get a better obituary". Kunstler and co-defense attorney Leonard Weinglass were cited for contempt (the convictions were later overturned unanimously by the Seventh Circuit). If Hoffman's contempt conviction had been allowed to stand, Kunstler would have been imprisoned for an unprecedented four years.
The progress of the trial—which had many aspects of guerrilla theatre—was covered on the nightly news and made Kunstler the best-known lawyer in the country, and something of a folk hero. After much deadlock, the jury acquitted all seven on the conspiracy charge, but convicted five of violating the anti-riot provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. The Seventh Circuit overturned all the convictions on November 21, 1972 due to Hoffman's refusal to let defense lawyers question the prospective jurors on racial and cultural biases; the Justice Department did not retry the case.