William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe
Filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore the life of their father, the late radical civil rights lawyer. In the 1960s and 70s, Kunstler fought for civil rights with Martin Luther King Jr. and represented the famed “Chicago 8” activists who protested the Vietnam War. When the inmates took over Attica prison, or when the American Indian Movement stood up to the federal government at Wounded Knee, they asked Kunstler to be their lawyer.
To his daughters, it seemed that he was at the center of everything important that had ever happened. But when they were growing up, Kunstler represented some of the most reviled members of society, including rapists and assassins. This powerful film not only recounts the historic causes that Kunstler fought for; it also reveals a man that even his own daughters did not always understand, a man who risked public outrage and the safety of his family so that justice could serve all.
William Moses Kunstler (July 7, 1919 – September 4, 1995) was an American self-described “radical lawyer” and civil rights activist, known for his controversial clients. Kunstler was 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’s successful defense of the “Chicago Seven” made him the most famous and controversial lawyer in the United States. Kunstler is also well-known for his frequent defense of members of the Catonsville Nine, Black Panther Party, Weather Underground Organization, the Attica Prison rioters, and the American Indian Movement. He also won a de facto segregation case regarding the District of Columbia’s public schools and “disinterred, singlehandedly” the concept of federal removal jurisdiction in the 1960s. Kunstler refused to defend right-wing groups like the Minutemen, on the grounds that: “I only defend those whose goals I share. I’m not a lawyer for hire. I only defend those I love”.
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He was a polarizing figure: many on the right wished to see him disbarred; many of the left admired him as a “symbol of a certain kind of radical lawyer”. Even some other civil rights lawyers regarded Kunstler as a “publicity hound and a hit-and-run lawyer” who “brings cases on Page 1 and the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund, Inc. wins them on Page 68”. Legal writer Sidney Zion quipped that Kunstler was “one of the few lawyers in town who knows how to talk to the press. His stories always check out and he’s not afraid to talk to you, and he’s got credibility—although you’ve got to ask sometimes, ‘Bill, is it really true?”
The Full Documentary can be streamed online until September 21, 2010.