David Randolph Smith

John T. McTernan

(New York Times)

  • 4/16/05: In the wake of a new "Religious McCarthyism" spawned by the filibuster fight, the New York Times today remembered one of the most highly regarded civil-rights lawyers in our history -- Los Angeles attorney John T. Tiernan. Mr. McTernan died at a nursing home in California at age 94. McTernan and his partner, Ben Margolis, fought for the rights of freedom of speech and expression in McCarthy-era trials (especially government efforts to require loyalty oathhs and to prosecute "treason" for sympathizing with communism or socialism). McTernan won major victories in important U.S. Supreme Court cases.
  • McTernan fought against racial and political discrimination in housing and labor unions and advocated the independence of the bar and the teaching professions. Mcternan's legacy includes shattering the use of racially restrictive covenants in the Los Angeles housing discrimination case of African-American Henry Laws, and in a landmark ruling, securing reversal of 22 convictions in People v. Zamora, which established that defendants have unimpeded access to counsel during a criminal trial. McTernan successfully argued the illegality of loyalty tests during the 1950s and 1960s, and stood up before the House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC) to defend clients charged with threatening to overthrow the government even as he himself was being investigated. The Margolis/McTernan Papers, which document some of McTernan's and Margolis' most important cases, are housed at the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research in Los Angeles.