Doris Walker worked throughout her life protecting and defending leftist causes and activists. She participated as an activist and legal counsel throughout almost every major America progressive social movement in the twentieth century, from denouncing Jim Crow laws and McCarthyism, to being a labor lawyer and labor organizer, to helping successfully acquit Angela Davis, and even challenging the Bush Administration’s invasion of Afghanistan in Iraq.
Born in 1919, Walker joined the Communist Party at the University of California Los Angeles. She graduated from the UC Berkley School of Law in 1942, where she was the only female law student. After graduation, Walker was fired from a law firm (probably because of her politics), and then began working in California canneries as a union organizer. When she moved on to work for Cutter Labs, she was again fired because of her political beliefs. Although her case was challenged all the way to the Supreme Court, it was not heard.
In 1957, Walker helped represent fourteen people prosecuted under the Smith Act. Also known as the Alien Registration Act of 1940, it declared it unlawful to “advocate or organize the destruction or overthrow of any government in the United States by force,” and was often used against leftist political protesters and immigrants. It wasn’t until the case Walker worked on, Yates vs. the United States, that the U.S. Supreme Court overturned all Smith Act convictions.
In 1970, Walker became the first woman president of the National Lawyer’s Guild, a progressive bar association formed in 1937 to counter the American Bar Association, which opposed FDR’s New Deal and did not allow non-white members. Walker’s presidency paved the way for five female NLG presidents since her term.
While president at the NLG, Walker was the lead defense lawyer on the “Dream Team” who defended Angela Davis from charges of murder, kidnapping and conspiracy in 1972. (Guns registered under Davis’s name were used in an attempted jailbreak). Davis was acquitted by a jury. It was a landmark case not only for releasing the wronged Black Panther activist but for being on of the first cases of picking a selective jury.
Walker continued to fight for and defend human rights for the rest of her career (fun fact: One Hillary Rodham had a clerkship at Walker’s Oakland firm, Treuhaft & Walker!) From 1970-78 she was the Vice President of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. She was one of eight international observers at the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings led by Desmond Tutu in 1996, and in 2004 submitted a resolution in 2004 calling for the impeachment of George Bush due to the faulty justifications of the Iraq war.
Walker died August 13, 2009 at the age of ninety in San Francisco.
Legendary Lawyer Doris Brin Walker Dies [Truthout]