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Written by David L. Hudson Jr., published on January 1, 2009 , last updated on May 5, 2024

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Osmond Kessler Fraenkel (1888–1983) was one of the leading civil liberties attorneys of the 20th century.


Born in New York City, Fraenkel graduated from Columbia Law School in 1911 and in 1935 became co-counsel to the New York Civil Liberties Union. He gained national prominence in the 1930s when he defended two of the Scottsboro Boys in the appeals of their racially biased convictions in Alabama.


Fraenkel argued many First Amendment cases in front of the Supreme Court

Over a period of 30 years, Fraenkel argued 15 cases before the Supreme Court, many of which raised First Amendment issues. Among the better known cases are De Jonge v. Oregon (1937), a landmark case in which the Court found that the First Amendment freedom of assembly extended to the states; Bridges v. California (1941), in which the Court invalidated the conviction of noted labor leader Harry Bridges, finding that his expression did not cause a clear and present danger to the administration of justice; and two of the four cases known collectively as Schneider v. State (1939), which invalidated city laws that limited the distribution of religious and political literature on city streets.


Fraenkel became chief counsel to the American Civil Liberties Union in 1954, serving there for more than 20 years. He also authored numerous books on civil liberties, including For Free Speech (1936), Our Civil Liberties (1944), The Supreme Court and Civil Liberties: How the Court Has Protected the Bill of Rights (1960), and The Rights We Have: A Handbook of Civil Liberties (1975).


David L. Hudson, Jr. is a law professor at Belmont who publishes widely on First Amendment topics.  He is the author of a 12-lecture audio course on the First Amendment entitled Freedom of Speech: Understanding the First Amendment (Now You Know Media, 2018).  He also is the author of many First Amendment books, including The First Amendment: Freedom of Speech (Thomson Reuters, 2012) and Freedom of Speech: Documents Decoded (ABC-CLIO, 2017). This article was originally published in 2009.​


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