Carol Weiss King was one of the outstanding practitioners of immigration law during the period bounded by the Palmer Raids and the McCarthy era. In her thirty-year career, she represented hundreds of foreign-born radicals threatened with deportation in administrative proceedings in the lower courts and in the Supreme Court.
She was born on August 24, 1895, to Samuel and Carrie (Stix) Weiss. Their youngest child, she had two brothers and one sister. Samuel Weiss founded one of New York City’s first corporate law firms, Frank and Weiss, and one of his sons, Carol’s older brother Louis, was a founding partner of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind and Wharton. The Weiss children were raised in a caring, liberal, intellectual environment. At Barnard College, from which she graduated in 1916, King developed a deep interest in the problems of labor and volunteered to work with Local 25 of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union. She wed author Gordon King in 1917.
After graduating from New York University Law School in 1920, King spurned her family’s affluent life-style and Wall Street legal practice for a loose partnership with radical attorneys Joseph Brodsky, Swinburne Hale, Walter Nelles, and Isaac Shorr. This early experience led to a lifelong association with left-wing activists, including members of the Communist Party of the United States. From 1924 to 1931, King edited the Law and Freedom Bulletin, the important digest of the American Civil Liberties Union and one of the country’s earliest efforts to record state and federal cases involving significant questions of constitutional law. She became a founder and principal of the International Juridical Association and the National Lawyers Guild. In 1942, she became general counsel to the American Committee for the Foreign Born. Her clients included union leader Harry Bridges, Communist Party leader William Schneiderman, Negro Communist organizer Angelo Herndon, the Scottsboro Boys, and numerous left-wing activists.
When her husband died of pneumonia in 1930, leaving King a widow with one son, she threw herself into her work. Her best-known client was the colorful Bridges, who faced deportation in 1938 for alleged membership in the Communist Party. King guided the Australian-born longshoreman’s case through several rounds, until the Supreme Court reversed the deportation order during World War II.
King had an extraordinary record of success in enlisting other attorneys to work for free on key constitutional cases. Her most significant accomplishment in this regard was her recruitment of Wendell Willkie, the 1940 Republican Party presidential nominee, to represent her client William Schneiderman in the Supreme Court. The case, in which the U.S. Government tried to revoke the Communist Party leader’s citizenship, was decided favorably in 1943.
As a female attorney in a predominantly male-dominated profession, and unwilling to let her clients’ interests be compromised by sexist assumptions about their advocate, King frequently retained men to argue cases that she herself had prepared. Although a number of her cases reached the Supreme Court, she herself made only one appearance there, in Butterfield v. Zydok (342 U.S. 524, 1952), a case in which her client lost.
Because of her association with controversial clients, King herself was subject to surveillance by the FBI. She took special satisfaction in her battles against the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Her most important legal victory against the INS came in Sung v. McGrath (339 U.S. 908, 1950), in which the Supreme Court acknowledged her argument that the agency was subject to the same administrative and procedural rules as all other federal departments. This ruling resulted in an immediate freeze on deportation hearings until the INS agreed to comply with the requirements of the Administrative Procedures Act.
After a bout with cancer, Carol Weiss King died on January 22, 1952.
ACLU Law and Freedom Bulletin (1924–1931); DAB 5:389–390; Ginger, Ann Fagan. Carol Weiss King (1993); King, Carol Weiss. Papers. Carol Weiss King Collection. Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, Berkeley, Calif; King, Carol Weiss, and Walter Nelles. “Contempt by Publication in the United States.” Columbia Law Review 28 (1928); NAW modern; Obituary. NYTimes, January 23, 1952, 27:1.
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Unti, Bernard. "Carol Weiss King." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 16, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/king-carol-weiss>.