Voluntary Committee of Lawyers

There have been two organizations called the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers. The first Voluntary Committee of Lawyers was established by a group of highly influential attorneys in 1927, headed by Joseph H. Choate, Jr., that promoted the repeal of National Prohibition (1920-1933).

Its corporate charter asserted that

The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act violate the basic principles of our law and government and encroach upon the powers properly reserved to the states and the people, [and] the attempt to enforce them has been productive of such evils and abuses as are necessarily incident to a violation of these principles, including disrespect for law, obstruction of the due administration of justice, corruption of public officials, abuse of legal process, resort by the government to improper and illegal acts in the procurement of evidence and infringement of such constitutional guarantees as immunity from double jeopardy and illegal search and seizure.

With urging by the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, the American Bar Association called for repeal in 1928. The Committee also worked closely with other repeal organizations such as the Women's Organization for national Prohibition repeal (WONPR), the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), and others.

The Voluntary Committee of Lawyers played a pivotal role in providing valuable assistance to state initiatives to bring about repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. It spearheaded the drafting of model legislation that states could follow in creating state conventions that would ratify the Twenty-first Amendment. Twelve states adopted the draft without any change, at least eight others followed it with slight modifications, several adopted sections of the draft, and many others used its ideas in developing their own legislation.

Upon repeal in of National Prohibition in 1933, the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers dissolved. However, prohibition continued to exist in many states and strong temperance sentiment continued.

Even today, many people and organizations support neo-prohibition ideas and strongly defend the many vestiges of Prohibition that still exist.

The second Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, inspired and modeled after the first group, was incorporated in 1966 by a group that included Nicholas Katzenbach, former U.S. Attorney General; George E. Bushnell, past resident of the American Bar Association; Elliot Richardson, former U.S. Attorney General, and Sam Dash, former Chief Counsel of the Senate Watergate Committee.

The current Voluntary Committee of Lawyers is an association of attorneys and judges whose members oppose the long-continuing "war on drugs." They believe that the present drug prohibition leads to many of the same unintended and harmful consequences that National Prohibition created. As did the first Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, it works through bar association committees and projects, promoting study and discussion of drug policy, especially its impact on criminal justice and Constitutional law.

The second Voluntary Committee of Lawyers does not favor any specific drug control policies but promotes, by and within the legal profession, informed discussion and debate about the objectives of the drug war and what the group considers to be its costs to liberty and justice.

Resources on the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers:

  • Joseph H. Choate, Jr. America's drinking habits: wine and national problems. Vital Speeches of the Day, v. 2 (1935-1936)
  • Joseph H. Choate, Jr. Reasons for the Repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment: An Address. Washington, DC: Library of Congress, Temperance pamphlets, part 3.
  • Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (website of the current Voluntary Committee of Lawyers) //vcl.org/index.html
  • Clement E. Vose. Repeal papers of the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, Inc. 1927-1933: Files of Joseph H. Choate, Jr. and Harrison Tweed. Library, Wesleyan University.

Filed Under: Prohibition