Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (Promoted Repeal of National Prohibition)

There have been two organizations called the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers.

I. The First

A group of highly influential lawyers formed the first Voluntary Committee of Lawyers (VCL) in 1927. Its goal was to promote Repeal of National Prohibition (1920-1933).  Joseph H. Choate, Jr. headed the group.

Voluntary Committee of Lawyers
Joseph H. Choate, Jr.

Its corporate charter stated three things.

  1. The Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act violate the basic principles of our law and government.
  2. They encroach upon the powers properly reserved to the states and the people.
  3. Their enforcement has caused many very serious problems.

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. They included the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment (AAPA), and others.

Pivotal Role

The VCL played a pivotal role in providing valuable assistance to state initiatives to bring about Repeal. 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 and at least eight others followed it with slight changes. Several adopted sections of the draft, and many others used its ideas in developing their own laws.

Upon repeal in of Prohibition in 1933, the VCLs dissolved. However, prohibition continued to exist in many counties and strong temperance sentiment continues.

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

II. The Second

A group of leading lawyers formed second Voluntary Committee of Lawyers in 1966 They included these.

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 VCL consists of lawyers and judges who oppose the long-continuing “war on drugs.” They think the present drug prohibition causes many of the same unintended and harmful results that Prohibition did. As did the first Voluntary Committee of Lawyers, it works through bar association committees and projects. It promotes study and discussion of drug policy, especially its impact on criminal justice and Constitutional law.

The second VCL does not favor any specific drug control policies. Instead, it promotes informed discussion within the legal profession.

Resources on the Voluntary Committee of Lawyers

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