Voluntary Committee of Lawyers: Promoted Legal Change

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 VCL, the American Bar Association called for repeal in 1928. It 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.

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     Pivotal Role

The VCL played a pivotal role in providing valuable help to state efforts for Repeal. It spearheaded the drafting of model legislation. States could follow this in creating state conventions. These 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. Yet prohibition continued in many states counties. And strong temperance sentiment continues today.

Even today, many people and groups 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 VCL in 1966. They included these.

The current VCL consists of lawyers and judges who oppose the “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.

Voluntary Committee of Lawyers

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