Civil Liberties & National Security

Well before the term “national security” pervaded political discourse, Michael Tigar criticized governmental abuses of power that were often committed in the name of protecting national interests. Although McCarthyism had formally ended by the time Tigar came of age, it left a shadow that would long affect his approach both to civil liberties and national security.

In 1961, as an undergraduate, Tigar wrote a paper entitled “Atomic Science and Social Responsibility,” which was based on a close reading of the Atomic Energy Commission’s 1954 security hearing of Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, a key player in the Manhattan Project. The hearing resulted in the termination of Oppenheimer’s security clearance due to his Communist affiliations. According to Tigar, the research for this unpublished paper “did a great deal to shape [his] attitude towards governmental power and war.” That influence is evident in Tigar’s work, ranging from his support for dissent during Vietnam and the Cold War, to his criticism of more contemporary United States interventions in the Middle East and the use of national security as a justification for violation of civil liberties during the War on Terror.

The materials in this section of the archive reflect a wide range of Tigar’s work on civil liberties, from the late 1960s until today. They demonstrate various ways that national security has been invoked to infringe upon freedoms of speech, protest, and political association, and to allow the overreach of executive power. The items are divided into three sub-issues: Executive Power Overreach; Free Speech and Association, which includes materials related to Tigar’s student activism; and The Shadow of McCarthyism, which includes materials related to the controversy surrounding Tigar’s appointment to a US Supreme Court clerkship.

Other related materials can be found in the section on Vietnam.