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Victor Rabinowitz dies at 96

Victor Rabinowitz, a New York lawyer whose clients were Alger Hiss, the Black Panthers and Fidel Castro, has died at the age of 96.

Rabinowitz died at his Manhattan home on Friday, Michael Krinsky, said Tuesday.

In a 1996 memoir, "Unrepentant Leftist," Rabinowitz said that he had been a member of the American Communist Party from 1942 - when the United States and the Soviet Union were wartime allies - until the early 1960s because it seemed the best way to fight for social justice.

Born in Brooklyn, Rabinowitz began his career at the firm of Louis Boudin, a top labor lawyer deeply involved in radical politics. In 1944, Rabinowitz opened his own labor law practice, and Boudin's nephew, Leonard Boudin, joined him three years later.

For more than 40 years until Leonard Boudin's death in 1989, they found themselves at the forefront of constitutional issues ranging from McCarthy-era politics to the civil rights struggle.

Rabinowitz was the last attorney for Hiss, the American diplomat accused of spying for the Soviet Union, and ultimately convicted of perjury, in one of the postwar era's most famous espionage cases.

Alger's son, Tony, said that in the early 1980s, Rabinowitz succeeded in getting previously suppressed material into the court record. "My father always felt that he was very ably represented by Victor Rabinowitz," Tony Hiss said.

The firm's other clients included such political activists as singer Paul Robeson, the Rev. Philip Berrigan, Pentagon Papers figure Daniel Ellsberg and civil rights activist Julian Bond.

In later years, Rabinowitz represented Leonard Boudin's daughter Kathy, a Weather Underground member who pleaded guilty to murder for her involvement in an armored truck heist.

In a case that went to the Supreme Court, Rabinowitz challenged the constitutionality of a provision of the Taft-Hartley Act that forced labor leaders to swear an oath that they were not Communists but the high court rejected Rabinowitz's First Amendment challenge.

In 1960, Rabinowitz's firm was hired by Castro to defend that Caribbean nation's nationalizing of U.S.-owned property. Rabinowitz won by arguing that the internal affairs of other countries could not be questioned by U.S. courts.

The Chilean government of socialist Salvador Allende hired him in 1971 for the same purpose, but Allende was ousted by a military coup two years later.

"He was in the forefront of the defense of civil liberties during the McCarthy period, civil rights movement and the antiwar movement," Krinsky said.

He said Rabinowitz also would be remembered for his efforts to strengthen the National Lawyers Guild, which he helped found as an alternative to the American Bar Association.

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