Have you no sense of decency? Morals clauses, communists and the legal fight against blacklisting in the entertainment industry during the post-war era
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Anti-communism in America reached its apex in the 1950s. One element of this crusade focused on preventing suspected communists from working in their chosen profession, a practice called blacklisting. In attempting to assert their legal rights, the blacklisted found an imperfect justice system, cloaked in equality, yet hampered by the existing cultural setting that treated as immoral anything communist. This dissertation deconstructs the interplay between culture and law, between the desire to root out communists and the attempt to maintain a fair legal system. With an emphasis on the entertainment industry, broadly defined, I will trace blacklisting from anti-labor tool to for-profit instrument focusing on how the blacklisted employed the lawsuit to fight for their jobs. I argue that from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, blacklisted plaintiffs continuously found themselves handicapped by their association -- either current or past, real or perceived -- with the Communist Party, and not until a plaintiff with no demonstrable ties to communism came along did the legal system prove a comprehensively effective tool in ending the practice. I show that various members of the blacklisted community, with the aid of a small number of lawyers, tried an assortment of legal theories in their attempt to remedy their pariah status with the results often promising -- the first three jury trials ended in victories for the plaintiffs -- but ultimately hollow as a recalcitrant appellate judiciary dashed these early hopes. Moreover, I show how plaintiff's lawyers, sensitive to a legal system that demanded a successful plaintiff be free of communist ties, adjusted their strategy to accommodate the relationship between cultural setting and legal success.