Alger Hiss reinstated news clipping

“Hiss Reinstated,” August 6, 1975

On August 5, 1975, as The New York Times reported the following day in a front-page story, “Alger Hiss was ordered reinstated to the Massachusetts bar by that state’s highest court.” It was a unanimous decision by the seven-judge court – and it was unprecedented: never before in the history of the state had a disbarred lawyer ever been allowed to resume the practice of law.

The court, the Times story said, did not require an admission of guilt: “Such an admission would have placed Mr. Hiss in a ‘cruel quandary,’ Chief Judge G. Joseph Tauro wrote.” Massachusetts rules, however, “placed on Mr. Hiss the burden of showing that he ‘has the moral qualifications, competency and learning in law required’ and that his return ‘will not be detrimental to the integrity and standing of the bar, the administration of justice or to the public interest.’ The court found that Mr. Hiss had met that burden ‘by good and sufficient proofs'” and “had demonstrated ‘moral and intellectual fitness’ and therefore should be readmitted to the bar.”

Alger Hiss reinstatement oath

Alger Hiss is sworn in as a member of the Massachusetts bar, August 6, 1975

“I feel simply wonderful,” Hiss, who had been disbarred almost a quarter century earlier after his perjury conviction, told the Times reporter, adding that he would take the oath of admission the next day and that “I shall start practicing one minute after that.”

Maurice deGrasse Ford, known as “Mo,” and then a young Boston lawyer – he was later a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and the founder of Lawyering for the Homeless, meeting clients at his “office” (an Au Bon Pain in Harvard Square) – attended the May 9, 1975 oral argument before the Supreme Judicial Court about Hiss’s petition to be readmitted to the bar and wrote a previously unpublished article about that hearing that is presented here.