Landmark ACLU cases depicted in film*

*a work in progress!

This week I picked up a fascinating new book, written in about the only kind of format I can digest at the moment — very short pieces. Fight of the Century: Writers Reflect on 100 Years of Landmark ACLU Cases is edited by Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman and features contributions from a wide array of well-known authors from Geraldine Brooks to Viet Thanh Nguyen to Jacqueline Woodson. After a brief summary of each landmark case, one of the writers provides a reflection on that case, each taking a different approach. Some share background about the individuals involved in their case. Some share how the decision rendered in the case has had an impact on their own lives. Some reflect upon how far we’ve come, or how far we still have to go. All are outstanding writers bringing their considerable skillsets to bear on significant milestones in U.S. history.

And it got me to thinking: Significant milestones in U.S. history often find their way into the movies. And given the fact that there are still no professional sports on TV (no, as far as I’m concerned, auto racing does not count), I don’t know about you, but we’re watching a lot more movies than we usually do. We’ve already exhausted pretty much all of the highlights of the 1980s and 1990s. So… I’ve tried to put together a list of the films that tell the stories behind these important cases. Some are dramas; some documentaries. Some were made for TV; some for the big-screen.

And I’m sure it’s incomplete! So, please let me know what I need to add. And with all of the blanks on the chart, if you know any producers, let them know, too. As David Cole, national legal director of the ACLU, writes in the introduction to Fight of the Century: “Michael Chabon’s story of the creative tactics employed by the ACLU’s Morris Ernst in challenging the seizure of James Joyce’s Ulysses as obscene … is so engagingly rendered that the movie version feels inevitable.” How do we make that happen??

Happy watching!

Stephanie (who happens to share a birthday with Thurgood Marshall)



Stromberg v. California (1931) The Land of Orange Groves & Jails (in production)
Powell v. Alabama (1932) and Patterson v. Alabama (1935) Heavens Fall (2006)

Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (2001)

Judge Horton and the Scottsboro Boys (1976)

United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses” (1933)
Edwards v. California (1941)
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943)
Korematsu v. United States (1944) Of Civil Rights and Wrongs (2001)
Hannegan v. Esquire (1946)
Terminiello v. City of Chicago (1949)
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954) Chairman Jones: An Improbable Leader (2015)

Thurgood (2011)

The Town Before Brown (2007)

The Battle for America’s Schools (2004) Separate But Equal (1991)

Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) Defending Gideon (2013)

Gideon’s Army (2013)

Gideon’s Trumpet (1980)

Escobedo v. Illinois (1964)
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)
Lamont v. Postmaster General (1965)
Griswold v. Connecticut (1965)
Miranda v. Arizona (1966) The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona (2014)
Loving v. Virginia (1967) Loving (2016)

Mr. and Mrs. Loving (1996)

Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969)
Gregory v. City of Chicago (1969)
Street v. New York (1969)
Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969)
Cohen v. California (1971)
New York Times Co. v. United States (1971)
Roe v. Wade (1973)

Doe v. Bolton (1973)

Roe v. Wade (in production)

AKA Jane Roe (2020)

Roe v. Wade (1989)

O’Connor v. Donaldson (1975)
Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld (1975) On the Basis of Sex (2018)
Buckley v. Valeo (1976)
Bob Jones University v. United States (1983)
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)
Hurley v. Irish-American Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Group of Boston (1995)
Reno v. ACLU (1997)

Ashcroft v. ACLU (2004)

City of Chicago v. Morales (1999)
Zadvydas v. Davis (2001)
Immigration and Naturalization Service v. St. Cyr (2001)
Lawrence v. Texas (2003)
Rasul v. Bush (2004)
Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (2005)
Schroer v. Billington (2008)
Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl (2013)
United States v. Windsor (2013) To a More Perfect Union: United States v. Windsor (2017)
ACLU v. United States Department of Defense, et al. (2018)


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