In 1962, Mr. Morgan and other young Alabama lawyers filed a lawsuit to force the reapportionment of the Alabama Legislature. The rural counties of south Alabama had many times the voting strength of the more urban north, allowing the old planter elite to control the Legislature. In 1964 the Supreme Court ruled in the case, Reynolds v. Sims, and ordered a more equitable apportionment. Along with similar cases from other Southern states, Reynolds established the doctrine known as one-person-one-vote, which increased the political power of African-Americans and urban voters.You can listen to the argument here. (It's a 3-hour argument, and Morgan goes second, so settle in.)
Morgan also won the case the kept Muhammad Ali from being drafted and led the ACLU effort to get Richard Nixon impeached. He also got in trouble with the ACLU in 1976, when he opposed Jimmy Carter and said, stupidly, "I could never vote for anybody with a Southern accent. That’s bigotry, and that makes you a bigot."
Here's a 1979 review of Morgan's autobiography "One Man, One Voice" (a review written by Howell Raines):
What is missing here is a more thoughtful discussion of how hostility toward the rich and the well-favored went into the making of the passionate populist that Mr. Morgan always has been in his civil rights practice.I typed out that passage — it's a PDF that wouldn't let me cut and paste — because there are so many things about it that interest me. Most notably, Raines, writing in 1979, exhibits the attitude toward the Supreme Court that I saw when I was a law student at NYU from 1978 to 1981. I remember one lawprof who wanted us law review editors to write about the demise of Frankfurterism. There was a great confidence that the vigorous enforcement of constitutional rights was mandatory and notions of judicial restraint were backward and, in fact, bigoted.
Mr. Morgan is hard on lawyers, too, especially those who practice what he calls "Frankfurterism" — a coinage reflecting Mr. Morgan's view that the late Associate Justice Felix J. Frankfurter "could always find legal reasons for refusing to do the right thing." The author's hero is the late Associate Justice Hugo Black, the Alabamian who helped change a cautious court dominated by Frankfurter into an aggressive defender of First Amendment rights.
Note, too, how judicial activism seems like a completely positive and appropriate attitude for the Court. The court should be "aggressive" and "a defender." That makes the Court sound like an activist lawyer. And "cautious" is pejorative. Today, the Justices often fight over different kinds of restraint, and no one tries to look like an activist. The norms are entirely different.
And look at how Raines conceives of activism specifically in terms of the First Amendment. You don't see that anymore. Those who like judicial activism today emphasize privacy rights, due process, and equal protection. Back then, freedom of expression was the core value. When and how did that change? I can't answer that question in a blog post, not this one anyway.