The Mob Lawyer’s Constitution

by Sara Mayeux

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This article reconstructs the constitutional rhetoric of mob lawyers, as well as drug lawyers and other icons of the high-priced criminal defense bar, from the 1970s through the 1990s—the heyday of federal organized crime prosecutions and thus, of the lawyers who defended against them. Drawing upon pop-culture sources including archival television footage, magazine features, newspaper coverage, and ghost-written mass-market memoirs, the article pieces together the constellation of soundbites through which mob lawyers disseminated their views. As the subjects of frequent media coverage, these lawyers advanced a coherent and distinctive (if crude) set of ideas about the proper relationship between individuals, the state, law, and wealth. In investigating constitutional history, legal scholars often focus on elite legal actors and Supreme Court doctrine, or, if they examine popular constitutionalism, on organized litigation campaigns, rather than the more diffuse world of solo practitioners and small law firms. Bringing together legal and cultural history, this article contributes a new angle on these themes—looking for insights into Reagan-era constitutional culture not in the Department of Justice or the Supreme Court, but at Manhattan steakhouses and Miami nightclubs.