LIPPMAN v. MITCHELL, et al
U.S. District Court, June 1974

In 1974 I sued numerous Nixon Administration officials in response to illegal wiretapping and other illegal government activities conducted against me and many others active in opposition to the war in Viet Nam and other U.S. government actions.

The complaint in this case was not only a legal document but a description of elements of the government's systematic campaign of repression against the opposition. The names of many of the defendants may also be familiar to the reader as principals in the Watergate scandal. What Nixon's operatives did to the Democrats had long been practiced against the Left. The case provided the opportunity for me to speak publicly about government repression in the context of Watergate.

The filing of the lawsuit attracted considerable attention from the local media, coming as it did at the height of the Watergate investigation. The press was also drawn by the fact that I was asking for the then-astronomical amount of $1 million in damages. (See some of the press coverage here, here, and here.)

Click here to see the complaint.

If you are not interested in all the legal citations, focus on the section entitled FACTS (sections 23-62), which outlines the various government plans for neutralizing the opposition, as well as listing specific allegations of government misconduct.

The lawsuit elicited a flurry of responses from the defendants - most of them denials. The government did admit to illegal wiretaps on phones at the National Office of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In earlier political prosecutions, the government had been forced to admit to hundreds of cases of illegal wiretapping against its opponents, including SDS.

Many wiretap lawsuits were filed in the 1970s, but few if any were successful. In spite of rather stringent constraints on government wiretap activity, and substantial remedies available to those whose privacy has been invaded, the vigor with which the government contested the cases made it very difficult for plaintiffs to prevail.

It is interesting to read the sections of federal law penalizing illegal wiretapping. See 18 U.S.C. 2520.

My case dragged on for a couple years before we dropped it for lack of resources to proceed.

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