Melvin Wulf

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Melvin Wulf
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Born (1927-11-01) November 1, 1927 (age 94)
CitizenshipUnited States of America
Alma materNew York State Merchant Marine Academy
OccupationConstitutional Lawyer
Spouse(s)Deirdre Howard 1962
  • Laura
  • Jane
  • Jacob Wulf (father)
  • Vivian Hurwitz Wulf (mother)

Melvin Lawrence Wulf (born November 1, 1927) is an American constitutional lawyer who worked in the areas of civil liberties, civil rights, free speech, and intellectual property. He was the National Legal Director of the ACLU from 1962-1977, and wrote briefs for and argued numerous cases in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Early life and education

Mel Wulf was born in Brooklyn and raised in Troy, New York. His father Jacob Wulf was born in Latvia and his mother Vivian Hurwitz Wulf was born in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He had one older sister, Harriette Wulf Casnoff.

After finishing high school Wulf spent two years in the New York State Merchant Marine Academy. Intending to go into his family’s clothing business Wulf studied at Lowell Textile Institute from 1947-1950, but he transferred to Columbia where he completed his undergraduate degree in 1952 and his law degree in 1955. From 1955-1957 he was a legal officer with the Navy.


In 1958, the American Civil Liberties Union hired Wulf as Assistant Legal Director under then Legal Director Rowland Watts[1]. Wulf was named Legal Director in 1962, a position he held until 1977.[2]

In 1964 he helped start the Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee (LCDC), an ACLU project that enlisted volunteer lawyers to represent students being attacked in their efforts to enroll black voters in the South.[3]

While at the ACLU, Wulf first formulated the concept of the modern constitutional right of privacy as essential to a woman’s right to use contraceptives and to her doctors’ to prescribe them,[4] a concept that became the foundation of the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade,[5] legalizing abortion. He also hired Ruth Bader Ginsburg[6] as the first director of the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project in 1972.

From 1978-1983 Wulf, along with former Attorney General Ramsey Clark and Alan Levine, co-founded the law firm Clark, Wulf & Levine, dedicated to assisting low-income clients facing infringement of their civil rights.[7]

Wulf became of counsel to the New York law firm Beldock Levine & Hoffman,[8] a firm largely dedicated to civil rights issues, where his major cases involved intellectual property and free speech issues. Wulf retired from Beldock Levine & Hoffman in 2011, at the age of 84.

Supreme Court

Wulf argued 9 cases before the Supreme Court, dealing with such constitutional issues as the right of the Students for a Democratic Society to organize on college campuses; the right of a Virginia newspaper, where abortion was illegal at the time, to publish ads informing where abortions could be obtained in states where the procedure was legal; an appeal to have the passport of Philip Agee, an ex-CIA employee who became one of the first whistleblowers, returned to him after it had been revoked for publishing classified information about the agency; and the unconstitutionality of the Selective Service System’s drafting of a young man solely because of his opposition to the American war in Vietnam.

In popular culture

In the 2018 bio-pic about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, Justin Theroux played the role of Mel Wulf.

Personal Life

In 1962, Wulf married Deirdre Howard. They have two daughters, Laura, born in 1963 and Jane, born in 1965.


  1. Saxon, Wolfgang (8 February 1995). "Rowland Watts, 82, a Lawyer Who Pressed Unpopular Causes". New York Times.
  2. Goldstein, Tom (13 January 1977). "Melvin L. Wulf Quits as Legal Director of A.C.L.U." New York Times.
  3. Hilbink, Thomas (1 May 1993). "Filling the Void: The Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee and the 1964 Freedom Summer". SSRN. SSRN 2416592.
  4. Wulf, Melvin L. (27 May 1991). "On the Origins of Privacy". The Nation. p. 700-704.
  5. "Roe v. Wade". Wikipedia.
  6. "Ruth Bader Ginsburg". Wikipedia.
  7. Margolick, David (5 January 1983). "Realities Of Business Bring An End To Public-Interest Law Firm". New York Times.
  8. "Beldock, Levine & Hoffman".

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