US lawyer, social activist, and professor. During the 1950s he mainly practised estate and business law, but in the early 1960s his social conscience and commitment were aroused when he began to represent the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), Martin Luther King's Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and the Student Non-Violence Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He soon became known as the legal voice of ‘the Movement’ – the more radical groups opposing the Vietnam war, mistreatment of blacks, and other perceived flaws in US society. His clients included the Black Panthers, the Catonsville Nine, and the Roman Catholic militants, Philip and Daniel Berrigan. His most celebrated case was that of the Chicago Seven, charged with inciting the violence associated with the 1968 Democratic convention; during this case he himself was sentenced to jail for contempt of court (but he won on appeal). In the years that followed, he continued to remain in the public eye as the defender of those from all walks of life who he felt would not get a fair trial.
Kunstler was born in New York City. A Yale University graduate and veteran of World War II, he subsequently studied at Columbia University School of Law and in 1949 formed a law partnership with his brother. Throughout his career as a trial lawyer, he taught at New York University Law School and published many books, including legal texts such as The Law of Accidents (1954), and more popular works such as Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1961), and Deep in My Heart (1966), all written with a certain literary flair.