The Hero of Beer Drinkers Everywhere

How Zachary Heiden helped us get a taste of Santa's Butt        

Published in 2008 New England Super Lawyers magazine

By Clare Leschin-Hoar on October 24, 2008

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As soon as he joined the Maine Civil Liberties Union in 2004 as its first-ever staff attorney—he’s now its legal director—Zachary L. Heiden had his hands full.

First was Sullivan v. City of Augusta, in which Heiden filed a suit on behalf of a protestor who wanted to demonstrate against the war in Iraq, but could not afford the fees or insurance required by the city. The case went to the district court twice and to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston, and Heiden recently asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the decision. In another case, he defended the state and its decision not to fund religious-school tuition with public money.

But it took a beer labeled “Santa’s Butt” to garner worldwide notice for Heiden.

When the Maine Bureau of Liquor Enforcement blocked the sale of the Kringle-themed winter porter and two other beers with labels sporting artwork of partially nude women, saying the images were undignified and improper, Heiden argued against the censorship and prevailed in December 2006. Maine now follows federal standards for labeling.

When his classmates at Boston College Law School were learning about corporations, trusts and estates, Heiden was signing up for every constitutional law class he could find. “I was taking classes on free speech and freedom of religion, which prepared me to do almost nothing other than what I am doing right now,” he says.

After graduating in 2002, Heiden’s first stop was a position clerking for then-Maine Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Susan W. Calkins, whose previous job as director of the state’s legal service organization meant her affinity for social justice issues and the needs of the poor echoed Heiden’s. Next was a six-month stint gaining experience as a litigator at then-Boston-based Testa, Hurwitz & Thibeault; and finally, the MCLU.

It’s not all sunshine, beer and tuition. Issues involving prisons are of deep interest to Heiden. He brought a case against a local jail to provide safer working conditions for inmate workers.

“Prison is a tough place. They give up a lot of their rights, but they don’t give up on being human beings,” said Heiden. “Ninety-five percent of people who are in prison are someday going to be out of prison. The kind of people they are when they get out has a lot to do with how we treat them when they’re in prison, and that’s a strong motivation for me.”        

 

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