Scope and Content of Collection
Title: Ben Yellen Correspondence with Arthur Brunwasser
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 0305
Special Collections & Archives, UC San Diego
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
0.25 Linear feet
(1 archives box)
Date (inclusive): 1980 - 1992
This small collection of correspondence contains approximately fifty letters and notes consisting mainly of correspondence
(most covering the period 1987-1991, with attachments dating back to 1972) that Imperial Valley physician and social activist,
Dr. Ben Yellen, sent to others, and then copied to San Francisco attorney Arthur Brunwasser, hoping to entice Brunwasser to
join in additional litigation.
Yellen, Ben, 1907-1994
Ben Yellen Papers (MSS 193); Ben Yellen Correspondence with Charles L. Smith (MSS 667); Yellen Versus Imperial Irrigation
District Collection (MSS 677).
Ben Yellen correspondence with Arthur Brunwasser, MSS 0305. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.
Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.
Ben Yellen, Imperial Valley physician and social activist, brought a lawsuit against the Imperial Irrigation Water District
(IID) that asserted that the IID was violating reclamation law by giving project water to landowners owning more acres of
land than the law permitted. In the mid-1960s, he was able to persuade attorney Arthur Brunwasser to join him in a lawsuit
against the IID. Yellen reportedly found Brunwasser's name in a newspaper that stated Brunwasser was defending one of Cesar
Chavez' union organizers arrested for entering a rancher's land to organize the farmworkers.
Arthur Brunwasser, a young San Francisco-based attorney-at-law, assisted Yellen in bringing suit against the Department of
the Interior to force the government to enforce a Reclamation Act of 1902 provision that required that land receiving the
water benefit of a federal reclamation project be limited to 160 acres.
Brunwasser attended Brandeis University (Waltham, MA) and the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law (1961),
then began his practice in Beverly Hills. He then moved to San Francisco and became involved in the farm labor movement. In
1963, he lobbied in Washington, DC, at the House of Representatives, against extension of the "Bracero Program," the World
War II program that allowed contract labor from Mexico to enter the United States and work as agricultural workers. The program,
intended to be temporary, had been renewed every two years until Congress terminated it in 1964.
Brunwasser was also an employee representative on an agricultural occupations wage board of the California Department of Industrial
Welfare Relations in the mid-1960s and a board member of Citizens for Farm Labor, a Berkeley group active in publicizing farm
workers' working and living conditions. Brunwasser was also a volunteer lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union and
the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Brunwasser became the lead attorney in the case that became Bryant v. Yellen, 447 U.S. 352, and participated in the case after
the government received an adverse ruling at the trial level and the new Nixon administration chose not to appeal. The Court
allowed Yellen to intervene and Brunwasser won at the Ninth Circuit appellate level. The case was appealed again, and, on
March 25, 1980, Brunwasser argued before the United States Supreme Court. He was questioned by Chief Justice Warren Burger
and by Associate Justice Byron White, who shortly thereafter delivered the unanimous opinion. The Court held that the 160-acre
limitation did apply to lands receiving Federal Reclamation project waters, but that it did not apply to land whose owners
had previously-established "presently perfected rights." Because the Imperial Valley had been irrigating hundreds of thousands
of acres via the Alamo canal, a privately-funded canal which traveled through Mexico, the Court found that those lands irrigated
prior to 1929 were exempt from the 160-acre limitation. Shortly thereafter, Congress passed a bill exempting the entire Imperial
During Yellen's last decade, he was struggling with two personal issues: a Department of Motor Vehicle's decision to revoke
his driver's license after an accident; and retaliatory lawsuits against the American Medical Association and others, after
he successfully won back his revoked medical license.
Additionally, Yellen continued to find ways to, as he described it, "harass the opposition," including bringing suit against
the IID's brokerage and accounting firms (Paine Webber and Peat Marwick) for conspiring with the IID to continue charging
illegal electric rates. He also filed complaints with the State Bar of California against IID's law firm, O'Melveny & Myer,
including attorney (and future U.S. Secretary of State) Warren Christopher. Yellen also wrote letters urging continuing bribery-related
investigations against Senator Alan Cranston, who had been instrumental in passage of the bill that exempted the Imperial
Valley from the 160-acre land limitation provision.
Scope and Content of Collection
The Ben Yellen correspondence with Arthur Brunwasser files contain a small collection of letters (most from the period 1987
- 1991) that physician and activist Ben Yellen sent to others, and then copied to San Francisco attorney Arthur Brunwasser.
Yellen often included a handwritten note to Brunwasser that attemped to entice him to get involved in additional litigation.
Arthur Brunwasser had assisted Yellen years earlier, in Bryant v. Yellen, a case regarding the 160-acre land limitation of
the Reclamation Act of 1902, that was decided by the United States Supreme Court in 1980.
The correspondence is comprised of original handwritten notes from Yellen to Brunwasser, along with photocopied or printed
copies of letters that Yellen was sending to others. Often Yellen would also attach copies of previously printed newsletters
and other materials (dating back to 1972) to give the recipient background information on a particular issue he was advocating
and to establish his credentials. Yellen sent correspondence to newspaper and television reporters, politicians, a Nobel Prize
winner, authors, legal defense funds, and regulatory agencies. Among the correspondents are: Geraldo Rivera and Mike Wallace;
the California Action Network; the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund; MOTHER JONES magazine; Marc Reisner (eco-journalist and
author of CADILLAC DESERT (1986)); President-elect Bill Clinton; Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.; U.S. House Representative John Dingell;
Gary S. Becker (1992 Nobel Prize winner in Economics) and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark, among others.
There is one additional folder of documents not directly associated with the correspondence and includes paid political advertisements
by Yellen commenting on presidental and as well as local issues and candidates; Yellen newsletter copies (1987-88); an amended
federal court complaint for violation of his civil rights against the American Medical Association and others (photocopy),
and a "Voice of the People" photocopied letter dated 1991.
Subjects and Indexing Terms
Brunwasser, Arthur -- Archives
Yellen, Ben, 1907-1994 -- Archives
Water rights -- California -- History