Anthony Lewis, indefatigable champion of civil liberties and winner of two …

March 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

By the time he retired in 2001, Mr. Lewis was widely recognized as the dean of liberal American columnists and had written a book that is regarded as the seminal account of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Gideon v. Wainwright.

As a Times columnist for 32 years, he wrote his most noted work on First Amendment rights and the American justice system. In a crowded field of columnists, many of whom were at times enticed to bloviate, Mr. Lewis distinguished himself with the consistent lucidity of his writing and his reportorial approach to the job.

He received his first Pulitzer for national reporting in 1955, at age 28, while working for the now-
defunct Washington Daily News. The award recognized his series of articles that cleared a Navy Department employee who was fired for alleged security risks during the Red Scare stoked by then-Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-Wis.).

“Mr. Lewis received the full support of his newspaper in championing an American citizen . . . against an unjust act by a government department,” the Pulitzer citation read. “This is in the best tradition of American journalism.”

In 1963, by then a reporter for the Times, Mr. Lewis received his second Pulitzer, also for national reporting. The citation praised his coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court, and in particular Baker v. Carr, the history-making decision that underlies the “one person, one vote” doctrine in electoral redistricting.

Taken together, the Pulitzers reflect the two most salient themes of Mr. Lewis’s career: a self-
professed affinity for the underdog and seemingly infallible command of the law, despite his limited formal training in the field. “I was probably made to be a lawyer,” he once said. “It just didn’t turn out that way.”

Mr. Lewis covered the Supreme Court for the Times for most of the Warren court years, which lasted from 1953 until 1969 and which was credited with handing down some of the most influential decisions of the latter 20th century. Mr. Lewis filled pages of newsprint with analysis of the court’s rulings days or hours after they emerged from the shrouded chambers.

One of those decisions was Gideon, the 1963 case in which the high court established an indigent criminal defendant’s right to legal counsel. Besides his newspaper reportage, Mr. Lewis wrote a book about the case, “Gideon’s Trumpet” (1964), that remains a mainstay of law school curricula. In a 1980 movie based on the book, Henry Fonda played the case’s namesake, Clarence Earl Gideon.

He was a “gambler, drifter and ex-convict,” Mr. Lewis wrote in a quintessential column upon Gideon’s death in 1972.

“Gideon must have seemed the most obscure of patients: a gaunt figure, cast aside by life, without money or influence,” Mr. Lewis continued. “Understandably, it was a death that went almost without notice. But Clarence Earl Gideon was not really so obscure or unimportant. For in his life he had, in a matter of speaking, changed the Constitution of the United States.”

Comments are closed.