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Monday, March 25, 2013

This guy was why I'm here

Former New York Times reporter and columnist Anthony Lewis has died. He was 85.

Lewis was in his heyday back when I was a cub reporter in New Jersey in the early '70s. His coverage of the Supreme Court, his op-ed columns during the Watergate era, and his famous book on the Court, Gideon's Trumpet, were big parts of my decision to drop out of the newspaper business and go to law school. Absent that choice, I'd probably have stayed in journalism in the New York area. I'd probably be living in a New Jersey suburb, and commuting into the Big Apple to turn in a daily story or two. Or maybe I'd be in a small Manhattan apartment, catching a subway train or cab to polish up a column here or there.

My plan upon entering law school was to become the next Lewis -- cover the High Court, and national politics. But as so often happens, law school opened up a bunch of new vistas -- not only for career concentration, but also for geographic location. Within five years I was a tax lawyer in Portland, Oregon. Go figure.

One of my fondest memories of law school was in the first year, when Lewis himself was on campus to give a series of talks. One of them was a highly informal brown bag lunch in the brand new law student lounge. There, in our everyday hangout, this great figure in American journalism sat down over a sandwich and chatted with us all about what he was doing, and what we might be doing in the near future. I knew right then that I had come to the right place.

One of Lewis's great insights is that our civil liberties rest ultimately on the judiciary. The courts are the only ones who can save us from the excesses of majority rule. And they will do so only if the judges are brave and independent. In the immediate aftermath of Watergate, that was obvious. Today, it is far less so. You know what they say about not learning from history. Read Lewis, and may he rest in peace.

Comments (10)

What a loss. I've been reminded of his writing as Gideon hits 50. It's on my short list to read. I was always impressed with his work for the NYT.

How our fortunes and attitudes are shaped by the great minds of our time always intrigues me. Civil liberties rest ultimately on the independent judiciary, but the Press (with a captal 'P') has the responsibility to shine the light and allow the common citizen to understand, analyze, and act upon current events. We could use a bunch of journalists like Mr. Lewis.

I'm sorry for you're loss. When someone special like Lewis pops into your life like that, you are profoundly moved, only you don't quite know why (because you're too young?). You seem to have found that reason and have emerged into who you are and where you're going. I have had people in my life too who have had that kind of impact and I miss all of them. Good luck with your new adventure, don't forget the friends who are still living and stay in touch with all of them, life is too damn short. I will miss you and your humor this coming year while you pen your newest law PHD++? Stay in touch with all of us when you find the time.

I am reminded of my own little connection with history. As a docent student at L&C Law School, I was honored to attend a luncheon with an ex-Soviet Bloc Supreme Court judge. If I remember correctly, his Court had recently thrown out the powers-that-be of that country (Kanter would know the story). Just simply invalidated them. Yikes! So the court was, obviously, ready to effect great change. I asked the judge why they didn't just divide up ownership of all 'government property' to the citizens ... after all, they really owned it. Give everyone an ownership interest in their new country.


As for the judiciary, seems like it's become a 3rd political branch. Sad.

Nice remembrance of a great journalist. RIP

Aw, geez. You have nothing but my sympathies, Jack, because I was a fan of his work as well. He, Mike Royko, and Stephen Jay Gould were big influences on me during my early writing days, and I'm going to miss him, too.

Jack, it's people like Lewis having a different perspective on issues that are most memorable from our schooling years. I fondly remember the few visiting lecturers and visiting profs in architecture and planning schools that told a different story than the norm. We urgently need the contrary perspective coming from schools, especially PSU. Save Portland.

Was just thinking about "Gideon's Trumpet" the other day....so superb, in reality and in the writing of it. Wonderfully portrayed in the 1980 TV movie, with Henry Fonda as Clarence Gideon, Jose Ferrer as Abe Fortas, and John Houseman as Chief Justice Earl Warren. With Fay Wray in her last performance, btw.

This just replayed today on "Fresh Air":

Fresh Air Remembers Journalist Anthony Lewis

March 26, 2013 Anthony Lewis, the New York Times columnist and reporter who covered the Supreme Court in the late 1950s and early 1960s, died Monday. Fresh Air remembers him by listening back to a 1991 interview in which Lewis talks about the responsibilities of a columnist and the importance of a correctly-spelled name.

Listen to the Story (7:36)

NPR coverage was great. You have to admit that this guy looks more like Phil Moran than Phil Moran.

What is most most sad to note about Lewis'passing is the fading hope instilled by Gideon v. Wainwright. For those not familiar with the case, I will say briefly that it was one in which the US Supreme Court found a due process right to counsel on the part of an indigent defendant facing felony charges. I honestly doubt that the current Supreme Court would make the same decision - it would most likely be another dreary 5-4 decision reached entirely on the basis of political orientation. According to a front page story in the NYT either this week or last, an increasing number of lower courts are failing to appreciate the Constitutional seriousness of the issue as well. Wonder if Lewis saw that story in his waning days among us...Almost hope that the old fellow didn't. Some have the satisfaction of heading to the grave feeling that their work has been completed. Lewis, on the other hand, could only take with him the satisfaction of knowing that he had toiled endlessly and valorously shoveling sand.

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