Journalist Anthony Lewis Credited With Reinventing Supreme Court Reporting

Mar 25, 2013
Originally published on March 27, 2013 5:59 pm
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Finally this hour, we remember an eminent journalist. Anthony Lewis was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He died today of heart and renal failure at age 85. As we hear from NPR's David Folkenflik, Lewis will be remembered for reinventing coverage of the Supreme Court and for his advocacy of civil rights and civil liberties as a New York Times columnist.

DAVID FOLKENFLIK, BYLINE: Just after his retirement, Anthony Lewis spoke with NPR about his days as a young reporter at the Washington Daily News and a story he wrote about a Navy employee stripped of clearance.


FOLKENFLIK: Lewis jumped to The New York Times where he soon covered the U.S. Supreme Court.

WALTER DELLINGER: Lewis understood the role of the court in American life, politics and history better than most.

FOLKENFLIK: Washington lawyer Walter Dellinger is a former acting U.S. solicitor general who's argued more than 20 cases before the Supreme Court.

DELLINGER: So while he got the details right, he also understood the larger context in which the court was operating.

FOLKENFLIK: Lewis wrote two highly influential books. "Gideon's Trumpet" examined the life of Clarence Earl Gideon, a Florida drifter tried, imprisoned and convicted of breaking into a pool hall without the benefit of a lawyer. The case established the right to legal representation regardless of ability to pay. Another Lewis book explored the First Amendment through a libel suit filed by the police commissioner of Montgomery, Alabama, against The New York Times. The paper prevailed. Again, Walter Dellinger.

DELLINGER: Before Lewis' "Make No Law" was written, people didn't understand the real threat that the Deep South was going to shut down coverage of the civil rights movement by libel suits against the press.

FOLKENFLIK: For 30 years, Lewis' column returned repeatedly to injustice and the law, both in the U.S. and abroad, with a liberal outlook and a lucidity that won admirers even among those who disagreed. Again, the late Anthony Lewis.


FOLKENFLIK: He is survived by his wife, the former chief justice of Massachusetts, and by his three children and seven grandchildren. David Folkenflik, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.