Two-time Pulitzer-Prize winner Anthony Lewis, whose New York Times column championed liberal causes for three decades, died Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 85.
Lewis worked for 32 years as a columnist for the New York Times, taking up causes such as free speech, human rights and constitutional law. He won his first Pulitzer in 1955 as a reporter covering a Navy civilian falsely accused of being a communist sympathizer, and he won again in 1963 for reporting on the Supreme Court.
His acclaimed 1964 book, “Gideon’s Trumpet,” told the story of a petty thief whose fight for legal representation led to a landmark Supreme Court decision.
A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, where his wife was chief justice until 2010, confirmed his death.
Lewis saw himself as a defender of decency, respect for law and reason against a tide of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism. His columns railed against the Vietnam War, Watergate, apartheid in South Africa and Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.
He wrote his final “Abroad at Home” column for The Times on Dec. 15, 2001, warning against the U.S. fearfully surrendering its civil liberties in the wake of the terrorist attacks three months earlier.
“Gideon’s Trumpet” became a legal classic, telling the story of Clarence Earl Gideon, whose case resulted in the creation of the public defender systems across the nation. In Gideon vs. Wainwright, the high court ruled that criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer even if they cannot afford one.
Gideon’s victory, Lewis wrote, “shows that even the poorest and least powerful of men — a convict with not even a friend to visit him in prison — can take his cause to the highest court in the land and bring about a fundamental change in the law.”
The bestselling book was later made into a television movie starring Henry Fonda.
“Generation after generation of students, the way they learned about the Supreme Court, was by reading ‘Gideon’s Trumpet,’” said Ronald K.L. Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington School of Law who put together a bibliography of Lewis’ expansive writings on free speech.
Lewis was known for his skill at interpreting and writing clearly about the decisions of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren in the 1950s and ‘60s.
Fighting for the underdog was a theme for Lewis. He won his first Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles in the Washington Daily News that were judged responsible for clearing a civilian employee of the U.S. Navy from McCarthy-era allegations that he was a security risk.
Lewis said Abraham Chasanow was a middle-class man, uninterested in politics, who was terrorized by the federal loyalty-security program of the 1950s when unnamed informants alleged that he was a radical communist sympathizer. The Navy ultimately apologized to Chasanow.
Lewis’ other books include “Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment” (2008) and “Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment” (1991).
Joseph Anthony Lewis was born in New York City on March 27, 1927, attended the elite Horace Mann School in the Bronx and graduated from Harvard College in 1948.
He joined the New York Times in 1948 and spent most of his career there, except for a stint at the now-defunct Washington Daily News, where he worked from 1952 to 1955.
He studied law for a year at Harvard in the 1950s so he could go on to cover the Supreme Court for the New York Times, and served as chief of the newspaper’s London bureau from 1965 to 1972. He began his twice-weekly “Abroad at Home” column from London in 1969 and moved to Boston in 1972.
In 1984, he married Margaret Marshall, who in 1996 was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court. She was made chief justice in 1999 and wrote the court’s 2003 decision legalizing same-sex marriage. When she announced her retirement in 2010, Marshall said she was leaving to spend more time with her husband after he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
She survives him, along with three children from a previous marriage and seven grandchildren.