Thursday, February 5, 2015

Linda Greenhouse on Anthony Lewis

Linda Greenhouse, Yale Law School, has posted The Rigorous Romantic: Anthony Lewis on the Supreme Court Beat, which appears in the Missouri Law Review 79 (2014): 907-14.   Here is the abstract:    
Tony Lewis called himself “a romantic about the Supreme Court.” If he had not been a romantic when he took up the beat for the New York Times in 1957, he surely would have become one as, for the next seven years, he chronicled the Warren Court’s progressive constitutional revolution at the peak of its energy and transformative power. To list just some of the landmark opinions the Court issued during those seven years is to prove the point: Cooper v. Aaron, Mapp v. Ohio, Baker v. Carr, Engel v. Vitale, Gideon v. Wainwright, Brady v. Maryland, School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, Reynolds v. Sims, Heart of Atlanta Motel, Inc. v. United States. “Historic Change in the Supreme Court” was the headline on a New York Times Magazine article of Tony’s that ran in the midst of it all, in June 1962, an article to which I shall return, because it reveals as much about its author as it did about its subject.

You may have done a double-take when I said that Tony covered the Court for seven years – only seven years. As one who came to the beat fourteen years after he left it, and who stayed for nearly three decades, I also find that hard to believe, to the extent that I feel the need to keep checking my notes for accuracy every time I mention it. The reason his seven-year tenure sounds so unbelievably short is that its impact was so unbelievably great. He explained what was happening at the Court in muscular and declarative prose that any intelligent reader could understand. But he did so much more than that. He placed the decisions in the context of contemporary politics and the framework of constitutional history while assessing their significance. He transformed journalism about the Supreme Court from a score-keeping account of winners and losers to a rich narrative of the Court’s role in a democracy grappling with profound questions about the meaning of justice for all.