By Joyce Frank
The Sixth Annual Masterman Institute Symposium at Suffolk Law School honored its original keynote speaker, Anthony Lewis, celebrating his life and work as a Supreme Court correspondent, author of seminal legal nonfiction books, and as a professor.
Panelists described how the Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist epitomized the Masterman Institute’s goals of providing a forum for robust debate and exchange of ideas on freedom of the press.
New York Times reporter Linda Greenhouse, who covered the Supreme Court for 30 years and now is a lecturer in Law at Yale Law School, described Lewis’s “astounding aptitude” for understanding the court’s work. She noted Lewis’s talent for capturing the significance of landmark decisions such as the Little Rock desegregation ruling that heralded sweeping social changes from the “quiet drama” of the courtroom.
“I know a great journalist when I see one and Tony Lewis was it,” Greenhouse said.
Lewis covered the Supreme Court for the New York Times from 1957-64. Greenhouse described Lewis as a journalist who did not stand aloof from his subject but rather “believed in a moral reading of the law” and believed that the law and the courts could resolve racial conflict. She pointed to a 1962 article by Lewis in which he stated that “the court is taking up the role of conscience to the country.”
Also on the panel was distinguished law professor and author Erwin Chemerinsky, who is dean of University of California Irvine School of Law. Chemerinsky highlighted Lewis’s contribution to public understanding of law and the First Amendment through his 1964 book “Gideon’s Trumpet.” The book chronicles an indigent’s battle to obtain representation by counsel, culminating in the landmark Supreme Court decision that guarantees criminal defendants the right to an attorney even if they cannot afford it.
Panelist James Newton, editor at large of the Los Angeles Times, discussed Lewis’s “Make No Law,” which describes how the defamation standard crafted by the court for public figures in New York Times v. Sullivan grew from its historical context. Newton noted that Lewis’s nuanced presentation reveals major, sometimes overlooked, accomplishments of the Warren Court including measured and thoughtful accommodations designed to protect both freedom of speech and personal dignity.
The Masterman Institute was established by Edward I. Masterman, Suffolk University Law School, JD ’50, LLD ’90, and his wife Sydell to provide a forum for robust debate and exchange of ideas on freedom of the press and its attendant responsibilities. This year’s panel was moderated by Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts.
Also in attendance was Lewis’ widow, retired Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Margaret Marshall. She told attendees that Lewis “always took the historical view” and especially loved teaching because of what he felt young leaders taught him about the unfolding future of the country.
Still, many people have said to her, “I wish Tony was here, because I don’t know what to think.”