Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Anthony Lewis has died. Lewis, who passed at 85, was best known for his New York Times column, which championed liberal causes for more than 30 years.
Lewis worked for the Times as a columnist for 32 years. His topics often included constitutional law, human rights, and free speech. He won Pulitzers during his years as a reporter, first in 1955 and again in 1963.
The winning topics were a defense of a Navy civilian falsely accused of sympathizing with communists (1955) and then for reporting on the Supreme Court (1963).
The reporter described himself as a defender of decency who had a respect for law and reason, fighting against a tide of religious fundamentalism and extreme nationalism.
Included in Anthony Lewis’s column topics were the Vietnam War, Watergate, apartheid in South Africa, and Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. He strongly opposed all of these.
Lewis also wrote an acclaimed book in 1964. The book, Gideon’s Trumpet, told the story of a petty thief who fought for legal representation. The battle lead to a landmark Supreme Court decision.
The thief was Clarence Earl Gideon. In Gideon V. Wainwright, the Supreme Court ruled that criminal defendants are entitled to a lawyer — even if they cannot afford one. The decision led to the creation of the public defender system.
His final column was written for the Times on December 15, 2011. It warned the nation against surrendering civil liberties because of fear in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. He wrote:
“The hard question is whether our commitment to law will survive the new sense of vulnerability that is with us all after Sept. 11. It is easy to tolerate dissent when we feel safe.”
Anthony Lewis, an advocate for free speech, titled his 2008 book Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment. The book spoke about laws, like the 1798 Sedition Act, that abridge freedom of expression. The Sedition Act made it a crime to criticize government officials.
Lewis explained, “We need to celebrate and understand our unique freedom, and it is unique in this country this freedom of speech and press. And I don’t actually think we understand it well.”
Along with his work for The New York Times, Lewis also worked for the Washington Daily News between 1952 and 1955. When he retired from the Times, he explained the his career as a columnist led him to two conclusions. Lewis explained:
“One is that certainty is the enemy of decency and humanity in people who are sure they are right, like Osama bin Laden and (then-Attorney General) John Ashcroft. And secondly that for this country at least, given the kind of obstreperous, populous, diverse country we are, law is the absolute essential. And when governments short-cut the law, it’s extremely dangerous.”
There was no word on Anthony Lewis’ surviving family members or funeral arrangements.