Anthony Lewis, the former New York Times Supreme Court reporter and columnist whose work won two Pulitzer Prizes, died Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass., at 85.
The cause was complications of kidney and heart failure, his wife, Margaret Marshall, a retired chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, told the Times.
A stalwart liberal, Lewis had two great themes: justice and the role of the press in a democracy. His column, called “At Home Abroad” or “Abroad at Home” depending on where he was writing from, appeared on the Times op-ed page from 1970 until 2001.
Lewis wrote several books, two of them classic accounts of landmark decisions of the Warren court, which he revered. Chief Justice Earl Warren led the Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969, simultaneously with Lewis’s years in Washington.
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“You cannot talk about the legacy of the Warren court and not talk about Tony Lewis,” said Ronald Collins, a scholar at the University of Washington who compiled a bibliography of Lewis’s work. “He was just part and parcel of it. He was part of ushering in that constitutional revolution in civil rights and civil liberties from Brown v. Board of Education to Miranda v. Arizona.”
One of those books, “Gideon’s Trumpet,” concerned Gideon v. Wainwright, the 1963 decision that guaranteed lawyers to poor defendants charged with serious crimes. It has never been out of print since it was published in 1964.
In 1991, Lewis published “Make No Law,” an account of New York Times v. Sullivan, the 1964 Supreme Court decision that revolutionized American libel law. The Sullivan case, applying First Amendment principles to state libel law for the first time, ruled that public officials suing critics of their official conduct had to prove that statements were made with “actual malice,” meaning with knowledge of their falsity or with serious doubts about their truth.
Lewis joined the Times in 1948 as an editor in the Sunday department, but he left after four years to work on Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 presidential campaign. After that he was hired by The Washington Daily News and won his first Pulitzer there, in 1955, when he was 28.
The prize was for a series of articles on Abraham Chasanow, a Navy employee unjustly accused of being a security risk. The Navy eventually cleared and reinstated Chasanow, who credited Lewis’s work for his vindication.
Lewis returned to The Times that year to cover the Justice Department and the Supreme Court.
The citation for Lewis’s second Pulitzer in 1963 singled out his coverage of Baker v. Carr, in which the Supreme Court opened legislative districting to oversight by the federal courts. Lewis did more than cover the decision; an article on legislative apportionment that he had written for The Harvard Law Review was cited in the decision at Footnote 27.