During his 46 years at the New York Times, Lewis, who died March 25 at 85, embodied two kinds of American journalism. Twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize for reporting, he transformed court coverage in the 1960s, turning complex legal issues into clear, compelling stories by drawing heavily on the lives of the people contesting the cases. Gideon’s Trumpet, his classic book on the 1963 Supreme Court case that guaranteed the poor a lawyer in state criminal cases, set the standard for that kind of legal journalism. Then, as a columnist for the Times until his retirement in 2001, Lewis adapted that reportorial humanism to a new role as a (mostly) liberal opinion writer. Affected by the social changes the Supreme Court helped enact while he was on the beat, Lewis argued for government activism to right social wrongs and for the duty of courts to enforce justice–even when that meant limiting the First Amendment rights of the press.
This text originally appeared in the April 8 issue of TIME magazine.
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