May 17, 2010

Why is Anthony Lewis so in love with Barry Friedman's book?

Here's Anthony Lewis:
We think of the Supreme Court’s constitutional decisions as lofty, lonely, unchallengeable. But in truth they are part of a dialogue with public opinion and political leadership—and in the long run the Court does not stray far from the public. That is the convincing conclusion of Barry Friedman’s stunning, fascinating history.
Here's a review of Friedman's book in The New Republic:
In Friedman’s assessment, no journalist was more closely attuned to the sentiments of ordinary Americans in the latter half of the twentieth century than Anthony Lewis of The New York Times. “In a probing 1962 feature story,” Friedman writes, “Lewis explained that the Supreme Court’s rapid development of the law in the areas of race relations, legislative apportionment, and the rights of criminal suspects reflected ‘a demand of the national conscience.’” Unburdened by data, Lewis unabashedly identified national trends that just happened to coincide perfectly with the Warren Court’s jurisprudence. Lewis explained the Court’s decision in Brown as follows: “Once again no complicated motive need be sought. The Supreme Court was reflecting a national moral consensus on segregation--perhaps anticipating a feeling that had not yet fully taken shape.”

This assertion is historically inaccurate. A great deal more opposition and ambivalence greeted Brown than is revealed by such a tale of moral triumph. But Friedman’s admiration for Lewis knows no bounds. “Though critics complained constantly that the Warren Court was running ahead of the crowd,” he remarks, “at least one perceptive observer understood that the Court did what it did because the public supported these outcomes and no other organ of government would provide them. That was Anthony Lewis.” In extolling Lewis’s coverage of Bickel’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Lectures at Harvard Law School, Friedman gushes: “Ultimately, it was Anthony Lewis who proved the Court’s most perceptive spectator.”


Whatever Anthony Lewis’s other journalistic strengths, having his finger on the pulse of the common man is not among them. Lewis was born in New York City and attended an elite private high school followed by Harvard College. His first job took him to the Times. When Justice Frankfurter suggested to James Reston that the Gray Lady needed a Supreme Court correspondent, Reston personally tapped Lewis for the assignment and returned him to Cambridge, where he studied at Harvard Law School as a Nieman Fellow. Lucas A. Powe Jr. has accurately characterized Lewis’s assessments of the Court as “both first drafts of history and explanations by one part of the Establishment of another part of the Establishment to other parts of the Establishment.” Friedman promises Joe Sixpack, but he delivers Tony Martini.

The book’s endorsement of Lewis’s many national-consensus pronouncements is most egregious in the instance of the Warren Court’s 1961 decision in Mapp v. Ohio, which required state courts to exclude evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures. “Although police complained [about Mapp],” Friedman writes, “the decision appears to have been in line with popular opinion, at least to the extent the public was paying attention. As Anthony Lewis wrote in The New York Times, the Court’s decision reflected ‘a national moral sentiment’ that refused ‘to tolerate police misbehavior in any state.’” It is worth observing that three justices dissented in Mapp, thereby rendering it difficult to believe that broad agreement existed in the entire nation when it did not even exist at the justices’ conference table. In 1961, moreover, half of the states permitted what Mapp forbade, including such notorious backwaters as New York. Abe Fortas, a Washington lawyer who would soon be elevated to the Court by his old friend Lyndon Johnson, called Mapp “the most radical decision in recent times.”

17 comments:

rdkraus said...

As I was reading this, I kept thinking there must be some tie in to the bat fellatio story.

EDH said...

"Well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet."

LarsPorsena said...

Anthony Lewis to Barry Friedman:

So much in love with ourselves are we,
That you could kiss you and I could kiss me.

SteveR said...

That dog'll bite you.

Roger Sweeny said...

Talk about cocooning ...

edutcher said...

"In Friedman’s assessment, no journalist was more closely attuned to the sentiments of ordinary Americans in the latter half of the twentieth century than Anthony Lewis of The New York Times."

Which ordinary Americans is he talking about? The ones who made pilgrimages to Moscow and Hanoi?

And that doesn't even begin to compare to the other whopper, "... in the long run the Court does not stray far from the public."

Only if the public consists of the area between Berkeley and San Fiasco.

Remember how fast the Court had to move to rescind its decision that the death penalty was cruel and unusual?

Hombre said...

Reminds me of the New Yorker's Pauline Kael, in
1972, "How could Nixon have won? I don't know ANYBODY who voted for him!"

Roger J. said...

Tony Lewis along with Scotty Reston and the rest of the 1970s era NYT op ed guys embodied the height of elitist bullshit. The best interview sequence I ever saw was when Henry Kissinger delivered a smackdown on Tony Lewis that left him (Lewis) literally gasping. Had to do with the Christmas bombing in Viet Nam in the 1970s. Tony Lewis (at home abroad--his column name) epitomizes the Walter Duranty legacy of the NYT.

I note that the egregious David Brooks extends that legacy with his douchebag commentary re Senator Bennett's defeat in Utah. I will shed no tears when the NYT disappears from public view.

David said...

"unburdened by data . . . ."

There you have it.

knox said...

"Why is Anthony Lewis so in love with Barry Friedman's book?"

He's not. He's in love with chicken monkey duck.

jgm said...

Anthony Lewis is still alive?

former law student said...

I see Jack Balkin and Richard Epstein praised the book, too.

More logrolling?

dbp said...

Certainly, my estimation of a person depends heavily on whether they are smart enough to recognize my genius.

Big Mike said...

Well, if that's what he said about Mapp then he's not only wrong but egregiously wrong.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I thought journos were supposed to end their stories with -30-, not -69-.

former law student said...

It is worth observing that three justices dissented in Mapp, thereby rendering it difficult to believe that broad agreement existed in the entire nation when it did not even exist at the justices’ conference table.

Mr. Justice Harlan asserted that the issue had not been briefed, that there were other Constitutional grounds on which to reverse the conviction, that Wolf had fairly recently been decided and stare decisis demanded that its holding be respected, and that individual states could -- and in many cases already had -- freely choose other sanctions for those who obtained evidence in violation of the Fourth Amendent.

So on the Supreme Court there was a broad consensus that illegal search and seizure was wrong, but not a consensus to institute the federal exclusionary rule as the sanction and remedy.

Ryan said...

this is all way too much confusion.

Cyrus Jeffries
Scotty Cameron Putter