The Art, Craft, and Future of Legal Journalism: A Tribute to Anthony Lewis

Missouri Law Review Symposium

January 31, 2014
Hulston Hall


Media coverage of the law and the courts is a cornerstone of democracy and the rule of law, but the balance is delicate.

The media provides the public oversight that assures the proper functioning of our governing institutions.  It facilitates the dialogue that is necessary for democracy to evolve and grow. And it provides daily proof of the efficacy of the rule of law.  It is for this reason that the media is sometimes considered The Fourth Estate.

Yet the factual and legal issues are often complex, arcane, and difficult to translate to popular audiences.  Both legal and media institutions also operate under significant and often competing constraints.  Legal processes are often slow, cumbersome, and highly nuanced, while the media must do its work in the face of enormous time, space, and other pressures.  Other issues further complicate the task: contrasting institutional obligations; clashes of personality, ego, and ambition; politics that may be felt but are not immediately apparent; and the natural tension between the watcher and the watched.

This is a fine line to walk, and few did it better than Anthony Lewis, the longtime New York Times reporter and columnist who died in 2013.  One of the pioneers of modern legal affairs journalism, Lewis covered the U.S. Supreme Court for The New York Times from 1957, chronicling the rights revolution of the rising Warren Court and such landmark cases as Cooper vs. Aaron, Mapp v. Ohio, Baker vs. Carr, New York Times v. Sullivan, and Gideon vs. Wainright.  Lewis received two Pulitzer prizes for his court coverage, and later wrote books about cases and issues that he covered – including Gideon’s Triumpet and Make No Law – that are considered classics of the genre.

The world has changed greatly since the young Tony Lewis first walked into the nation’s highest court with pen and pad in hand. In this festshrift, we honor Tony Lewis by exploring the world of legal affairs journalism that he helped to create — its past, present, and challenges for the future – with fondness and appreciation for his efforts to shed light on the role of law in our American democracy.

Missouri Law Review

Founded in 1936, the Missouri Law Review is one of the oldest legal journals published west of the Mississippi River. The law review has produced 78 volumes containing four issues each since the publication’s inception. The 2013-2014 law review is administered by 55 students.

Each year, law review members partner with faculty sponsors from the University of Missouri School of Law to host a symposium highlighting prominent legal issues and to discuss progressive solutions to complex policy challenges.

The University of Missouri will publish the papers featured in this year’s symposium in volume 79, issue 4 of the Missouri Law Review in the fall of 2014. Domestic subscriptions of this journal are available for $40; international subscriptions are $45. To view recent issues or request a subscription, please visit