Henry Sawyer: advocate for the unpopular.

Author:Adams, Arlin M.
Position:Lawyer

Ralph Waldo Emerson declared that "the true test of civilization is, not the census, nor the size of cities, nor the crops,--no, but the kind of [person] the country turns out."(1) If America is a great civilization, and I believe it is, it is because of citizens like Henry W. Sawyer, III.

I first met Henry in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School after we both had returned from service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Henry had been in a prior class, but I had been released a little sooner--apparently having served overseas somewhat longer. Since we both were active on the Law Review, I had many opportunities to discuss with him specific cases as well as overall legal philosophy.

I never doubted his brilliance; he had compiled a fine academic record at Chestnut Hill Academy and had been elected to Phi Beta Kappa while an undergraduate at Penn. Henry quickly and cogently could analyze cases, the law, and concepts governing those cases. He was quite articulate in expressing his views and intellectually honest at all times.

Although he had come from a somewhat conservative background, he was disappointed with the entrenched Republican political machine then dominating Philadelphia. Consequently, even while in law school, he became an ardent supporter of the Clark-Dilworth reform movement, which was making great strides locally. He enthusiastically campaigned for them, and they were elected mayor and district attorney, respectively. Henry, himself, was elected to the Philadelphia City Council in 1956.

Henry's real calling was the law, however, and in 1960 he returned to full-time practice with the distinguished firm of Drinker Biddle & Reath, where he remained until his death. In 1953, he agreed to serve as one of the defense attorneys in United States v. Kuzma,(2) a criminal prosecution brought against a group of Communist sympathizers under the Smith Act.(3) A number of attorneys had volunteered for service at the behest of the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association, who believed that even unpopular defendants were entitled to appropriate legal representation. Although the jury returned a verdict of guilty, the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed that result.(4)

The courageous effort of these attorneys--led by Tom McBride, later a justice on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court--further roused Henry's interest in civil rights matters generally, and on behalf of less affluent defendants in particular. In that...

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