Clarence Darrow (1857‑1938) is best known as an outstanding criminal attorney, but he was much more. He was an inveterate fighter for the right to justice. He pleaded always for racial understanding, for compassion, for tolerance, for separation of church and state.
He defended the weak and the strong, but never the strong against the weak. He used the courtroom platform to champion the causes close to him, to argue some of the major issues of his time, too many of which are still being fought today.
Examples of his outstanding trials include:
The 1895 trial of Eugene Victor Debs against the American Railway Union, where he defended labor’s rights.
He argued for First Amendment Rights in his 1920 defense of twenty Communists accused of conspiring to overthrow the United States government.
In his 1924 Loeb‑Leopold trial summation where two teen‑age boys were tried for kidnapping and murder, Darrow held out against capital punishment.
In the Scopes trial in Dayton, Tennessee (1925) he argued “yes” against William Jennings Bryan whether evolution should be taught in the public schools.
In the 1926 Sweet case in Detroit, Michigan, he addressed social tensions when two black men were charged with murder after a crowd of white men attacked their home.
Darrow was the defender of the underdog, of the despised, the oppressed, the inarticulate. As he often emphasized, he hated the sin, never the sinner.
Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said of him: “Darrow used the law to promote social justice as he saw it. Yet the law and the lawyers were to him reactionary forces. . . . Great reforms came not from within the law but from without. It was not the judges and barristers who made the significant advances toward social justice. They were made in conventions of the people and in legislative halls. Yet Darrow, working through the law, brought prestige and honor to it during a long era of intolerance.”
—Lila Weinberg, July 2007