Ed de Grazia, RIP
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
RIP to Ed de Grazia, my 1L Criminal Law teacher and later colleague at Cardozo for a decade, who passed away at the age of 86. As the NYT puts it today, Ed was a “fierce civil libertarian.”
Landmarks of his outstanding career as a lawyer who opposed government censorship include his 1964 SCOTUS victory on behalf of the publisher of Henry Miller’s sexually explicit book Tropic of Cancer. Ed’s own 1994 book, Girls Lean Back Everywhere, was a stirring defense of artistic freedom against state power.
Ed, who spent most of his career at Cardozo with shorter stints at Catholic, Connecticut, Georgetown and Yale, was an impressive teacher. He presented material and led students through discussion with total objectivity, with no assumptions or pre-judgments.
He insisted that we students explain why any given alleged behavior violated a particular criminal law. That went as much for arson, burglary, and homicide as it did for cannibalism, incest and necrophilia. Ed’s method was demanding, leading a class that sharpened legal minds. He also taught a special seminar as part of Cardozo’s prosecutor internship program where his pedagogy and philosophy instilled a deep sense of obligation to think and explain rather than blindly pursue and enforce.
Ed was also a passionate proponent of privacy before the modern era developed such an intense interest in the topic. For example, as the NYT notes today, Ed argued that newspapers had no business reporting on the romances of political figures, such as Gary Hart’s affair with Donna Rice that doomed his political career. Ed preferred not to judge his fellow human beings, leaving that to the inner tribunal of the conscience and above all keeping the state’s role in people’s lives as limited as possible.
Ed was also a great colleague for the same reasons: he welcomed all forms and manner of scholarly inquiry and loved learning about why any one of us found our subject so interesting. Ed was cool, smart and earnest. We will all miss him but always remember his spirit.