April 18th 1857: Clarence Darrow born

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Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938)

 

On this day in 1857 the legendary American lawyer Clarence Darrow was born in Ohio. Darrow was a prominent member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the leading defense attorney of his day, taking many high profile cases. His most famous – or better yet, infamous – cases included defending Leopold and Loeb for the murder of 14 year old Bobby Franks in 1924 and teacher John T. Scopes for teaching evolution in the ‘Scopes Monkey Trial’ in 1925.

 

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John T. Scopes (1900-1970)

 

His defense of Leopold and Loeb has remained a contentious point in legal and moral discourse, as he managed to reduce their sentences from death to life imprisonment by arguing that the privileged rich teenagers were conditioned by their circumstances. His eloquent defense of Leopold and Loeb has gone down in history as one of the most prominent rejections of the element of free will and a classic deterministic viewpoint. It is in this capacity that I first came across Darrow, as this case was the main example used in my Philosophy and Ethics class of the successful legal implementation of the deterministic viewpoint. Further exploration on Darrow’s views on free will is very enlightening, as he does seem to honestly believe what he said. According to Darrow, Leopold and Loeb should not be executed for their actions because they were not their fault, but punishment must still take place as they are dangerous individuals.

 

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Leopold and Loeb

 

“Why did they kill little Bobby Franks? Not for money, not for spite; not for hate. They killed him as they might kill a spider or a fly, for the experience. They killed him because they were made that way. Because somewhere in the infinite processes that go to the making up of the boy or the man something slipped, and those unfortunate lads sit here hated, despised, outcasts, with the community shouting for their blood.”

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