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Today in Legal History: Martin Luther Defiant, Clarence Darrow Born


On this day in 1521, Martin Luther, a German professor and theologian considered the chief force behind the Protestant Reformation in Europe, was called before the Roman Empire’s assembly, or Diet, in Worms, Germany, to answer charges of heresy. (He was also excommunicated in 1521 from the Roman Catholic Church because of his controversial views.) Asked to acknowledge that he was the author of books published under his name and repudiate them, he admitted he was the author, but asked for time to ponder his response to the repudiation request. The next day, he gave an eloquent speech to the assembly, refusing as a matter of conscience to recant. For details, see this California Institute for Ancient Studies Web page.

On this day in 1857, Clarence Darrow was born. He was to become one of the most famous trial lawyers of his day, revered as a spellbinding courtroom orator. His signature speeches included an impassioned – and successful – 12-hour argument that thrill-killers Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb should be spared the death penalty in their 1924 Chicago murder trial and his 1925 defense of a Tennessee schoolteacher criminally charged for teaching the theory of evolution in his classroom. (John Scopes was convicted, at the request of Darrow, who hoped for a binding appellate ruling grounded in constitutional law, but won on appeal on a technicality.) The Web site for the University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law has detailed pages about both the Leopold and Loeb case and the so-called Scopes “Monkey” Trial.

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