Akron Law to host author of book on Rosenbergs
Legal News Reporter
Published: September 8, 2023
It’s been just over 70 years since Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed on June 19, 1953 at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
The couple, both U.S. citizens, was convicted in 1951 of conspiring to pass along the country’s atomic secrets to the Soviets.
Despite their convictions, they continued to deny the allegations right up until they died via the electric chair, making history as the first U.S. citizens to be convicted and executed for espionage during peacetime.
Forty years after the famous trial, Houston attorney Martin J. Siegel was a law clerk to 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Irving Robert Kaufman, who condemned them to death.
“I started in August 1991, two months after graduating,” said Siegel, who attended Harvard Law School. “Judge Kaufman died in February 1992 so I was one of his last law clerks. My co-clerk and fellow alum, Daphna Boros, started in June.
“His decision in the Rosenberg case fit the times in light of the Cold War and McCarthyism, but he later became one of the country’s leading progressive judges.”
Judge Kaufman’s evolving legal philosophy along with the ripple effects of the never-ending Rosenberg controversy and his often tragic family life, are the subject of Siegel’s new book entitled, “Judgment and Mercy: The Turbulent Life and Times of the Judge Who Condemned the Rosenbergs,” published earlier this year.
On Tuesday, Sept. 12, members of the legal and university communities and the public will get a chance to learn more about the book and Siegel’s experiences as a law clerk during an event at The University of Akron’s Center for Constitutional Law.
Siegel will be the featured speaker at the center’s Constitution Day celebration, which takes place in Room 180.
Directed by Akron Law Professor Tracy Thomas, the Center for Constitutional Law is one of four national resource institutes established by Congress in 1986 to foster legal research and education on current and emerging constitutional issues.
“Part of our mission is to celebrate Constitution Day, which takes place on Sept. 17,” said Thomas, John F. Seiberling Chair of Constitutional Law. “Each year, we bring in a featured speaker to discuss issues related to the Constitution that further public education and student and community engagement.”
The Center for Constitutional Law has hosted visiting U.S. Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and Arthur Goldberg in the past.
Thomas said Constitutional Law is something that affects everyone in the U.S. and as new issues continue to arise legislatively and in the courts she said it’s important to examine the history behind decisions such as Judge Kaufman’s back in the early ‘50s.
“While his earlier opinions were quite restrictive, this judge went on to make key decisions that supported civil rights,” said Thomas. “Siegel’s book presents an interesting juxtaposition of how this judge’s judicial views evolved over the years.
“I think the book does an excellent job of explaining legal history for both lawyers and non-lawyers alike and I think it will make for an insightful discussion.”
Siegel, who focuses his practice on appellate law, also teaches American Legal History at the University of Houston Law Center and founded and directs the school’s Appellate Civil Rights Clinic.
His lecture on Sept. 12 will begin with a short reading from the book followed by a question-and-answer session hosted by Thomas. Those in attendance will also get the chance to have their books signed after the lecture.
“I hope people will find it interesting to get a glimpse into the mind of the judge in such a landmark case,” said Siegel.
“As for Judge Kaufman’s later progressive activism, we’re now in a very different era. In the 1980s, he actually became one of the early opponents of originalism which is the now dominant mode of Constitutional interpretation.”
The Sept. 12 event kicks off at noon in Room 180 at Akron Law’s Center for Constitutional Law and will last one hour.
Registration isn’t required and the lecture is free and open to the public.
Later this fall, the center will also host a conference entitled “Gender, Health & the Constitution.” It takes place on Friday, Oct. 13, and runs all day from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“This centerpiece of our annual programming will feature 20 national experts and local practitioners debating many of the emerging issues of gender and health currently confounding the courts, including COVID, maternal care, abortion, transgender bans, access to healthcare, inequality in medical research and medical gaslighting,” said Thomas.
While it’s free and open to the public, registration is required. To do so, go to www.uakron.edu/law/ccl. CLE is available and breakfast and lunch will be served.