James D. Crawford, a longtime ACLU of Pennsylvania leader, fierce advocate for civil liberties, and friend to all who knew him, passed away peacefully earlier this month. I want to take some time to share what was so special about Jim.
Jim was involved with the ACLU in some capacity since the late 1950s, when he was a law student at the University of Pennsylvania. His dedication to public service was apparent early on. Even as he dedicated himself to the rigors of an Ivy League legal education, he served as the editor-in-chief of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review while regularly volunteering for a variety of ACLU causes. Jim was always tireless in his work and his activism.
Wielding an impressive record upon his graduation and admittance to the Pennsylvania Bar, Jim could have chosen to work for just about any white-shoe law firm in the commonwealth. He could have decided to pursue a career in law chasing power and prestige. Instead, Jim chose to serve.
Jim spent a decade at the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office, rising to the rank of deputy district attorney for law under then-District Attorney and future United States Senator Arlen Specter. Decades before criminal legal reformists would identify the importance of progressive prosecutors, Jim was walking the walk.
A 1971 law review article that he authored called for a rehabilitative approach to criminal justice that would “look beyond the prison walls to the support of the families of prisoners and the creation of a place in the community to which a prisoner can return with some likelihood of remaining there successfully.”
Jim formally joined the board of directors of the ACLU of Pennsylvania in 1969 and would remain an active member of the ACLU in some capacity for the next 50 years. Beginning in 1978, Jim served on the board of the national ACLU. From 1985 through 2003, Jim was also the president of the board of directors for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
After leaving the district attorney’s office, Jim joined the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP, where he would remain until 1997. At Schnader, Jim was able to work on litigation relating to his civil liberties passions: the First Amendment, the death penalty, prisoners’ rights, equal protection, and criminal procedure.
He was part of litigation before the United States Supreme Court more than a dozen times and argued before the justices at least three times. This work included a crucial case brought by the ACLU of Pennsylvania that extended First Amendment rights to government attempts to regulate the internet. Collaboration on a number of civil liberties cases between the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the law firm of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP continues to this day.
Jim Crawford was the kind of champion for civil rights and liberties who not only is engaged in the work of justice, but who inspires others to take the same path. For decades, Jim worked with unbounded energy to make the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States of America more just and equitable places to live. Along the way, he inspired generations of civil libertarians to join the fight, whether through litigation, activism, or both.
Even as his legacy lives on, Jim will be dearly missed.