A Chief Justice Who Stood Up to Joe McCarthy

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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If you ever get stuck on the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge in Old Saybrook, visit the Raymond E. Baldwin Senior Center in Stratford or have business at the Raymond E. Baldwin Courthouse in Middletown, you might wonder who this Baldwin character was.

Your interest might be further piqued if you knew that the Quinnipiac University School of Law has even established the Raymond E. Baldwin Award to recognize citizens who have advanced the public interest in their careers.

Recently, Baldwin's life and times were front and center at a reception that included, among others, authors of an in-depth article about him recently published in the Quinnipiac Law Review.

An editor's note stated that Baldwin "served Connecticut with great distinction as a state representative, governor, U.S. Senator, and chief justice," and that he manifested "the qualities of independence, courage, and moderation, combined with an inquiring mind and dedication to the public interest."

The article itself was authored by Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn and Adam Tarr, an attorney at O'Brien, Tanski & Young in Hartford. There is no way to easily summarize all the highlights of the 40-plus-page article, "Raymond E Baldwin: Senator to Judge, 1949-1950."

But one intriguing section portrays Baldwin, as a U.S. senator, locking horns with a young Sen. Joseph McCarthy during hearings in 1949 that focused on the Army's treatment of Nazi SS troops who had confessed to killing U.S. prisoners of war. Baldwin was in charge of a subcommittee looking into whether the confessions were coerced by Army prosecutors. McCarthy stated publicly that Baldwin, a fellow Republican, was not to be trusted to run the investigation. The Wisconsin senator, who would later become infamous for his anti-communist crusade, said Baldwin would likely "whitewash" the results because a former law partner of his had been in charge of the Army prosecutorial team. The two senators exchanged sharp words during a hearing, and McCarthy stormed out, saying that the proceedings had degenerated into a "shameful farce." Months later, he would call Baldwin's participation "criminally wrong."

Proceeding without McCarthy, Baldwin and the committee issued a report that supported the Army prosecutors and made recommendations for future war crimes trials.

Cohn admitted to becoming "hooked" reading about Baldwin's life, given the characters that danced through it, including President Harry Truman, who reportedly observed that Baldwin was McCarthy's first victim. Tarr said he was impressed by Baldwin's determination and ability to stand up for himself and remain true to his principles in face-offs involving McCarthy and other Republican leaders.

The authors also described the political intrigue that led to Baldwin leaving the Senate midterm — allowing a Democrat to be appointed to succeed him — so he could join the Connecticut Supreme Court. While many Democrats approved of the appointment on tactical political grounds, there was also significant opposition because Baldwin had never before been a judge.

Baldwin, who had previously served two terms as Connecticut governor in the late 1930s and early 1940s, ultimately won confirmation, and served as an associate justice on the Supreme Court for 10 years. He became chief justice in 1959, serving until 1963.

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