Justice Harry E. Lewis was born in New York around the year 1880 to Leopold and Emma Lowenthal Lewis. He attended Boys High School in Brooklyn, working as a clerk at the Kings County District Attorney’s office when he was 16 years old. He then studied law at the office of Foster L. Backus and was admitted to the bar in 1901. He worked as a partner in Backus’ law office until 1906, and later entered a partnership with his brother, Oscar A. Lewis.
Lewis was appointed as County Judge for Brooklyn by Governor Charles S. Whitman in 1915, but lost the election to retain the position. In 1916, Governor Whitman appointed Lewis Kings County District Attorney and he won re-election to that position in 1919. He was named to the Supreme Court in 1921 and re-elected in 1935, declining a mayoralty nomination in 1929 in favor of remaining on the bench. Lewis was an Associate Justice for the Appellate Division, Second Department from 1943 until 1946, when Governor Dewey promoted him to Presiding Justice of that court, a position he held until his death.
Lewis’ memberships in professional organizations included the American, New York State and Brooklyn Bar Associations. He was also a member in several clubs, a trustee of the Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences, vice president of the Jewish Hospital of Brooklyn, and a director of the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. Additionally, Lewis headed the Bill of Rights Committee at the 1938 State Constitutional Convention, co-authoring the Dewey-Lewis proposal dealing with search and seizure law and the anti-discrimination clause, both of which were adopted into law.
A Republican, Lewis “favored capital punishment, life imprisonment for habitual felons and a simplification of the laws” (Harry). In 1921, as District Attorney of Kings County, he criticized the Parole Boards for minimizing criminal punishments. He also argued that it should be mandatory for the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every school classroom and that all students should repeat them daily.
Lewis was married to Rose Nathan in 1906 and had a daughter and two grandsons. He died on August 23, 1948 while on vacation in Upper Saranac, NY at the age of 68.
“Harry Lewis Dies; State Justice, 68.” New York Times (1923-Current file): 23. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). Aug 24 1948. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.
“Wants Decalogue in all the Schools.” New York Times (1857-1922): 14. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2008). May 20 1921. Web. 29 Mar. 2012.