New York civil rights attorney Ron Kuby, who worked with Clark on numerous cases, called the death “very, very sad in a losing season.”
“The progressive legal community has lost its dean and senior statesman,” Kuby said. “For many generations, Ramsey Clark was a voice of principle, a conscience and a fighter for civil and human rights.”
In courts across the country, Clark defended peace activists. In the court of public opinion, he accused the United States of militarism and arrogance, beginning with the Vietnam War and continuing with Grenada, Libya, Panama, and the Gulf War.
When Clark visited Iraq after Operation Desert Storm and returned to accuse the United States of war crimes, Newsweek dubbed him the Jane Fonda of the Gulf War.
Clark said he just wanted America to live up to his ideals. “If you don’t insist that your government obey the law, what right do you have to demand it from others?” he said.
The lanky, soft-spoken Texan went to Washington in 1961 as the New Frontiersman in President John F. Kennedy’s Justice Department.
He was 39 when Johnson appointed him attorney general in 1967, the second-youngest in history: Robert Kennedy was 36 years old.
Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark, who had been Harry Truman’s attorney general before joining the superior court in 1949, swore in his son as attorney general and later retired to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest.
Ramsey Clark said his work at Justice led him into the civil rights revolution, which he called “the noblest pursuit of the American people in our time.”
He also maintained his opposition to the death penalty and wiretapping, defended the right to dissent, and criticized FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover when no one else in the government dared stand up to him.
But as Johnson’s attorney general, Clark was tasked with prosecuting Dr. Benjamin Spock for advising the youth of the Vietnam era to resist conscription, a position with which he was sympathetic.
“We won the case, that was the worst part,” he said years later.
Dallas-born Clark, who jerked in the Marine Corps in 1945-46, moved with his family to New York in 1970 and established a pro bono-oriented practice. He said then that he and his partners were limiting his personal annual income to $ 50,000, a figure he did not always achieve.
“The money is not in my interest,” she said, but at the same time she was paying expensive medical bills for her daughter, Ronda, who was born with severe disabilities. He and his wife, Georgia, who married in 1949, also had a son, Thomas, a lawyer.
Clark had a shot at elective office, losing the 1976 Democratic Senate primary to Daniel P. Moynihan.
Clark’s client list included peace and disarmament activists such as Harrisburg 7 and Plowshares 8. Overseas, he represented dissidents in Iran, Chile, the Philippines and Taiwan, and hijackers from the sky in the Soviet Union.
He was an advocate for Soviet and Syrian Jews, but outraged many Jews by other clients. He defended a Nazi prison camp guard fighting extradition and the Palestine Liberation Organization in a lawsuit over the murder of a cruise ship passenger by kidnappers.
Typically, there were two to three dozen active cases on Clark’s legal calendar, and about 100 more in the background. Capital punishment cases were a staple.
“We are talking about civil liberties,” he said. “We have the largest prison population per capita on Earth. Is the world’s greatest jailer the freest country on Earth?