By William F. Causey
Based on Edmund E. Campbell’s Oral History for the D.C. Circuit Historical Society
Edmund E. Campbell was one of the leading members of the District of Columbia Bar during its formative years. Born in the century of Lincoln in 1899, Campbell graduated from Washington and Lee University at the age of 19, obtained a master’s degree in economics from Harvard University, then returned to Washington and Lee for his law degree in 1922. After serving as an economic advisor to John Lewis and the United Mine Workers of America for five years, Campbell started his legal career in the nation’s capital when there were only four judges on the U.S. District Court and three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
During Campbell’s stellar legal career, first with the small but successful Washington, D.C. firm of Douglas, Obear & Douglas, and later at his own firm of Jackson & Campbell, he was involved in many significant and historical cases. His most notable case was Davis v. Mann , one of four cases, along with Reynold v. Sims , argued before the Supreme Court for four days that resulted in the 1964 decision upholding the rule of one-man, one-vote in state legislative elections. In addition to arguing Mann before the Court, Campbell was responsible for coordinating the argument of the other lawyers who appeared before the Supreme Court in those ground-breaking cases.
Campbell was involved in many interesting and diverse cases, such as representing a Russian spy, litigating the permissible parameters of the Hatch Act, and defending a conscientious objector during World War II. In Parmelee v. United States (1940), Campbell was hired by the American Civil Liberties Union to challenge the federal obscenity laws over the banning of the importation of a book containing nude pictures. He prevailed in a 2-1 decision in the D.C Circuit. Always a great baseball fan, in Murphy v. Washington American League Base Ball Club, Inc. (1963), he represented the minority owners of the Washington Senators who unsuccessfully tried to prevent the team franchise from moving to Minneapolis – a collective loss for the city and a personal loss for Campbell.
Ed Campbell’s impact on the legal community extended beyond the courtroom. In 1938, he served on the Bar Committee that reviewed the proposed the new Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that greatly changed the practice of law in the federal courts. An ardent champion of civil rights his entire life, Campbell served on the Bar’s Civil Rights Committee with fellow lawyers Abe Fortas, Edward Bennett Williams, and Robert Bennett that opened the Bar Association of the District of Columbia to membership for African Americans. Along with his wife Elizabeth, Campbell was active in legal and civic efforts to desegregate public schools in Arlington, Virginia. In 1962, Campbell served as president of the Bar Association and later served as a delegate to the ABA House of Delegates.
In his oral history, Campbell recalls some of the more prominent judges before whom he appeared in his illustrious career, including Fred Vinson, Warren Burger, Thurman Arnold, Skelly Wright, and Barrett Prettyman. Campbell thought a great judge possessed an instinctive sense of right and wrong, was able to get to the heart of a case without prejudging the issues, was always courteous to lawyers, and was firm in running the courtroom and issuing decisions. Campbell also talks about the more interesting lawyers he litigated with and against, including Frank Hogan, who had a “vivid personality” and always wore pince-nez glasses, and Edward Bennett Williams, who was a “very brilliant lawyer” and had a photographic memory.
Ed Campbell’s oral history makes for engaging reading about some of the most interesting cases, judges, and lawyers in a fascinating and illustrious career that spanned almost seven decades.