On Feb. 21, a petition of certiorari was submitted to the Supreme Court on behalf of Lynne Stewart, a brilliant, principled people’s attorney and outspoken advocate for the poor and oppressed. The petition calls on the court to review the decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which in 2010 increased Stewart’s original sentence from 28 months to 10 years.
As the petition notes, “… [Stewart’s] words are entitled to the same protection from prosecution as other political speech. Under no circumstances should her words and beliefs subject her to eight more years of imprisonment.” The document argues that her speech was protected by the First Amendment and the place where she made the speech in question is immaterial to her exercise of the right of free speech. Another reason cited is that giving such a punitive sentence to Stewart can have a “chilling effect” on other defense lawyers in the future.
A recent change in Stewart’s health makes the petition even more urgent. Stewart confirmed in a letter on Feb. 3 that her breast cancer has returned and spread to both lungs. She started chemotherapy on Feb. 25. In a March 4 letter on lynnestewart.org, she reported being very tired, “sleeping extraordinary amounts of time and staying in my bed at other times,” which is “soooo unlike my usual busy self.”
Stewart addresses her many supporters directly: “If you write and don’t get an answer, don’t be surprised. I read everything and cherish the caring and kindness. With people such as we, how can we not prevail over the cruel overpower that tries to control us all? It is, to my librarian mind, so reminiscent of the traditional folk/fairy tale where the cleverness and goodness of the fightback always prevails over evil.”
In closing she says she’s planning a campaign for “compassionate release.” Given her advancing illness and all the compassion she has shown her many clients over a nearly 30-year career, Stewart deserves nothing less.