I've been reading a very good biography, John A. Farrell's Clarence Darrow: Attorney for the Damned. Most of what I knew about Darrow was from his involvement with the Scopes Monkey Trial. But Farrell's biography has been a revelation about this iconic and iconoclastic lawyer. More, I hadn't expected Darrow's story to be so theologically provocative.
For example, Darrow was a determinist. A fatalist even. He felt that we were all just feathers blown in the wind. As Darrow once said, "We are all poor, blind creatures bound hand and foot by the invisible chains of heredity and environment, doing pretty much what we have to do in a barbarous and cruel world. That's about all there is to any court case." This perspective helped to support Darrow's work as a defense lawyer, speaking up for all sorts of shady characters, work that earned him the moniker "attorney for the damned." Farrell summarizes both Darrow's worldview and method:
It was not unusual, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, for lawyers to take many hours--spread over two or three days--to give a closing argument in a significant case. Darrow did so without notes, in marvelous displays of intellect and concentration. Taking his time, Darrow worked like a weaver, ranging back and fourth across the crime, laying down threads, reviving assertions in different form, showing the facts from different angles. To a modern ear, his rhetoric seems to sprawl. But when he was done he had reshaped the case. "He will travel far beyond the immediate issue of guilt or innocence," said Hays [Darrow's co-counsel in several celebrated cases]. "The whole background of the case takes on a difference coloring."
It was more than a tactic. It was his creed. Darrow was a determinist. He did not believe in free will, nor good and evil, nor choice. There were no moral absolutes, no truth, and no justice. There was only mercy.