To Erase a Stain on this Nation’s Character: Michael Musmanno’s Fight to Vindicate Sacco and Vanzetti

Over the course of his long legal and public career, Justice Michael A. Musmanno fought many a battle, most of which he won. But, there were losses along the way, some of them costing him dearly in terms of credibility and political capital. However, the single greatest of these came early in his public career, and, ironically, catapulted him into national prominence and placed him squarely in the liberal pantheon – the Sacco & Vanzetti case. Al-though he came late to the fight, he gave it his all, convinced that both men were innocent of the crime for which they had been tried and convicted, and that their ultimate execution was the result of ethnic and political prejudice. He brooded about the case for the rest of his life, and it became a touchstone for him, as a jurist, politician, and author. In particular here was the fact that the case gave lie to the idea that the United States was a just nation. As a deeply patriotic American, Musmanno was determined to prove this idea wrong by winning posthumous exoneration for the two men. During the course of his career, he authored some sixteen books, the first being After Twelve Years, which was his account of the Sacco-Vanzetti case that was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1939. Later, he wrote a personal memoir of his early career entitled Verdict! The Adventures of the Young Lawyer in the Brown Suit published by Doubleday in 1958, where, again, the Sacco & Vanzetti case featured prominently. As it is, Musmanno’s writings about the case appear to group around two sets of dates: the late 1930s, and the late 1950s, and early 1960s. This paper looks at Musmanno’s relationship to the case, looking at his work for the Sacco-Vanzetti defense, as well as his later writings about the matter. With this, it looks at the impact the case may have had on Musmanno’s work as a jurist, not only in Pittsburgh and the Pennsylvania State Supreme Court, but his service as President Judge at the Nuremberg Tribunal II