Stephen H. Sachs, prosecutor of the Catonsville Nine anti-Vietnam War protestors, died Jan. 12, 2022 at age 87.
Born in Baltimore in 1934, he graduated from Haverford College in Pennsylvania and served in the U.S. Army from 1955-57. Following in the footsteps of his father Leon, director of the Baltimore Jewish Council and a renowned arbitrator, Sachs studied law at Yale and became a law firm partner.
In 1967, he was appointed U.S. attorney for Maryland in 1967 by President Lyndon B. Johnson and rose to fame the next year for prosecuting the Catonsville Nine, a group of Catholic antiwar activists who stormed a Selective Service office in Maryland and burned draft records.
Although Sachs empathized with the activists, he stressed that their belief in their own righteousness did not justify breaking the law. “One can believe, as I do, that the nine were men and women of conviction and courage. And also believe, as I do, that they dishonored a cardinal American value,” he wrote in a 2018 op-ed in the Baltimore Sun.
“The self-righteous presumption of the nine that they deserved acquittal because they were ‘right’ also fractured a central value of the American democracy,” he wrote, adding that the First Amendment “teaches that no one man or woman, no one sect, no one political party, no true believer, no zealous partisan, no ideologue – no one has a corner on the truth, a pipeline to God. The distinguished federal judge Learned Hand may have put it best: ‘The spirit of liberty,’ he said, ‘is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right.’ There is a modesty, a humility, in this maxim.”
“Respect for the law is what keeps this country together. So therefore I can’t accept people who violate the law, even if their motives are, to them at least, pure,” Sachs later said.
Sachs served as Maryland Attorney General from 1979 to 1987. He then joined a Washington law firm and retired in 2000.
Remembering his legacy, Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, quoted in The Washington Post, said, “I consider him of the greatest attorneys general of Maryland.” V