Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Supreme Court has included good writers and bad writers during the past two centuries, but the literarily challenged justices have always had a comfortable majority. In the Court’s early days, one of its clumsiest writers was Samuel Chase, who, in addition to being impeached for excessive partisanship, had a weakness for random italics.
Washington—Here's when you know something momentous has happened to our struggle over the Supreme Court's role: When Republicans largely give up talking about "judicial activism," when liberals speak of the importance of democracy and deference to elected officials, and when judges are no longer seen as baseball umpires. All these things transpired during Elena Kagan's confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, though you might not know that unless you saw some of the most thoughtful blogs or news stories.
In a recent TNR article about the Citizens United decision, “Roberts versus Roberts,” I argued that the chief justice has so far failed to achieve his goal of promoting narrow, unanimous decisions rather than ideologically polarizing ones. After the piece came out, Ed Whelan claimed that Roberts had never promised to try to lead the Court in such a fashion.
Last month, the Supreme Court handed down its most polarizing decision since Bush v. Gore. The 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission called into question decades of federal campaign finance law and Supreme Court precedents by finding that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend as much money as they want on election campaigns, as long as they don’t consult the candidates.
Irving Kristol, who died on the eve of Rosh Hashana, will have many pages in every future intellectual history of the United States. Actually, also, in every intellectual history of the West. He was not actually a philosopher, certainly not in the strictest sense of the word or even merely in a strict sense. But he was a scholar in the meaning laid out by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his famous Harvard Phi Beta Kappa oration, "The America Scholar," of 1837. This is not an academic model.
In his Los Angeles Times column today, the man who styles himself the Churchill of opposition to liberal fascism takes aim at a surprising target. Here's what Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in Sunday's New York Times Magazine: "Frankly I had thought that at the time [Roe vs.
I. In late 1988, when I set out to write a life of Whittaker Chambers,the cold war had reached its ceremonial endgame: Mikhail Gorbachevacknowledging the autonomy of peoples long after they had liberatedthemselves, valiant students halting tank columns in TiananmenSquare. It was an impressive, if occasionally hollow, spectacle,and it inspired a chorus of sweeping pronouncements in the UnitedStates.
John Marshall was not the first chief justice. The Supreme Court was formed in 1789, shortly after the Constitution was ratified, and Marshall was appointed in 1801. But the Court had little business in its early days, and the period of Marshall's chief justiceship, which extended until his death in 1835, was the formative era in the history of the Supreme Court and in the interpretation of the Constitution.
I. The Education of Laura Bridgman: The First Deaf and Blind Person to Learn Language by Ernest Freeberg (Harvard University Press, 264 pp., $27.95) The Imprisoned Guest: Samuel Howe and Laura Bridgman, the Original Deaf-Blind Girl by Elisabeth Gitter (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 341 pp., $26) Helen Keller: A Life by Dorothy Herrmann (Alfred A.