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Bookmarked at Del.icio.us on 2007-02-18

Note to Self: Justice McReynolds...

Time Magazine from the 1930s once again:

Alone -- Monday, Dec. 04, 1939: As usual, a soft buzzer sounded, the little page-boys scampered aside, the great red curtains parted, and the Justices of the U. S. Supreme Court stepped between them to their black-leather chairs behind the long mahogany bar. But this time there was a difference. At Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes' left, a chair was draped in black; on his right sat one of the loneliest men in the world. No spectator on last week's decision-day could look at gaunt, craggy-faced James Clark McReynolds without a stir of sympathy.

On a hot August day in 1914, Woodrow Wilson appointed to the Court his Attorney General, hotheaded, hard-headed Mr. McReynolds of Tennessee. Legend has it that Woodrow Wilson regretted no appointment more than that one. And legend also gave Mr. Justice McReynolds a bad name: a man intolerably rude, antiSemitic, savagely sarcastic, incredibly reactionary, Puritanical, prejudiced.

Legend had little to say about his tenderness to his narrow circle of friends, his unfailing generosity, his clear legal perception, his unerring eye and ear for the false, the unessential. Least-recognized was his long-time alertness for the preservation of civil liberties.

Long before the New Deal, old Bachelor McReynolds had come an ogre to liberals. Invariably he voted with the conservative majority. On Feb. 18, 1935 he burst out in uncontrollable wrath at the Gold Clause decision, roared in dismayed rage: "The Constitution is gone!" One by one his colleagues retired or died. Still undenied by McReynolds was the remark attributed many times to him: "I'll never resign as long as that crippled _ _ is in the White House!"

For many years he had refused to speak at all to Justice Louis Dembitz Brandeis. Reportedly he fought the appointment of saintly Benjamin Cardozo to the court; urged Hoover not "to afflict the Court with another Jew."

A fortnight ago his one remaining mainstay, solid old Pierce Butler, died. In silence last week he heard Justice Owen Roberts read the majority decision reaffirming the civil liberties of the U.S. citizen, proclaim the right to pamphleteer without a police license. The decision presented no new point of Constitutional doctrine, but to many a thoughtful U. S. citizen came as a solemn reminder, in anxious days, that beneath the stated rights of citizenship lies a rock-founded base guaranteeing their preservation.

In his familiar attitude of somnolence old James McReynolds heard Justice Roberts announce the Court's decision, seven-to-one for freedom of the press. Scribbling swiftly, newsmen shoved into the pressroom tubes the line: "Justice McReynolds dissents," turned back to stare at the lonely old man nodding in his huge black chair.

Only one thing I don't get: a "long-time alertness for the preservation of civil liberties" combined with a willingness to say that you can't hand out pamphlets without getting a license from the police? Something doesn't compute. Either somebody was writing much too fast, or somebody is telling us that the positive-spin paragraph four is b---s---.

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