Today In History: 12 May 1970
An earlier post today dealt with some of the information that has started to flow from the papers and materials that Georgetown Law Professor Sam Dash’s estate deeded to the Library of Congress after his death in 2004 and which have just been opened to the public.
Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s papers —also placed with the Library of Congress— were another unexpected source of posthumous enlightenment when the Library released them in 2004, five years after his death. Mr. Justice Blackmun turned out to have been the Collyer brother of the bench. At the heart of the vast trove (which even included a large portion of the mail he had received) were all the documents from every case on which he sat, as well as notes passed between the Justices during sessions, and his records of the off-the-record sessions in which opinions were argued and decided. Linda Greenhouse based her 2005 book Becoming Justice Blackmun on these papers but only scratched the surface of the iceberg; they will continue to illumine the inner workings of an otherwise opaque institution.
Among the notes Justice Blackmun kept was one passed to him by Justice Potter Stewart. Mr. Justice Stewart was a serious Cincinnati Reds fan, so his clerk knew to keep things in proper portion when he sent two important pieces of information to his principal on 10 October 1973. (The Mets won 7-2 which meant they were going to the World Series.)
Today is the thirty-eighth anniversary of Harry Blackmun’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court on 12 May 1970. Justice Blackmun deprecatingly referred to himself as “Old Number Three” because RN’s first two nominees —both Southerners— were defeated by the Senate after protracted and bitter deliberations. In RN, RN wrote:
An April 14, 1970, I nominated Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry A. Blackmun. An Eisenhower appointee who had practiced law for twenty years prior to ten and a half years of distinguished service on the federal bench; Blackmun was a Northerner, from Minnesota. He was unanimously confirmed by the Senate on May 12.
The new Justice was an old friend of RN’s first Supreme Court appointee —- Chief Justice Warren Burger, whose best man he had been in 1933. They had become known as the Minnesota twins. So from the President’s point of view, everything boded well for Justice Blackmun’s presence as a conservative voice and vote on the just-post-Warren High Court.
Of course, that wasn’t how things worked out. A slow leftward drift was galvanized by Roe v. Wade in 1973, for which Justice Blackmun wrote the Court’s majority opinion. Long before the end of his long tenure of twenty-four years, Justice Blackmun had become one of the Court’s go-to liberals.