The Supremes

Published: January 24, 2023

By Jim Lichtman
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Since this is a two-parter, I’m going to start with a little background.

The Supreme Court is expected to have a higher standard than the other two branches of government. We rely on the accumulated legal wisdom of 9 justices—not their political persuasions—to make decisions that affect the entire country.

Great idea, yes?

Of course.

But since all men are imperfect, the court has had its share of scandalous behavior beginning with John Rutledge who was nominated and temporarily appointed chief justice by George Washington.

Now, wouldn’t you think that a man who was appointed by our first president would be humbled and grateful for such an appointment? Not Rutledge.

“When the Senate reconvened in December 1795,” states, “it rejected Rutledge’s nomination . . . Not yet recovered from the unexpected death of his wife, Rutledge gave a rant-filled speech in which he reportedly suggested that it would be best if Washington died rather than sign the Jay Treaty with England. . . . that was where the Senate drew the line.”

Think another justice could top Rutledge? Well . . . you’d be right!

I give you the dishonorable Justice James Clark McReynolds who served on the court from 1914 to 1941. “After he died in 1946, not a single other living current or former justice attended his funeral. Reason being, they had all come to hate his guts.

“McReynolds, it seems, had established himself as an unabashed bigot and all-around hater. A vocal anti-Semite, his other favorite targets included African Americans, Germans, and women. Whenever Jewish Justice Louis Brandeis spoke, McReynolds would leave the room. Of Jews, he once declared, ‘For 4,000 years the Lord tried to make something out of Hebrews, then gave it up as impossible and turned them out to prey on mankind in general—like fleas on the dog.’

“He would often refer to African Americans as ‘ignorant,’ possessing ‘but a small capacity for radical improvement.’ And in the rare (in those days) event a woman attorney appeared to argue a case before the court, McReynolds would exclaim, ‘I see the female is here again,’ before grandly gathering his robe and leaving the bench.”

Justice Hugo Black, “though widely recognized as a staunch supporter of civil liberties during his 34 years on the bench, was once an organizing member of the Ku Klux Klan, even recruiting and swearing in new members,” ThoughtCo writes.

Although he had long left the Klan before becoming Senator Black was forced to make a statement about his former beliefs after he was seated on the high court.

“I dropped the Klan. I have had nothing to do with it since that time. I abandoned it. I completely discontinued any association with the organization. I have never resumed it and never expect to do so.”

Addressing Black Americans, Black added, “I number among my friends many members of the colored race. Certainly, they are entitled to the full measure of protection accorded by our Constitution and our laws.”

However, in examining the 1968 Civil Rights Act, Black wrote, “unfortunately there are some who think that Negroes should have special privileges under the law.”

Nice try, Hugo.

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson appointed Abe Fortas to the court. Unfortunately, one of Abe’s proclivities was taking bribes.

“Things got a lot worse for Justice Fortas in 1969, when it was revealed that he had accepted a secret legal retainer from his former friend and client, infamous Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson. Under their agreement, Wolfson was to pay Fortas $20,000 a year for life in return for special help and ‘consultation’ during his pending trial on charges of securities fraud. Whatever Fortas did to help Wolfson failed. He ended up in federal prison and Fortas saw the handwriting on the wall. Though he always denied taking Wolfson’s money, Abe Fortas became the first and so far only Supreme Court justice to resign under threat of impeachment on May 15, 1969.”

What’s the lesson here?

The court has had issues of integrity before . . . now they’ve surfaced again.



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