Thursday, May 21, 2015

Which Supreme Court Justice Treated his Clerks the Worst?

The clear answer is Justice James C. McReynolds. See Clare Cushman, Beyond Knox: James C. McReynolds' Other Law Clerks, 1914-1941.

According to all reports, McReynolds was a difficult man. Previous to his appointment to the Court, McReynolds served as the Attorney General. Legend tells us that Wilson was disappointed in his performance and nominated him to the Court to get rid of him. He also was anti-Semitic. When Louis D. Brandeis became the first Jewish member of the Court, McReynolds would not sit next to him for the 1924 formal portrait, as protocol demanded. Thus there is no Court portrait for 1924.

McReynolds, former clerk, John Knox, wrote a memoir of his time with the Justice. It was quite unflattering (here). Clare Cushman’s article confirms that McReynolds treated all his clerks incredibly badly. You can access the article here.


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Justice McReynolds was one of the so-called Four Horsemen who opposed FDR's New Deal agenda. It wouldn't surprise me to learn that such harsh assessments of him are at least partly rooted in pro-FDR bias.

Posted by: NoPC | Jun 9, 2015 10:34:00 AM

This is not surprising. In my study of American legal history, Justice McReynolds appears as a rather biased (in both ethnic and racial terms) jurist, and one who did not get along well with his colleagues. His tenure on the Court, especially during the New Deal Days, is not notable for any major opinions or high professional achievements.

Posted by: Emil A. Ricci | May 22, 2015 11:52:23 AM

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