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Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Justice Harlan and Justice Black

I'm reading Peter Canellos's biography of Justice Harlan (the elder). One thing that stands out is Harlan's rhetoric on race when he ran unsuccessfully for Governor of Kentucky in 1871. There is a definite connection between his defense of civil rights and racial equality on the stump and what he said later on the Court.

I am also struck by the parallels between Justice Harlan and Justice Hugo Black. Both men stood alone in arguing that the Bill of Rights should apply to the states. And both took strong positions on racial equality in spite of their southern or border state roots. Yet both also were members of nativist organizations before reaching the Court. Black was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Harlan was part of the Know-Nothing Party.

Perhaps there is something in the idea that converts are the loudest members of the choir. In other words, the revulsion or regret that both Harlan and Black felt about their past associations made them stronger advocates for rights and equality from the bench.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on November 8, 2022 at 10:24 AM | Permalink


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