The Marble Palace Weblog: An Unearthed Cache of Letters From a SCOTUS Secretary Finds How Unliked Some Justices Have been

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Thanks for studying The Marble Palace Weblog, which I’m hoping will tell and wonder you in regards to the Best Court docket of america. My title is Tony Mauro. I’ve coated the Best Court docket since 1979 and for ALM since 2000. I semiretired in 2019, however I’m nonetheless desirous about the top courtroom. I’ll welcome any guidelines or tips for subjects to jot down about. You’ll be able to succeed in me at [email protected].


When the pandemic started in early 2020, Best Court docket pupil Todd Peppers seemed for “little initiatives that stored [him] sane.”

He did a little research about John Knox, a regulation clerk for Best Court docket Justice James McReynolds in 1936. Knox wrote a revealing memoir for that yr that changed into a guide in 2002.

Knox was once one thing of a pack rat, so it was once now not sudden that he donated his non-public papers and correspondence to quite a lot of regulation college libraries. A bunch of letters on the College of Chicago stuck Peppers’ eye, and the letters—some petty and others intriguing—changed into some other revealing file about lifestyles on the Best Court docket within the 1930’s and past.

The letters to Knox got here from Gertrude Jenkins, an extraordinary feminine a few of the upper ranks of Best Court docket personnel. She served as a secretary for Leader Justice Harlan Fiske Stone for a number of years, later running for McReynolds and Justice Felix Frankfurter as smartly. Within the a lot of letters despatched to Knox, Jenkins pulled no punches in regards to the justices, even though she stated sort phrases as smartly.

“What’s maximum placing in regards to the letters is Jenkins’s open contempt for Justices McReynolds and Frankfurter,” Peppers wrote in a piece of writing about Jenkins in the newest Inexperienced Bag. “Jenkins had a sequence of nicknames for [McReynolds], akin to ‘Outdated buzzard,’ ‘Outdated crab,’ ‘Outdated boy,’ [and] ‘His Nibs.’”

Within the opening day of the 1937 October time period of the courtroom, Jenkins wrote to Knox, “By the way [McReynolds] was once his standard bored self on the opening of courtroom, leaned again so far as he may get in that chair, together with his eyes closed, possibly bored and in poor health of the entire mess. One in every of this present day the springs on that chair are going to wreck and it’ll be simply my success to not be there to witness the spectacle.”

McReynolds is continuously pegged as a unpleasant anti-Semite and anti-African American. However Jenkins conceded in a letter that “McReynolds was once able to acts of kindnesses. “[T]hiya say he’s glorious to the web page boys, the negroes at courtroom and the men across the Marshal’s place of business,” she wrote. “Our regulation clerk this yr . . . noticed him are available in in the future. He smiled proper and left to pages, attaches, and messengers, after which sailed proper previous 3 of the justices with out such a lot as a ‘excellent morning.’” Jenkins concluded that McReynolds was once a “queer previous duck.”

In some other letter, Jenkins puzzled why McReynolds didn’t retire. “Why he doesn’t get off the bench I don’t know. Smartly, I know too. It’s simply stubborn meanness. He is aware of everybody could be jubilant and he received’t give them that a lot happiness.”

Going through her letters, Felix Frankfurter appeared to be Jenkins’ least favourite justice. “When he is available in and I’m at the phone I’m meant to chop proper off in the midst of a sentence and dangle up. However that I refuse to do.”

Jenkins was once pissed off that Frankfurter would now not consume lunch with the opposite justices on the courtroom. He stayed in his chambers and now and again requested Jenkins for a portion of the “scrumptious scrambled eggs and bacon” that she had ready for her personal lunch.

“He stored a diary of daily doings of the courtroom and his non-public opinion of the justices,” Jenkins wrote to Knox. “It was once beautiful terrible and one of the crucial explanation why I hated his guts—If you are going to excuse the expression—and particularly what he had written about Stone. I must have preferred to throw it all out however I knew if I did, he would know who had executed it.”

Later in her lifestyles, Jenkins concluded, “The one factor I must say about [Frankfurter] is that I loathed him. He was once now not best small in stature however small-minded. He was once an actual S.O.B.” Jenkins retired in 1953 and died in 1979.

Peppers, professor at Roanoke Faculty, and a visiting professor of regulation on the Washington and Lee College of Regulation, stated that the batch of Jenkins’ letters “neither make clear the grand constitutional problems with her day nor supply insights into the justices’ jurisprudential perspectives.” However, he stated, “The letters do, then again, be offering some tantalizing tidbits at the all-too-human women and men who’ve been related to our nation’s perfect courtroom and are a refreshing tonic to the hagiography that continuously surrounds well-known ancient figures.”

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