By Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian
For ages, people have been putting together books of lists. Librarians love to catalog books making lists. Merchant marines make manifests. In fact, there is probably a list for everything. In the present book, A Book of Legal Lists (1997), the author Bernard Schwartz tackles the law. Here there is a list for the “Ten Greatest Supreme Court Justices” and a list for the “Ten Worst Supreme Court Justices.”
It stands to reason then there’d be lists for the “Ten Greatest Supreme Court Decisions” and “Worst Supreme Court Decisions,” as well as, one for the “Ten Greatest Dissenting Opinions.” While Mr. Schwartz would be the first to admit these lists stem from his personal choices, it is also true each entry is followed by a brief essay explaining how these “are reasoned selections derived from a lifetime’s work in law and legal history.”
It is these little essays that make this a wonderful little history book. One will also find lists for the “Ten Greatest Non-Supreme Court Judges” and “Ten Greatest Non-Supreme Court Decisions.” And more lists for the “Ten Greatest Law Books,” lawyers, trials, and legal motion pictures. All the while there is a bit of history sprinkled in for the reader to take away.
Where it really gets fun is when we play Trivia! Dealer shuffles the questions. You have to answer, if you can! (An answer key follows below, but give it your best bet first.)
Let’s get started:
Q1: Who is the first Justice to hire a law clerk?
Q2: What Justice enjoyed a reputation as a minor poet?
Q3: What Justice was known for playing Trivial Pursuit on the bench?
Q4: What Justice wrote the most opinions while on the Court?
Q5: Who wrote the most opinions of the Court?
Q6: What Justice signed the Declaration of Independence?*
Q7: What Justices served on the Confederate side in the Civil War?
Q8: Where did the Court sit after the British burned Washington in 1814?
Q9: Who was the first former law clerk to become a Justice?
Q10: What Justice was an all-American football player?
Answer Key –
A1: Justice Horace Gray began the practice of employing a young law school graduate to aid him. At first, he paid the expense of this himself until, in 1886, Congress provided $2000 a year for the purpose.
A2: Justice Joseph Story. While studying law, he composed a lengthy poem “The Power of Solitude.” He published it with other poems in 1804. According to his son’s biography, Justice Story later bought up and burned all copies of the work he could find.
A3: Justice William H. Rehnquist. When the Burger Court sat, one of Rehnquist’s clerks would every now and then pass notes to the Justice. These were not legal memos but Trivail Pursuit-style questions. Justice Rehnquist would answer them and then hand them to Justice Blackmun for that Justice to try his hand.
A4: Justice William O. Douglas authored 1,164 opinions (of these 486 were dissenting opinions). He also holds the record among Justices for having the most wives (four) and the most divorces (three) while on the bench.
A5: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who authored 873 opinions of the Court.
A6: Justice Samuel Chase. He is also the only Justice to be impeached. The U.S. Senate acquitted him on all counts. *Upon further research, it has come to light that Justice James Wilson signed the Declaration of Independence as well.
A7: Justices Lucius Q. C. Lamar, Horace Lurton, and Chief Justice Edward D. White.
A8: The burning of the Capitol left the Court without its basement chamber. During the next two years the Court held its sessions in the house of Elias Boudinot Caldwell, its clerk, on Capitol Hill.
A9: Justice Byron R. White, who had been a law clerk to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson in 1946.
A10: Justice Byron R. White, popularly known as “Whizzer” White, was an all-star back at the University of Colorado in 1937. He was also later named to the National Football League Hall of Fame. Justice White’s Wikipedia entry adds: He was selected in the first round of the 1938 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates (now Steelers) and led the National Football League in rushing yards in his rookie season.
A print copy of A Book of Legal Lists is available for your inspection and retrospection in the UW Law Library Reference Collection at: Ref KF387 S39 1997.
This article was inspired by Michael Widener, Rare Book Librarian, at the Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Law Library. His recent article Legal Literature’s Greatest Hits got the ball rolling in a big way!