Supreme Court Justices and their Bobbleheads the Focus of Cornell Law Library Talk
Supreme Court Justices are people too. That’s a point George Mason Law Professor Ross Davies drove home during his Cornell Law Library Speaker Series talk “Supreme Court Solo Adjudication: The Contributions and Catastrophes of Individual Justices.” Davies, the editor in chief of The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of Law and creator of the famed Supreme Court Justice Bobbleheads, provided a more complete picture of the men and women who shape the legal landscape of the United States.
“Viewing the justices as public servants, we should recall that they are human and are susceptible to both the nobilities and self-restraint that comes with that,” he said. “And we should be both attentive to those things and also maybe a little sympathetic.”
Using anecdotes from throughout Supreme Court history, Davies illustrated the ways in which the Justices, acting on their own, often exhibit the qualities expected from mere mortals. Whether it was Chief Justice Roger Taney attempting to retroactively modify his majority opinion in the infamous Dred Scott case, Justice John McLean seemingly campaigning for President from the bench or Justice Henry Baldwin attempting to privately publish his concurring opinions, history is rife with examples of Justices attempting to perform solo acts within the confines of the Court.
What’s also notable is the almost universal reaction on the part of the other justices to bring their colleagues in line. Taney’s attempt at a second opinion was denied and relegated to the appendix of a semi-official biography, McLean was outmaneuvered by his colleagues and lambasted for his politicization of the bench, and Baldwin’s concurrences were ignored by history and uncited as precedent.
“I’m inclined to have pretty strong faith in the Supreme Court when it’s doing its judge work. They have a good sense of right and wrong,” Davies said. “… but they are, at the end of the day, human beings. They screw up from time-to-time, but it’s amazing how rare those events are.”
At the conclusion of the event, attendees were presented with a truly unique parting gift, a Justice James Iredell bobblehead, the latest addition to the famed (and hard to find) Green Bag Bobblehead series. The figurines, which have been featured on CBS News, CNN, The New York Times, and Politico among others, offer a unique take on the personalities and passions of the members of the Supreme Court.
The Cornell Law Library owns one of the largest collections of the bobbleheads and is currently exhibiting them this semester. Just as the anecdotes Davies told provide color to the personalities of the Justices, the bobbleheads provide a light-hearted, yet respectful way to view them as well.
Whether it’s Justice John Paul Stevens sporting a golf club to represent his majority opinion in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Martin, 532 U.S. 661 (2001) or Justice Souter wearing a gold chain to symbolize his role in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994) (i.e., the 2 Live Crew fair-use case), all of the bobbleheads and the unique stories behind them are currently on display in the Gould Reading Room.