From Clarence Darrow to Clarence Thomas

Clarence Darrow’s letters now live at the University of Minnesota law library, thanks to Darrow historian Randall Tietjen and Darrow’s granddaughters. The New York Times reports that the library released the first 473 letters last week, and they make fascinating reading. Two excerpts illustrate the variety of the letters.

To imprisoned client Nathan Leopold, Darrow wrote:

I often think of you and especially when people got a brain storm lately over the deep laid plans to procure your freedom. It is strange the satisfaction people get over tormenting someone. The rest of the animal kingdom do not indulge in these pleasing past-times which shows, of course, that man is the apex of creation. But, the apex is not very high.

To his granddaughter Jessie, he wrote a long and humorous account of his travel in England, replete with jokes, puns, and misspellings:

I feal that it is mi duty to help edgecutate you so you will be smart like me. …

There are no snakes in Ireland but there is whiskey so they don’t need snakes as they can see them even if they ain’t there.

A famed criminal defense attorney, Darrow represented clients such as union organizer Big Bill Haywood and other political figures. He may be best-known today for the Scopes Monkey trial, in which he defended John Scopes, who was charged with teaching evolution in Tennessee. From 1873 to 1936, Darrow corresponded with a range of people, from close family members to clients and public figures. The U of M Law Library’s Darrow Digital Collection is available and searchable online, along with records of trials, a timeline of his life, photographs and much more.

Everything you read about the Supreme Court is wrong, writes Tom Goldstein in ScotusBlog, citing the “ideologically confused majorities” in a number of cases, as well as the fact that only 20 percent of about 90 cases decided in the term were 5-4 decisions. Whether you’re a veteran court-watcher, or mainly interested in the changes that two new justices will or won’t bring, this is a fascinating analysis of the term’s decisions:

None of the points above is intended to deny (on the one hand) that the Court is in fact reasonably conservative or (on the other hand) that liberal Justices are perfectly capable of engaging in “activism.”  Instead, my point is that the broad brush with which the Court is frequently characterized tends to obscure rather than illuminate.  It is a far more complicated institution.

He points in particular to cases in which conservative views lead to unexpected results:

Decisions such as Graham (juvenile life without parole) and Presley (open courts) illustrate that [Justices Scalia and Thomas] do take a narrow, government-favoring view of certain provisions of the Constitution.  But it is easy to overlook that their principled reading of other provisions regularly leads Scalia and Thomas to adopt the very most defendant-favoring positions on the Court.

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  1. Pingback: U of M Law Library Now Has Clarence Darrow’s Letters — Secrets of the City — Minneapolis + St. Paul

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