Thursday, August 01, 2002

An exchange about a former US Supreme Court judge.

Andy: Oliver Wendell Holmes is best understood by looking at his Civil War experience.

John: Holmes said, "the life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." and "a page of history is worth a volume of logic."

Roger: That was just his way of justifying applying his personal political views to his decisions, in the face of law to the contrary.

Andy: Exactly right. The worst judge is someone who has disdain for logic, like Holmes. Here's one of Holmes' rulings based on "experience": "Three generations of imbeciles are enough." (upholding forced sterilization of persons deemed feeble-minded (and his observation was untrue even on the facts of the case)).

Roger: Compare this to the recent decision to execute prisoners based on IQ scores. Yes, Holmes was terrible. I was once referred to some opinion of his that was supposed to be one of the greatest opinions ever, and it had no legal justification for anything. It was just his personal political opinion.

Phyllis: I well remember the day when my Constitutional Law professor at Harvard closed his book and devoted a whole lecture to how great Oliver Wendell Holmes was. This was the same professor who proclaimed Henry Wallace "the greatest political thinker of the century." The professor gave me an A in his course.

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