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More Blackmun: Should an article stand on its own merits?

The latest installment in Jim Lindgren's and Orin Kerr's polite disagreement over David Garrow's Legal Affairs article on the late Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun underscores for me (a) why this merry band of conspirators appears to work so well together even when they disagree, and (b) why the article will always be questionable as a piece of analysis.

Here's the answer to (b), via Lindgren's response to Kerr:

"... But I agree with Kerr that the examples Garrow uses are by themselves unpersuasive. I have no reason to think that Garrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, is making unrepresentative selections. I do think that some of them nicely illustrate a larger problem -- that (in some terms of the Court or with some clerks) Blackmun was shockingly uninvolved with the basic task of writing opinions, serving more as a substantive cite-checker for his clerks' writing the opinions. Garrow's piece makes this point, and supports it with evidence that points in that direction. The picture that Garrow paints seems a fair one to me, given accounts from some other Supreme Court clerks." [Emphasis added.]

It's notable to me that in order to agree with Garrow and to support his agreement with Garrow, Lindgren conducted the very research Garrow eschewed -- e.g., provided third-party context via interviews with clerks of the Court who were present during Blackmun's tenure. Lindgren says he's talked with two, one before the piece was published and one after, and states that these interviews corroborate his discussions with court clerks in the 1970s.

For me, the exchange confirms that without this context or without a review of a majority of Blackmun's opinions, I can't accept Garrow's piece as a definitive report. Instead, I consider it opinion analysis. And  as an opinion analysis it must, no matter how well-written, be weighed in context with my own standards for context, standards for proof, interpretation of Garrow's biases and application of my own.

It's like any op-ed: If I agree with the writer's opinion, I am likely to be satisfied. If I don't, the writer's approach means I will never be convinced. And that's the risk Garrow took when he adopted this approach.  (Garrow's lucky to have Lindgren in his corner with this reader.)

Judge for yourself, courtesy of Lindgren and Kerr -- and I think the answer to (a) will be self-evident along the way: All related posts are on this page.

Posted by Product Team on April 21, 2005 at 10:38 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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