The Lincoln Plawg - the blog with footnotes

Politics and law from a British perspective (hence Politics LAW BloG): ''People who like this sort of thing...'' as the Great Man said

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Friday, July 15, 2005

More on Hugo Black's SCOTUS appointment

There are a number of promising looking Harvard University Press books available as etexts, in similar format to The Rise of the Southern Republicans that I've discussed several times here [1].

The Warren Court and American Politics by Lucas Powe (a PDF) I've barely sampled before I come across (p22a) further intelligence on the appointment of repentent (he said) Klansman, Alabama's Hugo Black, to the Supreme Court in 1937 (which I discussed at some length on July 12).

Roosevelt had just been rebuffed by an embryo conservative coalition (bolstered by a good many liberals) [2], and Black was a provocative choice - designed to poke in the eye not only Black's current but also his future colleagues.

Powe says
When the president told [press aide Steven] Early, the latter responded with just two words: "Jesus Christ." Roosevelt grinned because Early got it right. The Senate was outraged.

On the Klan question, he says
Black refused to comment on his Klan membership but allowed Idaho Senator William Borah, who did not know the truth, to deny the rumors.

I don't know enough about Borah to know whether this is plausible. I doubt it: the second Klan got (almost everywhere [3]), and there was surely every reason why Black would be involved with it [4].

There was a roll call vote (on August 17) - I'd somehow thought that, with all that senatorial courtesy going on, a voice vote would be de rigueur... - with pretty much every section split (Borah voted against, for example, Nye (ND) voted for; Byrd (VA) and Bilbo (MS) likewise.)

Powe says the Klan revelations came from [t]he Scripps Howard newspapers - despite the fact that the Block's Pittsburgh Post-Gazettes Ray Sprigle got a Pulitzer for doing so!

  1. I suggest you rootle about here.

  2. Mission accomplished, according to my, as yet untested hypothesis (July 5).

  3. There's a reference in this listing of memorabilia to a klavern at Fort Sherman, ID. No mention of Alabama, though. How about that?

  4. Another piece of the Black/KKK puzzle from a fascinating 1920s US history trivia page:
    An itinerant Alabama Methodist preacher, E. R. Stephenson, was incensed when his daughter became a Catholic. A gun-toting member of the Ku Klux Klan, he could no longer restrain himself when his daughter married a Catholic of Puerto Rican ancestry in a ceremony performed by Father James Coyle. On the evening of August 11, 1921, the crazed preacher shot and killed the priest on the porch of St. Paul’s rectory in Birmingham, Alabama.
    At his trial, Stephenson pleaded temporary insanity.

    Nothing - if the account can be believed - was left to chance:

    The Klan was behind the Stephenson defense effort, and they hired Alabama’s best trial lawyer, Hugo Black, a Klan member noted for his fiery anti-Catholic lectures. The Klan controlled the defense team and secured lists of potential jurors. Only white Protestant males were selected. Writes Hugo Black’s preeminent biographer Roger K. Newman, “The majority of jurors were Klansmen, and the foreman was a field organizer for the Klan. Members in the courtroom used hand gestures to the jury during the trial. The judge, William E. Fort, was a Klan member.”

    After Black browbeat witnesses, singling out Catholics for ridicule, and appealing directly to ethnic and religious fears and prejudices, the jury took only one vote and acquitted the itinerant evangelist on the grounds of self-defense. Jurors prayed and read the Bible while deliberating. Newman says Black “gave to Stephenson’s defense his professional devotion” because “he disliked the Catholic Church as an institution and treated prosecution witnesses not just as adversaries but virtually as mortal enemies.”

    No wonder Al Smith had problems in '28!

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