Willis Van Devanter
I’m still thinking about whether it makes sense to write a collective biography of the Four Horsemen. Thus far, I’m leaning against it. There are two major problems. One is that Pierce Butler was a very dull person–it’s hard to get any traction on him. The other is that James McReynolds was interesting, but only in the way that a car wreck is. It would just be a series of stories about what an awful man he was.
Justice Van Devanter, on the other hand, is quite fascinating. For someone who wrote few opinions, he wrote a lot of letters. And lively ones at that. Moreover, he was widely respected by his colleagues. Van Devanter was the Justice Brennan of his era–the one who was the most adept at framing arguments to get five votes. Just as Brennan acted as Earl Warren’s lieutenant, Van Devanter served the same role for Chief Justice Taft. Maybe he deserves his own biography, though that’s hard to justify given his slender judicial output.