Rehnquist Parody Uncovered

More on the statutory interpretation front to come soon, but in the meantime, I want to direct readers’ attention to an entertaining article by my colleague, John Barrett, titled, A Rehnquist Ode on the Vinson Court (Circa Summer 1953). The article, which is soon to be published in a forthcoming issue of Green Bag, features a recently-uncovered parody of a song from Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado,” penned by William Rehnquist around the time he served as a law clerk to Justice Robert Jackson on the Vinson Court. Barrett, a well-known Jackson scholar, uncovered the parody in Jackson’s papers at the Library of Congress. As Barrett explains at the outset of the article:

The late William H. Rehnquist had an active, sometimes irreverent sense of humor, a love of music and strong, if often carefully guarded, opinions on many topics, including Supreme Court justices. This article publishes for the first time a Rehnquist composition that dates back to his seventeen-month Supreme Court clerkship with Justice Robert H. Jackson during 1952 and 1953. The document is a typewritten spoof of Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics. Rehnquist, who was in his late twenties when he banged out this ditty, gave it to Jackson. The Justice filed it without written comment, and it has been sitting in his [Jackson’s] files for more than fifty years.

The Rehnquist lyrics demonstrate his skill as a writer and a parodist. They also document his knowledge of 1950s Supreme Court justices’ gripes about and low regard for some of their judicial brethren. Rehnquist’s Gilbert and Sullivan parody focuses on the plethora of separate opinions that the 1950s Supreme Court Justices habitually produced, and on one subject that was, to Justice Jackson, particularly galling: Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson’s preoccupation, includingduring his working hours at the Supreme Court, with baseball.

Barrett’s article, which provides valuable annotations and historical context illuminating the subtext of Rehnquist’s parody, is a highly recommended read!

You may also like...