Urban Myths and Legal History
Last week I posted some not-so-positive anecdotes about Justice McReynolds. One that is repeated in many secondary stories (and which I repeated as well) is that there was no official portrait of the Justices in 1924 because McReynolds (an Anti-Semite) refused to sit next to Brandeis as required by their relative seniority.
Brad Snyder, who is working on his own book about Felix Frankfurter, tells me that this story is apocryphal. (And I thank him for the correction). There is an official portrait for that year (and for every other year). Whether there is one with McReynolds and Brandeis sitting or standing next to each other, I don’t know, but that should be easy to check.
This is a hazard of doing legal history. For example, when I was researching an article years ago about Huey Long, I kept coming across a quote from Chief Justice Taft saying that Long was one of the most brilliant lawyers ever to argue before the Court. Long did argue before the Court, but I could never find the source for the quote. Eventually I learned that this was just a story that Long made up after Taft died (and thus could not contradict). The Four Horsemen are probably also the subject of many false legends. My book about them will be accurate. Blog posts–they are a work in progress.