Religion and the First Justice Harlan: A Case Study in Late Nineteenth Century Presbyterian Constitutionalism
106 Pages Posted: 15 Dec 2011 Last revised: 28 Dec 2011
Date Written: 2001
In this Article, the Author argues that Harlan's religion and its values informed both his personal and his public life. Harlan's close personal friend, Justice Brewer, once commented on Harlan's personal attachment to the two "fundamental" documents in his life: the Bible and the Constitution. Justice Brewer suggested that Harlan had one hand on the Bible, and the other hand on the Constitution when he went to bed every night. Although it is widely known that Harlan was a religious man, only recently has any scholar paid much attention to this fact. No one has fully described the principles of Harlan's faith or made a sustained attempt to explore their influence on his public career. Religion was an important element in the makeup of the man and it deserves attention. However, it is less clear that it was Harlan's religious convictions that set him apart from his judicial colleagues. One who would argue that Harlan's Calvinism contributed to his "distinctiveness" as a judge must ground that argument on the unusual intensity of Harlan's beliefs rather than on their distinctiveness, or on the interaction of his religious convictions with the other elements of his character.
Keywords: Justice John Marshall Harlan, legal history
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