Poetic Justice

42 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2005 Last revised: 5 May 2012

See all articles by James Ming Chen

James Ming Chen

Michigan State University - College of Law

Date Written: May 3, 2012


All deliberate speed, the remedial formula adopted in Brown v. Board of Education, 349 U.S. 294 (1955), has a singularly interesting literary lineage. Contrary to Justices Holmes and Frankfurter's assumption, all deliberate speed is not a phrase from the traditional language of the English Chancery, but rather a variant on a line from an 1893 poem by Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven. How Thompson's line, "Deliberate speed, majestic instancy," came to dominate one of the defining moments in American constitutional law represents a unique instance of not law-in-literature or law-as-literature, but literature-as-law. By turning our analysis away from the romanticized origins of all deliberate speed in a Chancery practice that never existed and toward the real poetry of Francis Thompson, we may glimpse how all deliberate speed and the Brown litigation achieved a measure of poetic justice. Brown II's instruction that public school districts dismantle desegregation with all deliberate speed gave Brown I's vision of equal justice under law enough time and enough legitimacy to enter the hearts and minds of the American people in a way unlikely ever to be undone.

Keywords: Brown v. Board of Education, Brown II, all deliberate speed, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Felix Frankfurter, Francis Thompson, The Hound of Heaven, law and literature

Suggested Citation

Chen, James Ming, Poetic Justice (May 3, 2012). University of Louisville School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper Series No. 2007-01, Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 29, 2007, Minnesota Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-30, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=778884

James Ming Chen (Contact Author)

Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )

318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States

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