Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Yet Another Thing to Remember When Reading a Holmes Opinion

Edward D. White (LC)
During one of Thomas Corcoran’s evening visits with the then-retired justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes volunteered that the only other member of the Brethren who really understood his job was Edward Douglass White.  Corcoran protested that he had read many of  White’s opinions, including The Pipeline Cases, 234 U.S. 548 (1914), and that all he could ever make out his prolix prose was whether the justice voted to affirm or reverse.  Just so, Holmes replied.  He and White had fought on opposite sides of the Civil War, and both believed that the Court should never again throw its support to a faction that might produce another one.  “I wrote so short you couldn’t understand it," Holmes said, in Corcoran's recollection, "and White wrote so long that you couldn’t understand it.  All we decided was the immediate point.”

[Other things to remember when reading a Holmes opinion are here and here.]