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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 586

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This is the grave of Harry Blackmun.

Born in 1908 in Nashville, Illinois, Blackmun grew up in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Somewhat incredibly, he went to elementary school with Warren Burger. Although he was a poor kid, he was very smart and got a scholarship to Harvard. His degree was in math, but then he decided to go to Harvard Law and graduated in 1932. He rose quickly in the legal profession back in Minnesota and became a regionally important attorney, moving up to being the Mayo Clinic’s resident counsel in the 1950s.

In 1959, his old school buddy Warren Burger told Blackmun that he should use his influence to become a federal judge. When a judge on the Eighth Circuit Court decided to retire, he recommended that Dwight Eisenhower choose Blackmun as his replacement. He was confirmed and then there from 1959-70.

In 1970, Richard Nixon needed a safe Supreme Court choice. He had named Clement Haynsworth to the Court, but he was rejected due to his horrifying racism. Then it was Harrold Carswell, who was also a white supremacist. Nixon did love his white supremacists. Nixon then went to Lewis Powell, the corporate hack who later would accept a nomination, but he refused this first time. So finally Nixon settled on Blackmun upon Burger’s recommendation. At first, Blackmun was that consistent conservative that Nixon wanted and voted that way in the critical capital punishment cases of the 70s–Furman v. Georgia and Gregg v. Georgia. But pretty soon he became to move to the left. Most notably, he wrote the decision in Roe v. Wade and then Blackmun became a huge and intense supporter of abortion rights, giving speeches around the nation in support. He began abandoning his old buddy Burger generally and moving more toward William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. He wrote the dissent to Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 case when the Court went full homophobia, for instance. This didn’t just create disagreement between the two old friends. Burger felt personally betrayed and their friendship effectively ended. In 1994, Blackmun announced that he thought the death penalty should be again made unconstitutional in all cases, repudiating his early work on the Court. But he also chose to retire that year. Bill Clinton named Stephen Breyer to replace him.

In 1997, Steven Spielberg made Amistad, which is a movie I strongly dislike. Between his portrayal of Martin Van Buren as an idiot (which is gross slander against the man who created the Democratic Party) and his pandering to his audience through the scene when the Africans learn about Christianity, it’s Spielberg at his most annoying. But Harry Blackmun got to star in a movie, playing Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story. This does not really redeem the film.

In 1999, Blackmun fell and broke his hip. He had hip replacement surgery the next day, but he was 90 years old and never recovered. He died 10 days later.

Harry Blackmun is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to visit the men who Nixon wanted over Blackmun, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Clement Haynsworth is in Greenville, South Carolina and Harrold Carswell is in Tallahassee. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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