The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Published: The Unconstitutionality of Justice Black


My latest article was just published in the Texas Law Review, and it is called "The Unconstitutionality of Justice Black." I originally gave it the accurate but completely uninteresting title "Ex Parte Levitt," the name of the too-widely-forgotten case that inspired the article.

The article is about the constitutional controversy over the appointment of Justice Black. The day that Black was sworn in to the Supreme Court in 1937, an apparent crank tried to orally argue that Black was an unconstitutional usurper. The Court dismissed the case on procedural grounds.

But it turns out that the crank was correct, and might not really have been a crank. Justice Black was unconstitutionally appointed, and while the suit might have had some procedural problems, they weren't exactly the problems that the Court thought they were.

The piece also discusses the aftermath of the litigation. As you may know, Justice Black sat on the bench for many decades. But during all that time, the Court never actually ruled on the lawfulness of Justice Black's appointment. Instead, after a while everybody just took it for granted anyway.

As I've blogged before here, I'm generally a fan of Justice Black's work, so I feel a little sheepish about publishing the piece. But I've become convinced that his appointment was unconstitutional. You can read the whole thing (only 30 pages) if you want to see why.

[Cross-posted from my new other blog—Summary, Judgment]