The Volokh Conspiracy

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"In the Matter of the Disinterment of Warren G. Harding, Deceased"

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Yes, that's a real case; here's the opening paragraph of the applicant's reply brief:

Applicant James Blaesing's ("Applicant") efforts to collect DNA from President Warren Harding's remains present a unique disinterment scenario. This is not a dispute over a decedent's final resting place or a battle over estate proceeds. This is an attempt by President Harding's grandson to prevent others from questioning his lineage and usurping his right to control how his family's story is told….

Applicant seeks universal, permanent recognition ofhis ancestry, not wealth or worldly resources. "Proper pride in one's ancestry and in the worthiness of one's parents is a necessary part of the equipment of a well-balanced person, for as it has been said: 'Pride is the savage rear guard of the human soul, and fights when all other resources have been exhausted.'"

From the New York Times (Heather Murphy):

There is no real dispute that James Blaesing is the grandson of Warren G. Harding and his mistress. But the wounds of that revelation have resurfaced in court, as relatives of the 29th president, many now in their 70s, argue over a proposal to exhume President Harding's body as the 100th anniversary of his election approaches.

On one side is Mr. Blaesing, who says the exhumation is necessary to prove with "scientific certainty" that Harding was his grandfather, even though the DNA evidence is already persuasive, and to confirm his and his mother's "membership in a historic American family." He also wants to bring along a television production crew to document the opening of the tomb.

On the other side are several Harding relatives who say the disinterment would create an unnecessary spectacle. One has questioned the motives of the television production company, believing it is fixated on the unfounded theory that Harding, who died in office in 1923, was poisoned—perhaps by his wife, Florence Harding.

Thanks to the Media Law Resource Center MediaLawDaily newsletter for the pointer.

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20 responses to “"In the Matter of the Disinterment of Warren G. Harding, Deceased"

  1. Why can’t they just test the DNA of a Harding relative? That’s how what we all knew about Thomas Jefferson (that he repeatedly raped Sally Hemings) was proven.

    1. The Jefferson rapes were not proven at all; could have been other male relatives. That they were rapes is also not proven.

      Going to try for the third strike?

      1. The Jefferson rapes were not proven at all; could have been other male relatives.

        You probably also think OJ Simpson’s guilt wasn’t proven.

        Seriously, the argument that some male relative raped Hemings is exactly the same as the imbeciles who argue that a male relative of OJ Simpson murdered Nicole. (And yes, those people exist. They are all over the Internet.)

        Jerfferson and Hemings traveled extensively together. It was known AT THE TIME that he was raping her. There was extensive contemporaneous commentary about it. So there’s no reason other than “I’m too intellectually immature to accept that my hero is a rapist” why one would posit that Jefferson shared Hemings with a male relative.

        Of course it’s Thomas Jefferson. The only reason the “some other male relative” argument exist is that people who can’t accept the truth want to retcon an argument to it.

        1. For both Jefferson and Simpson, I’d say the preponderance of the evidence indicates both of their guilt. I’m not really sure what is meant by “proven” in this context, especially in the case of Jefferson.

    2. They’ve already done that and the results confirm his ancestry, but he wants this to confirm it.

        1. It might well be necessary if Harding’s other decedents are still disputing that the plaintiff is Harding’s grandchild.

          1. usurping his right to control how his family’s story is told

            I’m puzzled. What does this even mean?

            I would assume James Blaesing can tell whatever story he wants with or without DNA.

            My aunt Dolorita Harding told me a story. Warren Harding supposedly visited my great-grandfather Paul Harding and his family between the time Warren was elected and was sworn in as president. Paul, his wife and their children were living in Satiago Cuba at the time. Supposedly, Florence didn’t like Paul’s brothers-in-law’s ‘influence’ on Warren. I expressed surprise because, of course, by now, every one knows Warren wasn’t faithful. But aunt Dolo said, yes, but Warren only had one querida at a time.

            I haven’t had a DNA test. Aunt Dolo didn’t have a DNA test. I’m sure she didn’t think she needed DNA test to tell that story. I’m pretty sure I don’t need a DNA test to tell the story. Blaesing’s DNA test can’t stop me from telling the story. (Was Dolo’s story a true story… dunno. All I know is she told me the story. My grandmother and some of the other sisters also say Warren visited their family in Cuba. )

    3. You don’t know he raped her. Is Hamilton your source?

    4. Fathered children with = proven to a reasonable degree of certainty.
      Raped = unproven. Unless, that is, you go with the post-feminist definitions of “rape” which deny female agency and insists that all sexual contact with a man is rape.

  2. Was it necessary to include the word “Deceased” in the caption? Are there many ostensibly living people potentially subject to disinterment proceedings?

    1. Harding may self-identify as still-living!

    2. “Are there many ostensibly living people potentially subject to disinterment proceedings?”

      Well, maybe you saw *The Serpent and the Rainbow.*

      Or read Edgar Allen Poe’s *The Live Burial.*

      1. That is why I said “ostensibly” living. Pres. Harding may very well be a zombie, but we won’t know ’til he is disinterred, whereupon it would seem rather presumptuous to have referred to him as deceased.

        Regarding buried alive movies, my favorite is [spoiler alert] “Isle of the Dead” with Boris Karloff.

      2. Back in Edgar Allan Poe’s day, getting buried alive was a real, if not particularly significant, risk.

        The composer Chopin instructed in his will that on his death, his heart was to be cut out and buried in a chalice filled with his native soil.

        Modern embalming would pretty well make being accidentally buried alive impossible. Even if you were declared dead prematurely, the odds of surviving the embalming process are basically nil.

    3. I had the same reaction, but I don’t make the captions, I just report them.

    4. I mean, if he was still living, the application should be granted as a matter of course. Although there might be a question of standing.

  3. Odd, he is registered to vote in Chicago…and has been a reliable voter ever since Aug 2nd 1923!

    (I’ll just go report myself to HR….)

  4. So was he poisoned? He was acting mighty strange those last few weeks.

  5. D- for the unnecessary parenthetical (“Applicant”) defining the applicant who had just been identified as “Applicant,” and for doing it after a possessive.