Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Pages of history

A "page of history is worth a volume of logic," thundered Oliver Wendell Holmes in New York Trust Co. v. Eisner, 256 U.S. 345 (1921). True enough. Till I contemplated some recent and anticipated adventures in reading, though, I hadn't realized how this Holmesian aphorism is true in more than one sense. Scholars who read the past for clues to the present and the future are pages of history in their own right, in the sense that they serve Clio by unearthing her secrets.

The trick often lies in finding an appropriate subject, an underappreciated event or individual worthy of study despite the lack of scholarly attention. In the fanfare surrounding the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education I, I thought myself clever for staging a conference on Brown II and writing an article on that decision's infamous "all deliberate speed" formula. This was a natural extension, I thought, of earlier scholarship using Bolling v. Sharpe as its springboard.

As I contemplated the double meaning of Holmes's "pages of history," though, I realized that it takes a truly insightful scholar of civil rights, immigration, and education law like Michael A. Olivas to document the underappreciated case of Hernández v. Texas, 347 U.S. 475 (1954). Michael is the editor of Colored Men and Hombres Aquí: Hernández v. Texas and the Emergence of Mexican American Lawyering, a forthcoming collection that represents the first book-length treatment of this landmark civil rights decision. Though overshadowed by the contemporaneous decision in Brown I, Hernández remains one of the leading cases on racially biased jury selection. The book's title comes from Chief Justice Warren's observation that the courthouse at issue in Hernández had "two men's toilets, one unmarked, and the other marked 'Colored Men' and 'Hombres Aquí' ('Men Here')."

Meanwhile, prominent antitrust scholar Spencer Weber Waller has delivered the first full-length biography of Thurman Arnold. Perhaps best known today as one of the founders of Arnold & Porter, Arnold was in fact one of the twentieth century's greatest legal factotums, a lawyer who made his mark as a small-town lawyer, an elected politician, a law professor, a law school dean, head of the Antitrust Division, a D.C. Circuit Judge, and a civil rights warrior during the McCarthy era. So varied a life in law demands a versatile biographer, and Spencer has certainly proved worthy of the challenge.


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