The Library of Congress announced last November the important news that George Washington University Professor Maeva Marcus has been named the general editor of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court. Somehow I missed that until Les Benedict brought it to my attention recently. There is a really great story behind the Holmes Devise History -- it's that back when Holmes passed away he left a fortune to the United States. What a great gesture of his values -- from an era when people still thought that the United States government was a solution, or part of the solution to our nation's problems. I bet there's great insight into Holmes' mind here -- just as we can see other people's hopes and dreams in their wills.
In the mid-1950s Congress created the Oliver Wendell Holmes Devise fund to produce a definitive history of the Supreme Court. And for decades the volumes rolled out -- the early ones were encyclopedic and celebratory. (The Cambridge University Press website has more details on the authors and their volumes.) More recently they have been more focused on ideas -- among my favorite works of legal history are G. Edward White's The Marshall Court and Cultural Change, 1815-1835 and William Wiecek's The Birth of the Modern Constitution: The United States Supreme Court, 1941–1953. And I guess there are still some in the works -- Morton Horwitz is writing the volume on the Warren Court and Robert Post is writing the volume on the 1920s: Constitutional Rights and the Regulatory State, 1921–30. I think there's some consideration of whether they're going to produce new volumes to replace the older volumes, such as the pre-Marshall Court and maybe the Taney Court. I think this is an outstanding idea.
There is a long history to these volumes, which is pretty interesting in itself and also in what it says about the shifting interpretations of the Supreme Court and in what it says about the place of history -- and particularly this history -- in our nation's politics. Richard Paschal gives the history of this in his review of William Wiecek's volume in the Green Bag. Richard's review is worth a read for this alone and for the role that Felix Frankfurter played in this, as well as Paul Freund. Sandy Levinson tells some of this in his extended review of G. Edward White's volume. (White took up the task of the Marshall Court after Gerald Gunther spent years on the project.) The general editors have been a distinguished group, from Paul Freund to Stanley Katz, to now Maeva Marcus. And its so exciting to use this grand project as a way of gauging how we think about the Supreme Court and constitutional law over time.
Cribbing now from the Library of Congress' announcement:
Marcus was appointed general editor of the Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court by former Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who served as chair (ex officio) of the Permanent Committee until his retirement on Sept. 30, 2015. Marcus succeeds Stanley N. Katz, president emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies and professor of public and international affairs at Princeton University, who has served a co-general editor of the Holmes Devise History of the Supreme Court from 1978 to 1989 and as general editor from 1990 to 2015. He will continue to advise the Permanent Committee as general editor emeritus.
The Permanent Committee has five members, including the Librarian of Congress and four presidentially appointed members, who each may serve an eight-year term. Current members are Rachel Moran, dean of the University of California at Los Angeles Law School; Linda Kerber, a past president of the American Historical Association and Harmswoth Professor at Oxford University; and Les Benedict, professor emeritus at Ohio State University. One position is vacant.
I'm very happy to hear that Maeva is taking this over! Congratulations to Maeva and to the Holmes Devise History. This is fabulous news all around!
Legal history blog posted about this last November; I'm not sure how I missed it.
The image is of a Massachusetts monument to the Battle of the Wilderness, where Oliver Wendell Holmes was an officer. (Close readers of the faculty lounge with an outstanding memory may remember that this was the subject of a trivia question back in November 2012 and our dear, departed friend Calvin Massey identified it. I'm very much looking forward to the conference honoring Calvin at the University of New Hampshire this fall. More details to follow.)