THE MAN WHO ONCE WAS WHIZZER WHITE by Dennis J. Hutchinson

THE MAN WHO ONCE WAS WHIZZER WHITE

A Portrait of Justice Byron R. White
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KIRKUS REVIEW

Hutchinson (Law/Univ. of Chicago) presents a rare glimpse into the life and thought of one of the Supreme Court’s most elusive minds. Here, Hutchinson focuses on a justice who served 31 years on the Court, one of the longest tenures in its history. The author follows White from his poor upbringing in Colorado to his retirement from the Court in 1993, and its role in molding White’s distinct jurisprudence as an independent judicial thinker. A native of Wellington, Colo., White had grown up to a life of hard work, obsessed with excellence in both academics and high school sports. A Rhodes scholar, he starred in the National Football League. In Europe during WWII, serving in the navy, he became close to John F. Kennedy (White co-authored the naval report on Kennedy’s PT-109 incident). After the war, he graduated first in his class at Yale Law School, clerked for Supreme Court justice Fred Vinson, practiced law and local politics in Denver, and served in the Kennedy campaign in 1960 and as a deputy attorney general under Robert Kennedy. In his years on the Court, to which JFK appointed him, Hutchinson shows that White emerged as independent, private, and a lawyer’s lawyer who, in an age of activist judicial reformers, declined to articulate any grand judicial vision and tended to decide cases narrowly, deferring to legislative judgments. Thus, he is noted mostly for his dissents in Roe v. Wade and Miranda v. Arizona, cases in which the Court engaged in the sort of judicial policymaking of which he disapproved. Consequently, Justice White tends to be remembered as a “conservative,” though that label is, as Hutchinson shows, as inapposite to the independent and idiosyncratic White as is its reverse. Hutchinson, who clerked for Justice White, presents as finely detailed a portrait as one is likely to obtain of one of the Court’s most enigmatic and brilliant figures.

Pub Date: July 12th, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-82794-8
Page count: 576pp
Publisher: Free Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1998