The Man Who Once Was Whizzer White: A Portrait of Justice Byron R. White

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9780684827940: The Man Who Once Was Whizzer White: A Portrait of Justice Byron R. White
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Profiles the college football star who became the highest paid rookie in professional football, a World War II hero, and one of the Supreme Court's longest-serving justices

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Review:

Justice Byron White had a life that could fill two biographies. As a young man, he was a national celebrity as a student athlete who excelled on both fronts. On the gridiron, he led Colorado to its first bowl game and finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting; in the classroom, he earned himself a Rhodes scholarship. But he put off going to Oxford to lead the National Football League in rushing, garnering a record salary along the way. He served in World War II in the Pacific, and returned to earn another degree from Yale Law and clerk for the Supreme Court. After a year in the Kennedy administration, he was appointed to the Supreme Court, where he served three decades.

White's reputation with the press as a Supreme Court justice suffered because, despite his personal pro-choice views and desire for privacy, he dissented in Roe v. Wade and, 13 years later, wrote the majority opinion in Bowers v. Hardwick, determining that "the Constitution does not confer a fundamental right upon homosexuals to engage in sodomy," even behind closed doors.

Hutchinson argues persuasively that these opinions were the result of a consistent judicial philosophy that refused to view the judiciary as a legislature. In his dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade, for example, White wrote, "This issue, for the most part, should be left with the people and to the political processes the people have devised to govern their affairs." And in Bowers v. Hardwick, he commented, "The Court is most vulnerable and comes nearest to illegitimacy when it deals with judge-made constitutional law having little or no cognizable roots in the language or design of the Constitution."

Dennis Hutchinson, a former clerk for White and a University of Chicago Law professor, has written a smooth-reading biography of White, although it suffers from some gaps in coverage caused by his subject's passive lack of cooperation. Although clearly sympathetic to his subject, he writes in a neutral tone that provides a thorough overview of the justice's press coverage and Supreme Court work, helped in the latter by interviews with several dozen clerks (and, no doubt, Hutchinson's own experience). A remarkable book about a remarkable man. --Ted Frank

About the Author:

Dennis J. Hutchinson is a Professor and Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Chicago, where he is also Senior Editor of The Supreme Court Review. He clerked for both Justice White and Justice William O. Douglas and has published extensively in scholarly journals as well as in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. He lives in Chicago.

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