Harry A. Blackmun: The Outsider Justice
Tinsley E. Yarbrough
When appointed to the Supreme Court in 1970 by President Nixon, Harry A. Blackmun was seen as a quiet, safe choice to complement the increasingly conservative Court of his boyhood friend, Warren Burger. No one anticipated his seminal opinion championing abortion rights in Roe v. Wade, the most controversial ruling of his generation, which became the battle cry of both supporters and critics of judicial power and made Blackmun a liberal icon. Harry A. Blackmun: The Outsider Justice is Tinsley E. Yarbrough's penetrating account of one of the most outspoken and complicated figures on the Supreme Court. As a justice, Blackmun stood at the pinnacle of the American judiciary. Yet when he took his seat on the Court, Justice Blackmun felt "almost desperate," overwhelmed with feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy over the immense responsibilities before him. Blackmun had overcome humble roots to achieve a Harvard education, success as a Minneapolis lawyer and resident counsel to the prestigious Mayo Clinic, as well as a distinguished record on the Eighth Circuit federal appeals court. But growing up in a financially unstable home with a frequently unemployed father and an emotionally fragile mother left a permanent mark on the future justice. All his life, Harry Blackmun considered himself one of society's outsiders, someone who did not "belong." Remarkably, though, that very self-image instilled in the justice, throughout his career, a deep empathy for society's most vulnerable outsiders--women faced with unwanted pregnancies, homosexuals subjected to archaic laws, and ultimately, death-row inmates. To those who saw his career as the constitutional odyssey of a conservative jurist gradually transformed into a champion of the underdog, Blackmun had a ready answer: he had not changed; the Court and the issues before them changed. The justice's identification with the marginalized members of society arguably provides the overarching key to that consistency. Thoroughly researched, engagingly written, Harry A. Blackmun: The Outsider Justice offers an in-depth, revelatory portrait of one of the most intriguing jurists ever to sit on the Supreme Court. Relying on in-depth archival material, in addition to numerous interviews with Blackmun's former clerks, Yarbrough here presents the definitive biography of the great justice, ultimately providing an illuminating window into the inner-workings of the modern Supreme Court.