's personal papers have now been made public, five years after his death
. They sound like a virtual gold mine
s, for Blackmon was a literary pack rat
who documented everything and saved every document
. Richard Nixon
appointed Blackmun to the U.S. Supreme Court
, which placed this documentarian at the center of American politics
As I drove to work this morning i listened to NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg tell an anecdote uncovered in Blackmun's papers, the 1992 case of Lee v. Weisman. The case concerned the Providence, RI school district policy of inviting local clergy to offer invocations to open and close graduation ceremonies. A family objected, arguing that a public school ceremony was, well public, and thus the seemingly innocent invocation amounted to a state endorsement of religion. The plaintiff argued the practice violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court.
Justice Anthony Kennedy set out to write the majority opinion in which he intended to uphold the school district's right to invite clergy to give a non-denominational prayer. But in the process of writing the opinion, he changed his mind, for he realized that he was making the plaintiff's case instead of the one he set out to defend. Shocked by the revelation, Kennedy wrote the opinion that upheld the plaintiff, which barred prayer from public school ceremonies.
Writing is the process of making our thoughts explicit. In order to write well, one must organize those thoughts, and lay bare the assumptions behind the writer's thinking. Most people never question ---or even examine--- the foundations of their beliefs. But a writer cannot afford such laziness if they seek to do work that is penetrating and significant.
It has often been said that :"the pen is mighter than the sword" and it is true, for the written word carries the power of ideas, and it is ideas that inspire us to action. Good writing can change the world. But first and foremost, writing can change the writer. In the case of Lee v. Weisman he had a case where one Supreme Court Justice sat down to write and found himself changed. In so doing, he changed the world.