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Harry A. Blackmun

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Justice Blackmun on scouting:

 “We need so much of this kind of thing these days.”

Harry Andrew Blackmun, 1908–1999. Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1970–1994.  Typed letter signed, Harry A. Blackmun, one page, 8½” x 11”, on engraved stationery of the Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C., March 17, 1981.

This is a nice content letter in which Justice Blackmun, responding to a scoutmaster, tells of his own experiences in scouting and comments on its value.  He writes, in full:  “Thank you for your letter of March 7 and for your contribution as a scoutmaster and merit badge counselor for citizenship.  /  Yes, I was in the scouting movement when I was young.  I progressed through first class and a number of merit badges, but my going off to college interrupted the experience.  I have always felt that scouting is rewarding both for the boys who are active in it and for those[ ] who serve as scoutmasters and counselors.  We need so much of this kind of thing these days.”

In 1970, Blackmun, a Minnesota Republican, became President Richard M. Nixon’s second appointee to the Supreme Court, behind Blackmun’s close friend, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, also a Minnesotan and the best man at his wedding.  Indeed, Burger had lobbied Nixon to appoint Blackmun.  Although Blackmun initially sided with Burger in closely divided cases, the two eventually grew apart—philosophically, politically, and personally—as Blackmun morphed from conservative to liberal.  By the time he retired, Blackmun was solidly in the Court’s liberal wing.  Blackmun’s is recounted in Linda Greenhouse, Becoming Justice Blackmun: Harry Blackmun’s Supreme Court Journey (2005).

Blackmun wrote several landmark Supreme Court decisions, most notably Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), in which the Court found in the Constitution an implied right of privacy that supported a woman’s right to an abortion under certain circumstances.  Blackmun, who had served as General Counsel for the Mayo Clinic before his appointment to a lower court, initially saw Roe as protection for physicians who provided abortions.  But over time, as the Supreme Court moved to the right, he came to see himself as a defender of women’s rights.  In his separate opinions in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, 492 U.S. 490 (1989), and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992), he warned that a plurality of four Justices awaited a fifth vote that would overrule Roe.  His prophecy came true when the Supreme Court overruled Roe in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organzization, 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022).

This letter is in very fine condition.  Blackmun has signed in blue-black fountain pen.  The letter has two normal mailing folds, neither of which touches either Blackmun’s signature or the text of the letter, and scattered handling marks.


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