Chief Justice Taft described him as “selfish to the last degree . . . fuller of prejudice than any man I have known.” He theatrically departed the conference room whenever Justice Brandeis spoke and sometimes withdrew from the bench rather than listen to a woman present arguments. He typically refused to join Brandeis’s opinions. No official Court photo exists for the 1924 term because he simply would not stand next to Brandeis, where seniority dictated they be positioned. Hearing that President Hoover might nominate Benjamin Cardozo to replace Justice Holmes, he (and two other justices) begged Hoover not to “afflict the Court with another Jew.” He read a newspaper during Cardozo’s swearing-in ceremony and avoided Justice Frankfurter’s entirely—”My God, another Jew on the Court!” One clerk claims he never said a single word to Cardozo.
Who was this congenial fellow?
James C. McReynolds, who served as Woodrow Wilson’s Attorney General until his nomination to the Supreme Court on August 19, 1914. He’d gained a reputation as an uncompromising trustbuster as Assistant Attorney General in the Theodore Roosevelt and Taft administrations. He proved absolutely dreadful to work with, and Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels later wrote that Wilson resolved to “kick him upstairs.”
Here are the nomination message and its “cover” (the middle third of the message’s reverse side):
I was alone when I found the McReynolds nomination. In my best Tom Hanks voice, I playfully bellowed, “WILSON!! NOOOO!” McReynolds, an expert on Supreme Court nominations writes, “proved himself quickly to be the antithesis of almost everything for which his nominator stood and in which be believed.” Of the anti-New Deal Four Horsemen, McReynolds was “their loudest, most cantankerous, sarcastic, aggressive, intemperate, and reactionary representative.”
I look forward to reading the memoir of one of McReynolds’s 1936-37 clerks.