An Extemporaneous Oration on Constitutional Change by Custom, Interpretation, and Amendment (1925)

I just came across a speech given by Alvin O’Konski, future Congressman from Wisconsin, in an extemporaneous speaking contest in March of 1925. O’Konski, not yet 21 years old, drew the topic “The Constitution has been amplified by custom, judicial interpretation, and formal amendments so that it now includes much more than the original written instrument.” He had three hours to prepare his talk, and “his speech was of such a calibre as to win first place from six of the eight judges who placed him.” “His speaking was forceful yet he was neither bombastic nor spoke with the spirit of the radical.”

A local newspaper, the Oshkosh Advance, printed his remarks in full on March 25, 1925. Here they are:

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Wacky Bivouacking: Same-Sex Marriage at the Supreme Court (June 25-26, 2013)


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A Duke friend and I camped out at the Supreme Court on June 25-26 to hear the Court announce its DOMA and Prop 8 decisions. I’d thought up a million reasons why Thursday would be the final day, but the justices confounded our careful planning. Immediately after Shelby County came down, we dropped everything, packed, and hit the road.

We arrived at the First Street sidewalk around 6:40 P.M. The cluster of Courtwatchers who’d beaten us to the front actually tried to impose order by having new arrivals “sign up” for spots in line. We played along, if only to solidify our coveted positions. (We inexplicably dropped from 20 and 21 on The List to 25 and 26 in Wednesday morning’s group of confirmed ticket-holders.)

[scroll over photographs for time stamps]

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment to Prohibit Drunkenness (1938)

Here’s a fantastic proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit drunkenness throughout the United States and empower Congress and the states (concurrently) to enforce this proscription of individual behavior.


I wonder if the rule of lenity might work differently when individuals are prosecuted under federal laws designed to enforce constitutional prohibitions on private behavior (e.g., you might be statutorily enslaving someone, but we’ll make Congress be more clear about the scope of forbidden actions). Being imprisoned for personally violating the Constitution isn’t your run-of-the-mill deprivation of liberty.

Don’t miss the snarky annotations (no idea whose):

Why not add:

Section 3. That period of time, commonly known as Saturday night, is hereby stricken from the calendar of the United States, and abolished.

Section 4. Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to change human nature from time to time in its or their discretion.

Thanks to Christine Blackerby at the National Archives! This was in the House Judiciary Committee’s papers.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Supreme Court Nomination (1993)



Today is June 14, 2013, the twentieth anniversary of Justice Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court. That means her nomination letter is now “available for public use” under Senate Resolution 474 (96th Congress).

When I took this picture in July 2010, Ginsburg’s nomination was kept in the National Archives’ Legislative Treasures Vault. I assume it still is. [edit: it still is, and Sotomayor has since joined her.]

SCOTUS Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Elena Kagan’s Supreme Court Nomination Hearings (June 2010)



Justice Stevens retired on June 28, 2010, the last day of the Court’s October 2009 Term. His successor’s nomination hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee began about 30 minutes later. I was able to witness both.

Instructions for receiving Kagan tickets:

IMG_3681SCOTUS tickets were distributed around 7:30 A.M., leaving me plenty of time to snag a Kagan ticket near the Russell Building at 8. As I stood in line, I learned that Robert Byrd, the longest-serving senator in U.S. history, had died that morning (the day after Martin Ginsburg). I’d long admired Byrd’s deep commitment to studying the history of his cherished institution. (I looked on as he lay in state on the Lincoln Catafalque in the Senate chamber on July 1.)

The Court always reclaims oral-argument tickets, but I got to keep this:

IMG_3735Here’s the inside of the Hart Senate Office Building on the day Kagan’s hearings began:

inside Hart BuildingJudiciary Committee staff escorted me and several others into the hearing room during the day’s first intermission. In this photo, I see SCOTUSBlog’s Tom Goldstein and Amy Howe, Professor Laurence Tribe, Senator Pat Leahy, and F11F’s Mike Sacks:

IMG_3761Here’s Tom Goldstein taking a picture of me taking a picture of him:

IMG_3762Here’s me taking a picture of Tom Goldstein taking a picture of me:

IMG00125-20100630-1409The back of Professor Tribe’s head, and Kagan’s ear:

IMG_3793The nominee:

KaganGoldstein and Garrett Epps:

IMG_3778Yours truly:

IMG_3783Senator Franken:

Al FrankenSenators Graham and Klobuchar:

Amy KlobucharSenator Grassley:

Chuck GrassleySenator Coburn:

IMG_3781Senators Cornyn and Coburn:

Tom CoburnSenator Leahy:

IMG_3796Senator Sessions:

Jeff SessionsA very blurry Joan Biskupic:

Joan BiskupicSenator Cornyn:

John CornynSenator Kyl:

John KylSenators Graham and Franken:

Lindsey GrahamSenator Leahy:

Pat LeahyAnd finally, Valerie Jarrett’s back:

Valerie Jarrett