Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date

Fall 2005


As we see in this symposium, Justice Harry Blackmun is as controversial in death as he was in life. We live in a time of increasing absolutism, where things are either black or white, red or blue, you are either for me or against me, my way or the highway. It is when we are swayed by the sirens of absolutism that we are most likely to make mistakes, for absolutism diminishes our capacity to see nuance, much less to appreciate and account for it in our reasoning. This is a dangerous thing in a court, and in a democracy. As Learned Hand so wisely said in 1944: "The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure it is right." Judge Hand's words ring particularly true in these polarized times, and Justice Blackmun's example shows us that even a U.S. Supreme Court Justice can embrace this kind of humility.



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