The Forgotten Memoir of John Knox
posted by Gerard Magliocca
I’ve started reading this book, which I’d heard about for years but never picked up. For those of you who don’t know, John Knox was Justice James McReynolds’ law clerk during the 1936-37 Term. I would highly recommend this for many reasons. First, the book is a window into a world that no longer exists. The Supreme Court functioned in a different way (McReynolds worked at home). The social world of Washington DC was also radically different (people still left calling cards). And race relations were troubled (the relationship between the clerk and the African-American staff stands in sharp contrast to the Justice’s treatment of them). Second, Knox provides some excellent anecdotes about his encounters with Brandeis, Cardozo, Van Devanter, and the other Justices. Third, the memoir was written in the midst of the Court-packing fight, and there are great insights about that as well.
Finally, the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. Part of that is because Justice McReynolds had such a bizarre personality. (For example, he took a bath every day and would swish around in the tub and flood the room.) Part of it is because Knox was often clueless (the part where he answers the phone and mistakes the Justice’s girlfriend for another girlfriend is priceless.) And then there’s the fact that the McReynolds’ staff called him “Pussywillow” behind his back. All good fun for law nerds.