Samuel Carpenter’s judgeship appointment, 1847
As U.S. Supreme Court history turns a page with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, we see irrefutable evidence of the personal and professional lives of other august members of the bench in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Circuit Judge (and Bowling Green mayor) John B. Rodes, Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Charles H. Reynolds, U.S. District Judge Walter Evans, and local judge John M. Galloway are among those represented in our collections.
In 1846, Judge Henry Ormsby Brown (1787-1852) wrote to his wife Lucy during his travels on the circuit in western Kentucky. He was intrigued with the “thriving little town” of Cadiz, “with a better society than is generally found in such villages–a genteel courthouse & several churches.” Anxious (a little whiny, in fact) for letters from home, Brown instructed Lucy to “ascertain by the time it takes this letter to reach you” whether she should write him there or address her letter to his next destination.
When Samuel Carpenter (1824-1900) was appointed in 1847 as circuit judge for the 13th Judicial District of Kentucky, his certificate noted his substitution in place of one John W. Helm, “who refused to accept.” On the reverse was recorded Carpenter’s oath that he “would administer Justice without respect of persons and do equal right to the poor and the rich.”
Scrutiny of judges has, of course, become ever more contentious. In 1987, Elkton, Kentucky attorney George Street Boone shared his thoughts with Senator Wendell Ford on the nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Following the confirmation hearings closely, he found the controversial nominee “articulate, highly educated and intelligent,” but nevertheless more “radical” than conservative. Given the Supreme Court’s “strong and stabilizing influence in this country,” he wrote, neither Bork’s record nor his performance at the hearings justified his appointment to the nation’s highest court.
Click on the links to access finding aids for these collections. For more collections on lawyers and judges, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.
John Barret Rodes (1870-1970)
As the story goes, Kentucky native and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Fred M. Vinson was chatting with a colleague who was on his way to Louisville for a meeting of the state bar association. Upon arrival, Vinson instructed him, he should find the man who “looks, talks, and acts most like a judge.” That man would be John B. Rodes of Bowling Green, to whom Vinson wished to convey his best regards.
The long and distinguished career of John Barret Rodes (1870-1970) included not only service as a lawyer and judge, but as mayor of Bowling Green from 1930-1934, president of the Kentucky State Bar Association from 1940-1941, member of the WKU Board of Regents from 1944-1948 (he is the “Rodes” in Rodes-Harlin Hall), and leadership in many civic organizations and causes.
In 1897, however, John Rodes was just a giddy young man in love. Writing to 21-year-old Elizabeth Davis Hines–“my sweetheart”–he couldn’t hide his feelings for the woman who would soon become his wife. But he also harbored a little of the natural dignity that Justice Vinson would praise so many years later. Rodes wrote Elizabeth that he must forgo the pleasure of calling on her that evening because an illness had left him not only “wrapped in salves, liniments and bandages” but unable to wear a collar–“a very little thing & yet a very large important thing for it is indispensable in calling to see you. In fact,” Rodes declared, “when I come to see you I cannot do without a collar.” With this simple rule to help him avoid any uneasiness about his appearance, Rodes concluded that “my collar shall always be easy and my burden light”–a misquotation of Scripture, he observed, that made him “devilish good.”
John and Elizabeth Rodes’s letters are part of the Rodes Collection in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here to download a finding aid. For more collections relating to the Rodes and Hines families, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.