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.