Blackmun Papers

 

Fr. Frank Pavone

 
  5/17/2004
 

The late Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the author of Roe V. Wade, left instructions that his entire private file, consisting of more than 1500 boxes and 500,000 items spanning more than 60 years be made available to the public on the fifth anniversary of his death. When that occurred in late March 2004, a relatively small number of lawyers, journalists and researchers requested permission to review the files at the Madison Building of the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.

Priests for Life reviewed the contents of the entire file. Our pastoral associate, Dr. Paul Schenck, personally read hundreds of pages of Blackmun’s notes, observations, draft opinions, memos from his staff, clerks and lawyers, and correspondence with his friends, colleagues and the public.

What emerged was a dramatic portrait of a man on a mission. In an oral history given to one of his former clerks in the summer of 1995, Blackmun began revealing his true motives behind Roe V. Wade. In one telling sentence he says, "I think it (Roe) was right in 1973, I think it is right today. It’s a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women."

He then added, quoting Ambassador Sol Linowitz, "Do you want to be just another Supreme Court justice and be there for ten or fifteen years, write a few opinions and be forgotten, or do you want to be remembered?"

This was the first hint that Blackmun began with the idea that abortion had to become legal, and that he would play an important role in bringing that about. What the Blackmun papers show is that the highly controversial finding of Roe v. Wade was not the product of unbiased legal reasoning, but one man’s crusade to make abortion abundantly available in the US.

In a personal history dictated shortly before he died, Blackmun observed that he was up against "The ancient attitudes of … the Roman Catholic Church," and the Mormon Church, the Missouri Synod Lutherans, conservative Protestants, and most of the so-called Born Again Christians.

Attorneys, historians, and Constitutional scholars on both sides of the abortion controversy admit that Roe was poorly reasoned. That's what happens when the focus is on an anti-religious crusade for social change rather than on Constitutional reasoning.

Fr. Clifford Stevens has done an immense amount of Constitutional research into how Roe v. Wade can be overturned. In his correspondence with one of the Justices currently on the Court, he was told that it was not the arguments that would change the decision, but rather having the right people on the bench.

Pro-abortion members of the US Senate agree, which is why they have blocked, by unprecedented filibusters, well-qualified nominees of the President. These Senators are setting the stage for the Supreme Court nomination battles. The public should pay close attention to what they are doing, and when they go to the polls in November, they should remember Blackmun.