Built by Association: Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s farewell dinner

Justice O.W. Holmes Jr., autographed copy of farewell dinner menu

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’s autographed—and seemingly personal—copy of the program and menu for the Boston dinner commemorating his appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States (Dec. 3, 1902).

Below Chief Justice Holmes’s portrait (taken in 1900) is his dated autograph in pencil, with the words “Chief Justice” written under his signature. On the inside front cover, also in Holmes’s hand, are the names of judges and other dignitaries present.

How this elaborate program was put together is something of a mystery. President Theodore Roosevelt made a recess appointment of Holmes to the Supreme Court on August 11, 1902. The formal nomination didn’t come until December 2, the day before this dinner took place. Holmes was confirmed on the 4th, the morning after this dinner. The printers must have been really good—and really fast. Then again, the timing may have been well known to the local judges through the help of U.S. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who spearheaded the effort to see Justice Holmes nominated.

At the end of the evening, Justice Holmes delivered one of his most famous quips. A member of the audience said, “Now justice will be administered in Washington!” to which Holmes is said to have called back: “Don’t be too sure. I am going there to administer the law.” (See Fred Shapiro, The Yale Book of Quotations 368 (2006)).

          – Bryan A. Garner

“Built by Association: Books Once Owned by Notable Judges and Lawyers, from Bryan A. Garner’s Collection”, an exhibit curated by Bryan A. Garner with Mike Widener, is on display until December 16, 2013 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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