Bench Memos

Scott Lemieux: Murphy’s Scalia Bio a “Major Disappointment”

Still catching up on things from two weeks ago, I’d like to highlight this post from Scott Lemieux on Bruce Allen Murphy’s biography of Justice Scalia (which I have reviewed, very unfavorably, in this National Review piece and in a series of blog posts accessible here).

Lemieux, for what it’s worth, is situated well on the left side of the ideological spectrum. His assessment of Murphy’s book is very much the assessment that I would think any intelligent and well-informed liberal would have.

Responding to a reader, Lemieux first addresses my critique of Murphy’s stunningly incompetent account of Scalia’s dissent in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld. Lemieux fully embraces my critique: Murphy’s “dumbfounding passage” is “every bit as bad as he [Whelan] says” and is “the kind of mistake that forfeits a reader’s trust”:

We all make mistakes, but this is like saying that Dred Scott found all state slave codes to violate the 5th Amendment or that Lawrence v. Texas reaffirmed Bowers v. Hardwick. It’s mystifying.

More generally, Lemieux calls Murphy’s biography a “major disappointment.” As he gently puts it:

[A] lot of the book is taken up with Murphy’s analysis of what Scalia contributes to the United States Reports, and this really isn’t Murphy’s strong suit. Again, the hash [he] makes of Hamdi seems to be an outlier, but he’s sometimes shaky on basic concepts … and even when his doctrinal analysis is unobjectionable it’s pedestrian. 

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