Bench Memos

Bruce Allen Murphy Responds

In the course of an interview about his wildly incompetent biography of Justice Scalia (which is being released today), Bruce Allen Murphy responds, in a fashion, to my extended critique. (See Parts 1234567, and 8.)

I’m going to pass over here the various confusions that Murphy repeats in his interview (including his reduction of textualism to dictionary definitions) and instead simply reply to his responses to me:

1. Murphy complains that I have read his book “through [my] lens as a defender of the Scalia faith” and that I don’t “fully appreciate[]” that he is writing for a “general readership.”

But Murphy abuses his “general readership” by his stunning botch of Scalia’s dissent in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld; by his cartoonish account of the supposed influence of Scalia’s Catholicism on his judging; by his laughable series of bloopers; by his hopelessly confused assessment of Scalia’s purported methodological shifts; by his bogus and tendentious ethical assertions; and by his relentless armchair psychologizing.

In short, Murphy persistently betrays the trust that any general reader might place in him.

2. Acknowledging that he never interviewed Scalia (apart from a brief exchange at an after-dinner reception—see point 5 here), Murphy says that I don’t “fully understand[] how much of [his] book relies on [public-record] quotations from Scalia.”

Well, I suppose that depends on what “relies” means. It’s true that Murphy quotes Scalia extensively. It’s the massive disconnect between the quotes and Murphy’s sloppy and tendentious speculations that I’ve criticized.

I’ll further note that, apart from not interviewing Scalia, Murphy seems not to have interviewed anyone—not any of Scalia’s family members, colleagues, friends, or law clerks. That’s quite a curious approach for a biographer of a living person.

3. Murphy says he was “surprised” that I wrote my critique “so early in the process—way before the publication date.” He contends that I want “two bites at the apple”—that I want “to criticize the book on [Bench Memos] and then write a review about it.”

I (inadvertently, to be sure) did Murphy a massive favor by writing my critique “so early in the process—way before the publication date,” as I gave him and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, the opportunity to fix some of the countless gaffes that plague the book. The fact that they did not avail themselves of this opportunity ought to deeply discredit them.

From a selfish perspective, far from wanting “two bites at the apple,” I’m relieved that Murphy did not have the good sense to correct the errors I pointed out, as the task of writing my review (forthcoming in the next issue of National Review) was much easier as a result. 

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