The Supreme Court’s Docket Books

April 18th, 2014

Ever wish you knew how the Justices voted for cases at conference? Well now you can. Kind of. For certain Justices, during certain terms, if they didn’t burn them. The Supreme Court’s curator office now offers very, very limited access to these treasures. Dan Ernst has a post discussing his experiences with the Docket Books. I love this account of Justice McReynolds:

When U.S. Supreme Justice James C. McReynolds pushed his docket book across his desk to John Knox, the legal secretary felt “almost as if Moses had unexpectedly handed me the Ten Commandments.”  Knox’s shock was understandable: the book was a large, red volume, locked with a clasp, in which McReynolds, like his brethren, recorded votes, and sometimes more, during the conferences in which they considered the week’s cases.  Knox recalled McReynolds saying rather sharply, ‘That book will not be preserved after this term of the Court!  Next June I shall take it downstairs myself and stand before the big furnace in this building and watch it burn up.  A book like this must be destroyed at the end of each term!”

McReynolds may well have destroyed his docket book for the 1936 Term, but, thanks to a list released yesterday by the Office of the Curator of the Supreme Court of the United States (right; click to enlarge), we now know that his docket book for 1934 survives, as do those of many other justices.

Alas, requesting these docket books is a pain. You need to be an a “post-graduate scholars, professors, and historians.” You will not be able to flip through all the books. You can only make requests for specific cases, in writing.

Here is the list of books available.