Trivia: A Supreme Court Inkwell
Justice John Marshall Harlan was the lone dissenter in 1883 when the court struck down the federal civil rights case of 1875. The court had taken up several cases and bundled them for the ruling. Because the federal act regulated acts of private discrimination, rather than state-sponsored discrimination, the court ruled Congress had no power to pass it.
With that as a background here is the trivia of the matter.
Justice Harlan took great exception to the ruling and made a most passionate and extemporaneous dissent from the bench. He had trouble later, however, reducing his oral dissent to writing, and had a terrible writer’s block.
It was then his wife had an idea.
She located the inkwell which Chief Justice Roger Taney had written his infamous and dreadful Dred Scott decision. She placed the inkwell in Harlan’s desk, and upon finding it, according to his wife the memory of the role that the inkwell had played in oppressing blacks allowed Harlan to recall his words made on the bench. Harlan’s wife said “his pen fairly flew.”