Following ‘th’ iliction returns’

Rarely in recent memory has there been a more predictable set of rulings than those announced by the Supreme Court today concerning gay marriage. (See New York Times: “Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage with Two Major Rulings.”)FPDunne

More than 100 years ago, newspaper humorist Finley Peter Dunne, speaking through his wise-beyond-years character Mr. Dooley, ended a soliloquy about the Supreme Court by saying:

“That is, no matther whether th’ constitution follows th’ flag or not, th’ supreme coort follows th’ iliction returns.”

That bit of wisdom has haunted the Supreme Court’s pomposity for more than a century, and it is particularly apropos in today’s case. Was there ever any doubt about what the Supreme Court would do in the gay marriage cases, particularly in light of the way that public opinion has shifted on this issue? But that isn’t the point here.

The point is that today’s news reminded me of Finley Peter Dunne and his quote. So, I waddled over to the University of Tennessee library where I found Robert Hutchinson’s collection of Dunne’s essays (Mr. Dooley on Ivrything and Ivrybody). In it, there was the one about the Supreme Court. Dunne is poking fun at the pomposity of the Court and Court watchers — including journalists, of course — and says:

F’r awhile ivrybody watched to see what th’ supreme coort wud do. I knew mesilf I felt I cudden’t make another move in th’ game till I heerd fr’m thim. Buildin’ op’rations was suspinded an’ we sthud wringin’ our hands outside th’ dure waitin’ f’r information fr’m th’ beside.

‘What they doin’ now?’

‘They just put th’ argymints iv larned counsel in th’ ice box an’ th’ chief justice is in a corner writin’ a pome. Brown J. an’ Harlan J. is discussin’ th’ condition iv th’ Roman Empire before th’ fire. Th’ r-rest iv th’ coort is considherin’ th’ question iv whether they ought or ought not to wear uch’ on their skirts and hopin’ crinoline won’t come in again. No decision to-day?’

An’ so it wint f’r days, an’ weeks an’ months.

The essay makes hilarious fun of the justices when they get around to reading their decision. Dunne even gets in a shot at the Dred Scott decision, decided a half century before his own essay appeared. Here he quotes the justice reading his decision:

Again we take th’ Dhred Scott decision. This is wan iv th’ worst I ever r-read. If I cudden’t write a betther wan with blinders on, I’d leap off th’ bench. This horrible fluke iv a decision thrown a gr-reat, an almost dazzlin’ light on th’ case. I will turn it off. (McKenna J. concurs, but thinks it ought to be blowed out.) . . .

Read the entire thing.

And take this non-surprising day in the history of the Supreme Court to rediscover Finley Peter Dunne.

19thcenturyhumorists

The latter part of the 19th century produced a number of outstanding and well-remembered newspaper humorists. Chief among them is Mark Twain (seated, second from right), but others (beginning at left) include David Ross Locke, whose pen name was Petroleum V. Nasby and was one of the era’s great political satirists; Finely Peter Dunne, who often viewed the world as Martin Dooley, an Irish immigrant and saloonkeeper; Ambrose Bierce, a San Francisco journalist who was bitter and caustic in his observations; George Peck, a Wisconsin publisher who created the mischievous Peck’s Bad Boy; and Edgar Wilson (Bill) Nye, a westerner who came to New York and viewed what he saw with a simple but amazingly funny point of view.

 

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Jim Stovall, a retired journalism prof, is now a novelist, self publisher, watercolorist, gardener, woodworker and beekeeper -- among others things.

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