The Right Coast

March 31, 2005
Today Should Be Proclaimed Charles Whittaker Day
By Gail Heriot

Who's your favorite Supreme Court Justice in history? John Marshall probably has a pretty large following. So does Oliver Wendell Holmes. And both John Marshall Harlans.

My sentimental favorite is Charles Whittaker--an Eisenhower appointee whose opinions are now mostly forgotten. Nobody ever accused him of being one of the Court's leading lights.

I love him for what he said on March 31, 1962, the day he resigned. Whittaker found the job exhausting, physically and emotionally. He said that he just wasn’t sure he had the talent necessary to do it well. He wanted to give somebody else a chance.

You've got to love him too. How many Supreme Court justices have not really had all the talents the job requires? Darn near all of the them. But, unlike the rest, Charles Whittaker knew it.

Here’s to you, Mr. Justice Whittaker. You had at least one of the important talents necessary for a good judge: You were a modest man.