Saturday, October 15, 2011

Today -100: October 15, 1911: Of justices, air fatalities, and posing

Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan dies. He was 78 and was appointed to the court in 1877 by Rutherford B. Hayes. He adhered at one time or another to a rather large number of political parties: Whig, Know Nothing, Kentucky’s Opposition Party, the Constitutional Union Party, the Democratic Party, and finally the Republican Party. Although something of a racist personally, he dissented in several key badly decided civil rights cases in the Court, notably as the sole dissenter in Plessy v. Ferguson (the NYT obit mentions many of his “famous dissents,” but not Plessy, which is his most famous dissent now, but I guess in 1911 segregation was accepted so matter-of-factly that Plessy would have been considered simple common sense). Harlan also dissented in the “insular” cases after the Spanish-American War, which allowed the US to acquire colonies without extending the protection of the Constitution to them. Arguably Harlan was more liberal in his rulings than his namesake grandson, who was also a Supreme Court justice (1955-71). Taft will now get to appoint the fifth justice of his first and (spoiler alert) only presidential term, the first president to name the majority of the Court since Washington.

The number of fatalities in airplane accidents since Kitty Hawk has reached 100. Congratulations, Hans Schmidt! 37 were French, 16 Americans, 12 Germans, 8 Italians, 7 British and 5 Russian. The first was in 1908, 4 died in 1909, 32 in 1910, and so far 63 in 1911. Progress!

A NY state supreme court justice dismisses an injunction by the Independent Moving Picture Company against Mary Pickford, who quit them for rival Majestic, on the grounds of her being a minor (19). The NYT refers to her work as “posing,” suggesting a reluctance to dignify film work with the word “acting.” Whatever it is she does, she earns $175 a week doing it, plus cushy jobs for her husband and sister.

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