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tv   Book TV  CSPAN  November 21, 2009 8:00am-8:45am EST

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race. thank you and good evening. [inaudible conversations]:
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>> herman obermeyer takes a look into the life of his friend, chief justice william rehnquist. >> and i would like to have --
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i'm very flattered that so many people came out here on a rainy day and i also acknowledge that because you're interested in bill rehnquist. he was a fascinating man, even those who knew him fleetingly and even those who knew him only by reputation felt a deep affection for him, because he was a remarkable man who believed deeply and i will explain some of that, but i have to start by addressing the question all of my friends ask, and i ask myself. why would a happily married man, who had no need for more money or worldly acclaim, who was walking in to life's sunset in his early 80's, decide to take off into a three year journey that involved high discipline and hard work? answer, because i believe what i had to say about bill rehnquist was significant and worthy.
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if i remained silent, the information would die with me. historians and scholars study an appraised fact about the character and moral standards and out of public experiences of percent who make history. their judgments and writings help guide future generations. bill rehnquist was by all measures a historic figure. in addition to his 33 years on the supreme court, he played a central role in two of the most important event of the past decade -- the impeachment of president bill clinton and the election of president george w. bush. my book explains why bill was more than a figure head when he presided at the clinton trial. without a doubt, he was better prepared and more knowledgeable about impeachment than any other
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single person who participated in those proceedings. and much of my impeachment chapter contains new information which the mainstream media, for whatever reason, did not cover in 1999. i also disclosed previously unknown but not confidential facts about bill rehnquist and the presidential election of 2000. on the monday evening before election, he sent me a fax with his take on the election. he said he and i and my wife bet on every election, primary or otherwise, local or otherwise, and we always bet by fax. on the afternoon -- monday afternoon, we exchanged faxes through his secretary. and the official betting parlor for the obermeyer and the rehnquist was the chief justice of the united states.
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and it was -- that was it. on the afternoon before the election, he predicted and changed his long hand bet that george w. bush would both out gore by an elect form margin of 320-218. he earlier in the day picked 305-320, much closer. his long hand betting card, then 10 days after the bet, he sent me a letter on supreme court stationery, one of the few formal letters i ever received, asking to be excused from a $1 bet, because, and i'm going to quote, it is remotely possible that the florida election case might come to our court. i will point out to you that the long hand betting card with the corrections and the letter are reproduced in my book. i think one of the more interesting parts of it.
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i also explained why he believed that he and his colleagues acted couragely and patriotically when they decided twice to get involved in the bush-gore disputed elections. he knew that taking on the case would be a thankless assignment, regardless of which candidate won, the justices would be vilified, harassed and subjected to vitriole. he and my wife went to the movies two to three saturday nights out of every month and only once in the course of 15 years of doing this did he ever say he was concerned about going to a restaurant and that was the week after bush versus gore and he was afraid we would be harassed and so we ate in my kitchen. additionally, he knew that the supreme court, an institution that he loved, would be diminished and demeaned in the
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view of the losers, whoever they were. in the fullness of time, i am sure that many other books will be written about bill rehnquist. he was too important a person for future historians to ignore, but all of those books will be different than mine. i write -- i wrote from the perspective of a devoted friend, who is not a lawyer, but an intellectual and social companion of bill's, with whom over the course of 19 years, we discussed ideas, personalities, events, theories, philosophy, current and past, actual and imagined. we shared interestingly, uniquely similar and parallel lives. we were born 12 days apart. i was born on september 19, 1924 and he on october first, 1924. we went into the army shortly as
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privates shortly after the draft act in the winter of 1942-43. we were both business charged from the army as sergeants. in april 1946. we graduated from elite colleges, he from stanford, i from dartmouth. after attending public high schools where we were not intellectual stars, but had happy recollections. six of our seven children graduated from the same public high school in mc lean, virginia and two were actually classmates. we married similar women, had big weddings, our approach to politics and economics was also the same and we enjoyed quoting politics. friend and foe alike, from his contemporaries when he was a 27-year-old law clerk at the supreme court to port more
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temperature eulogists described bill rehnquist as a conservative. that was a mayor description. my book tells how conservativism went far deeper in his life than politics. conservativism was the central part of the prism through which bill rehnquist viewed life itself. he respected tradition and order, intellectual and social, as well as political and economic. he believed, and this is the essential concept i think, that the proven and established should not be rejected until there is a substantial reason to believe that the newer is superior. while my book is not about public policy, it is necessary to explain the role of conservativism played in his life.
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let me deal with a few personality quirks that i believe tend to explain this. the one which i'm going to start with and which is both amusing and interesting, is fry gallity. -- frugality. i first learned about his few gallity, we met playing tennis and after two or three sundays of tennis, i brought a can of balls, which i thought was country club courtesy and he said, how often did i play and so forth and he didn't think people should buy new balls until they lost a little fuzz and this was wasteful, and we would play with them, but we would continue to play with them and he would buy the next only after the fuzz wore off of them. the next exposure to his frugality, we went out to a restaurant for lunch, called the
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new quayle and he asked was i figuring the tip before or after taxes and i say i usually figured it of before taxes and he said he didn't believe in tipping somebody for being a tax collector. and at any rate, so in the course of many, many dinners together and lunches together, i always carefully explained before we got to the tip business that i had eliminated the question of the taxes. when he got to be 65, the arlington county library, they 16th changed, -- since changed, notified him that they were reducing his fines for a -- late books because he was a senior citizen and i became a senior citizen that same week and he thought that was totally unfair and was going to bring to it to their addiction because people who were senior citizens had more time than people in the was nonsense and they should have lower fees for people in the work force and
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were more pressured. we would go out to dinner he and he always had a light beer before dinner, and he would ask the waitress, could you list the domestic light beers, he was afraid the imported beer might cost a little more. they listed the specials on a menu and he would invariablably ask, could you price that. he rarely bought the special but he told both betty and i repeat peteedly, he never should make merchandise offerings without telling you the price. his post office box in vermont, he doesn't have a post office box, he picks up his mail at general delivery. general delivery is a service rendered to all the citizens. now i just would like, this requires more -- it's interesting and amusing, but it requires further explanation.
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first of all, he was equally frugal with the public's money of which he was a steward. when he became chief justice, he succeeded warren berger, who had four law clerks and three secretaries. he thought this was wasteful. he could get along fine with three law clerks and two secretaries, and that's what he had. his colleague and friend, justice blackman, after he was retired for a few years, wanted an extra secretary to prepare his papers to give to the library of congress, and he turned him down, because he thought it was a dangerous precedent for retired justices to have more than the one secretary they're allowed under some regulation. and he incurred justice blackman's wrath, but he thought that was the proper thing to do. and i think blackman didn't do it for a while and i can assure you one sect's salary can be
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lost in the supreme court's budget without much difficulty. he they have had security at his home. while lots of federal judges who were his subordinates by some standards, have security, congressmen have security, he never had any guard, even after bush v. gore. he had a lot of reasons, but the chief reason was, it was a what's lful precedent. if you started providing security for all nine justices of the supreme court, 24/7, that was a very big deal and he was one more than equals when it came to this position. this shows a sense of self-discipline, it also shows a respect forever money as a store value. that's the economist's term, but it's a vital and valid one. what makes bill rehnquist's frugality interesting is most people who are frugal are
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micers. he did not care about becoming rich or being well to do. his whole estate consisted of two plain vanilla c.d.'s, banks near the corner of lee highway, two unross extent tears homes and few personal positions. he had no stocks, no bonds, no mutual funds. i believe this also had to do with his idea of what might corrupt or lead to commentary about his bias. i think this tells a lot about a man. a lot more than any of the commentators who talked about his opinion. it's the same hard, intellectual discipline which i called conservativism, reflected in his writing style. his writing style, both in his history books and his opinions, is fair and unadorned.
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there's as little legal ease as possible in them. and he's a former political speech writer, who was, as a matter of fact, during the last day of barry goldwater's campaign was the chief political writer and his ability to synthesize issues again, part of being conservative, he didn't waste words, he even had an alcohol discipline. one light beer but never more. he rarely ate a meal horwatched tv, sports events with me, without having a light beer first, but never two. and this is over a period of 15 years. he bet small amounts on anything, but he never gambled. he considered betting big amounts gambling and betting kind of a fun game. the one exception, and i mention it because it is interesting, through his disciplined life is -- and i can't satisfactory
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explain this habit. he said he stop and he told me that he had stopped several times in his life, but he enjoyed cigarettes and he knowingly took all the risks. he would have used, he saw himself as a veteran. i will also discuss another mutual area which i think gives insight into him, which the man who had all this power, that nobody has talked about before. our army experiences, although superficially different, were very similar. this gave me an understanding of the large and lasting effect the army had on bill rehnquist's thought pattern. the way the no deferral draft took over our lives and the thinking of 18-year-olds in 1942 and 1943, is rarely understood
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by future generations, including most of the people in this room. every healthy 18-year-old that i knew was either conscripted or volunteered in the hopes of getting preferred treatment. there were no exceptions. you may remember the frame of the number one song on the hit parade, you don't remember, but you may know, for most of that year, was they're either too young or too old. what's good is in the army, what's left will never harm me. my own experience was very similar to bill's. i told you we were born 12 days apart. we both graduated from high school in 1942 ander we were soldiers less than a year later. it was a very scary time to be 18. three of my high school classmates at a public high school in philadelphia were killed in action before they -- while they were 19 years old. to explain a little further about something i know, when i
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matriculated at dartmouth in december 1942, there were approximately 24 hundred undergraduates. 18 months later, in march of 1944, the entire civilian enrollment at dartmouth college was 174. 2400 to 174. and of that 174, more than 20 were wounded veterans. this was the lowest enrollment at dartmouth since 1819, when james monroe was president. all of the student body was more than eight times as large in 1942. it was -- it was -- it remained during the war, larger than the mexican war and the civil war than it was in world war ii. that i thought describes what we shared in a way that very few people understand. all veterans of world war ii share something.
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but few shared as much as bill and i, as an example, justice stevens had a distinguished career in the navy, in a special organization that was involved in cracking codes. now, he was an officer, a naval officer, and distinguished himself, but always as bill said, where somebody served his meal. it took us two years to become sergeants, and we never advanced beyond that. we always lived in fear, and this is what i think reflects itself in his judicial conduct, that some low level military bureaucrat, would order us to a disputed barricade, where we would likely be killed or wounded. an army private, privates like us, learned your new positioning when a sergeant read your name at revelry.
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our democratly elected government had ordered us into harm's way. we understood it was necessary, we didn't question certainly not now, whether it was appropriate, but we knew government's power and we knew just how great it could be and we feared it and the fear was deep. it lasted throughout our lives. finally, in closing, i would just like to say that rehnquist is not a high brow book. it is a warm and occasionally funny personal memoir. it is a yarn about friendship with two bright and worldly old men. past it explores some of the offbeat intellectual byways and everyday experiences we enjoyed together, it tells more than
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what's ever previously known about an important public figure while he was at the apex of power. from my point of view, it's a final act which is also a meaningful contribution to history. thank you. [applause] >> we will take questions. we have a microphone, if anybody has some, but i want to ask the first one. i want you to discuss what he did about the book and also cars. >> books -- he didn't save books. and he really -- i have a library which i love, and i snooze in it when i'm surrounded by friends, and it's an important part of my life and he described one of his books to me, who reads books as well as
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collects them, and he did not save books, he used libraries, when he was done with books, he'd throw them out, and he -- and i tell in my book that one of the books, possessions that i have that we enjoyed together, i own a johnston dictionary, the work product of the first lexicon for the english language, not a first edition i should say, but an early one, and samuel johnson, could only define words like quotations, so he would find a word, we would look up words, where there was seven different quotations to show nuances of the word, as it was used by homer and dryden, whoever came to his mind. we who thought we were very smart with quotations, greatly
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admired and just enjoyed reading about dr. johnson, who wrote most of the dictionary himself. he had some eight clerks, but -- so that talk about books, we enjoyed books and we, for many years, would read the same book and talk about it about three weeks later. we gave ourselves about three weeks to read a book, and he -- you know, before the movies, we would sit and talk about a book. and it's part of why i say in my book, in the epilogue, why i miss him so much, because i -- i have a lot of very interesting, well-read, fun friends, but i don't know of anybody who knows as much as he knew, who can quote funny poetry at dinner or have a fun time out of it, who i can read -- who i can say let's both read this book an talk
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about it and i will get a terribly savvy, smart opinion about it. cars, he had a small subaru and he thought fancy cars were an affectation. and i thought he was right really. but then just slightly before he died, i bought a small bmw, and i rationalized or decided, i bought it because it was the only -- it was the only compact car that had eight air bags and i maintained that a guy my age should be more interested in air bags than any of the other features of the car. so i showed it to him and his only remark was it looks like a chevy to mevment. >> -- to me he. >> next quevmen question. >> thank you for your
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presentation. i'm a lutheran who lived in wisconsin for years, and i'd like your insights on how the chief justice being a lutheran from wisconsin, how that shaped who he was. >> all right. i'll answer it. there are a couple answers. one, he was not born a lutheran. he was confirmed in the church of christ, the congregationist church and he converted to lutheranism. and he admired in lutheranism the formality, i'm not sure that's a correct word, the structure, the structure of service. and he described, what i
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describe in my book, that we both he were quite interested in t.s. elliott, and as some of you may know, t.s. elliott was also born in the congregationalist church and from the distinguished line of congregationalists of new england and t.s. elliott converted to episcopalianism and he wrote several essays on it and a very great poem, which we both read called "ash wednesday" and elliott described himself as converting to -- the english version of catholicism. he called himself an anglican catholic. and bill saw himself in a similar way. we talked about elliott and connected his conversion from congregationalist to lutheran,
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similar to elliott's episcopalianism. did i answer your question? >> which poet do you both like? >> that's a good question. well, i would say this tells you about me, but i am one of -- i was one of the last people around who attended robert frost's final seminar and i -- robert frost, if you read in the lawrence thompson biographies, he set conditions that he would only teach seminar that could be taught in a parlor environment, there would be no grades and there would be no more than 10 men, no women there at that time, and i was one of them, and i have come away with it and when i wanted to go into seminar because i respected robert frost, i came out with a much
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deeper understanding and a more profound respect. he liked -- he quoted early 17th century british poets, he could quote pulpit, who rhymes easily. if they don't rhyme easily, they're pretty hard to quote. we may have liked elliott, but he wasn't as easy to quote, but he loved to quote pope, and things that rhymed and he could remember those rhymes. but he also read, you know, some of modern poets, you know. he was familiar with edward arlington jefferson, he read poetry and enjoyed it and understood and the last line of my book says we found in this a
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way of explaining transcenden ideas that prose doesn't do and my book ends with a quote, a contemporary eulogy by went democrat barry. the death abides by brief knows, we are what we have lost. >> well, as an army veteran, thank you for your service to our country. but you did mention that the chief justice and yourself because of your army experience had a fear of government. >> i can't hear you. >> i'm sorry. both the chief justice and yourself had a fear of government because of your early military experience. how did that affect his thinking
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in the court? >> well, i'm not sure i'm qualified to answer that. i -- i'm sure -- i mean, i don't have it -- i haven't read all his opinions and i don't feel qualified, but i can say that many of his opinions, which deal with state's rights and that's something they've talked about, i think much more concerned a fear -- a feeling that the dispersal of power was in the interest of the country -- of the democracy. and it's more of a dispersal of power than power of states. although i think they are not mutually exclusive concepts. >> did he ever speak about a person that had shaped his life?
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>> well, let me say, i devote part of a chapter to somebody who played a very important and brief role in his life. and who is not been written about very much previously, and that's denson kitchall. he was a very important force in the legal community, a phoenix, and in the ultimate formation of the conservative movement, the republican party. he discovered bill rehnquist when he was a clerk for justice jackson and enticed him to come to phoenix to practice law. he was the attorney for the goldwater department stores, and he got barry goldwater to run for the phoenix council, and then was his manager throughout -- till he got him the republican nomination. and he gave up his practice of law to do that, and when he was trying to organize a
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conservative taft delegation in the 1952 republican convention when taft contested eisenhower for the nomination, and he wanted a conservative delegation from arizona, he somehow horother found dick klein, who later became attorney general of the united states, as a magnum kum laude o of law school and ts one man, dennison kitchall who changed the course, and even if you don't deal with dick klein, had an important role. that's a remarkable man, and dennison kitchall was himself a very unusual man. he came from a very social family in new york. his father was the manager partner in the law firm that is
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the oldest law firm in new york, i looked that up, and he -- he went kitchall went to st. paul and yale and harvard law school and then moved out to arizona and he came from this long social background in new york, his grandfather had told greek at yale during the civil war, and then he got involved in all -- and kitchall was a very unusual man hand they did not remain friends, and you will read now, at his suggestion, i met kitchall once, and he was not -- he was -- it was clear they were still not very friendly, and i think if there is any person -- he got him to go to arizona. if he hadn't been in arizona when barry goldwater became the candidate for president of the united states, all of the contacts and all of the things that happened to make him chief justice never would have
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happened. if we had been working in santa fe or denver, those are just other cities. in 1964, the capital of the conservative movement and really the capital of the republican party was in phoenix. they used to say the goldwater campaign was run by the arizona mafia, of which bill was a member. [inaudible] >> we were a very devoted couple. she was a terribly smart woman. they met when he was in washington as a clerk to justice jackson. she worked are for the c.i.a. on the austria desk, and it was a
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genuinely -- oh, i'll tell you, this is a very important thing, until her illness, every night they read between 40 and 50 pages aloud together of 18t 18th an 19th century novels and when i first met him and i didn't realize all this, i asked him how he was reading scott quentin durwin and i asked him how come and he said they went through novels and did this, and they had gone through most of them. eventually, they lapsed a little into the 20th century and there was jack london and a few other things and i asked him why, did this, why do it aloud and he said he lived a very hectic life and there was always pressure and this meant every night, he pentagon one hour with his wife -- he spent one hour with his wife that was
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intellectual and something they could do together. did i answer your question? >> does your book mention any instances of times when mr. rehnquist had very difficult situations that he was handling on the court, and needed a friend, not to tell specifics about cases to, but that you knew that you were somehow helping him through a difficult time? >> i'm not quite sure i understand the question. >> as a supportive friend. >> well, that came up all the time. i mean, we -- we saw a lot of each other, and things that bothered him, we talked about. and rarely about cases, because we almost -- almost never about cases. a, he didn't need my advice about them and i don't think
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they were ever had a great emotional content. they were cases. and -- but there are all sorts of -- i'm not sure the ones i've discussed, i've discussed and it's hard to answer what kind of things you would talk about. we had children the same age. we occasionally talked about how you adjust to children having their hone lives. -- own lives. we talked a great deal about religion, and i discussed that, somebody has asked about that already. i was jewish and he came to our passover sader on a regular basis and enjoyed it and enjoyed my family and i will say i was reticent about asking him, my wife originally asked him, because we see the passover sadr
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as a basis of families passing tradition from generation to generation, so there are a lot of toddlers who make noise and scratch people's legs and do all sorts of things under the table. it's orderly and it's still family and it's part of how i think it should be conduct and i ran it, but he loved that. that was a family enjoying religion. and part of his enthusiasm for the red mask, which covers a portion of my book, is that this is a mask -- he attended -- as long as they kept attendance records, which is about 20 years, he attended more regularly than any of his catholic colleagues and some of his catholic colleagues are very devout. because he enjoyed it, and he enjoyed a group like lawyers, who sought divine guidance, who didn't think they were operating
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in abstract without divine guidance and he took great pleasure in going to the red mass and it's not a requirement at all. i will add, in the interest of separation of church and state, although it's conducted for judges and lawyers, they're very fast stayedous about not saying it's a command performance for anybody in the judiciary, because that might breach some serious -- the church-state separation. but nobody urged him to go. he loved to go. he thought this was terribly important that the judges and lawyers the day before the -- the sunday before the supreme court opened, had a special service in which they wanted guidance. and we talked about religion a lot. i talk about that. we talked about media a lot. it's one of the areas we didn't quite agree on. i have some strong feelings that -- about cameras in
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courtrooms and he has equally strong feelings on the other side. although he had -- although i will add, there was at least -- i in my reporting days, spent a couple years covering magistrate's courts, the very bottom of the list and i really felt if any kind of a tape record had been kept of what happened in a magistrate's court, it would be in the public's interest, but all sorts of very strange things happened when nobody is watching you have. at his level, it's all there, and it's all in a transcript, and the first two or three below his level and i -- he almost agreed that -- he understood that the magistrate court's question was one he wasn't familiar with in quite the sense that i was, in that it just was not a very pretty business, that's putting it the nicest way and i was the magistrate's court
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in rockaway beach and flushing in new york and their byways of justice, and the "washington post" in its review quotes that we once, after we -- we talked about this afternoon. we fantasized during a football game break what the supreme court would be like if they had instant replay. and we had talked earlier and i explained that i had gotten him interested in marshal mc lean, the media theorist and mc lean had predicted in 1964, a couple years before the first super bowl, that football would pass baseball as a popular game because of instant replay. it was terribly complicated game with changing players and changing -- all sorts of things on the very rapid basis, but if you had instant replay happened you could explain it, it would become -- it would pass all other sports in america, which it has done. so somehow or other, and he got
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very -- i called it to his attention, the supreme court librarian took care of him pretty promptly and one day watching a football game, when there was a break or halftime, he said what do you think would happen if they had instant replay in the supreme court? and we agreed that we thought what would happen, they'd find a retired judge, john madden, and they would after a while, at the end of -- instead of -- at the end of every half-hour, the court would adjourn for 15 minutes and john madden, judge, would conduct a chalk talk, and then eventually, two or three or four other justices would become superstars and heroes, and then those two or three ar four justices would determine it's in the public interest to change the meeting time of the court from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and at any rate -- and his extension is that once you
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started having cameras in the courtrooms, it wasn't very long until you had instant replay. next question. >> i've got one. we kind skirted on it. you don't seem to give any impression that he felt a certain -- [inaudible] do you have any feel for that or do you think he just tried to separate outside from the inside work? >> i would put it a different way. i really think -- he loved it. he loved this job and it really wasn't a burden. i mean, it's like anything else. some days you're overwhelmed with it, but -- and you know, during his illness, he fought to stay in -- he was operated on in october, 2004, and he didn't die until september 2005, and he was unable to come to the court, as you know, he


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