May 13, 2004

Rehnquist to emulate Robert E. Lee.

Chief Justice Rehnquist will appear in an interview on CSpan's Book TV (at 11 EDT on Saturday). He has this to say about not writing a memoir:
"I've always admired Robert E. Lee. He said the reason he didn't write memoirs was he would have to deal harshly with some people whom he liked very well and who had worked with him ... And I feel the same way. You know, bland memoirs are really of no use to anyone, and they certainly don't sell. And critical memoirs, you know, where you really take off and go after some of the people who you've disliked or who have been on other sides - I just don't care to do that."

Yes, that's quite astute. Either write a good memoir or don't write a memoir. And he's right about what makes a good memoir. But there is an additional point, even more important, about how to write a good memoir: you have to put your own vanity aside and deal most pitilessly with yourself. A good reason not to become a judge is that you will have such a stake in the respect for the court as an institution that you can never drop that guard and tell all. [UPDATE: Or even much of anything.] You're committed to a lifetime of playing the role of a sober, respectable, functioning member of a grand institution.

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