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In Defense of “Public Reason”: Supreme Court Justice William Johnson



    1. Wayne State University.
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      This article originated as one of the 2006 Leon Silverman lectures, delivered at the U.S. Supreme Court on May 2, 2006. The author wishes to thank Denver Brunsman, Marc Kruman, Janine Lanza, Robert Olender, Stanley Shapiro, Bonnie Speck, and Mel Urofsky for readings of and conversations about the essay. Andy Hall (Ph.D. candidate, Wayne State University) provided expert research assistance in gathering, printing, and organizing Johnson's many opinions.


For those of us who gravitate toward rebels and upstarts, Supreme Court Justice William Johnson has uncommon appeal, if only because he was the first member of the federal Bench to kick up his heels in a sustained, effective, and deliberate way. In 1954, Johnson's only biographer, Donald Morgan, proclaimed him “the first dissenter,”1 a force for democratization in the style of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, the man who persuaded Chief Justice John Marshall to compromise on the question of unitary opinions and institutionalize (if not applaud) publication of concurring or dissenting departures from the majority's official reasoning.