Save the Herblock Cartoon — and Maybe a Morin

An editorial assistant from Farrar, Straus & Giroux wrote last week to say he was clearing out old correspondence and drafts associated with American Original and to ask whether I wanted anything saved. With the Antonin Scalia biography securely in hard-cover and about to be in paperback (September 1), I said don’t bother. But, I said, if you come across the original Herblock cartoon I acquired for the photo insert, save it.

I worked with the legendary Washington Post cartoonist Herb Block for eight years and was a fan of his work and even greater admirer of the man himself. He died in 2001 at age 91. I used an iconic drawing of his in the Sandra Day O’Connor biography. The cartoon showed Lady Justice lifting her blindfold to see a robed woman ascending the Court steps. “Well, it’s about time,” Lady Justice is saying. The Herblock I used in the Scalia book was drawn in 1996 after the justice appeared at an event sponsored by the Christian Legal Society at a Mississippi law school. Scalia criticized the “worldly wise” who might mock “true believers.” As controversy over Scalia’s speech boiled up, Herb sketched him on the bench reading the Bible and fuming about “worldly wise guys.”

Recalling that cartoon last week nicely coincided with a question from Touro law professor Marty Schwartz, who was a panelist with me at a recent legal conference in New York. Marty, who has an extensive collection of law-related cartoons, asked me about a Jim Morin drawing I had cited in a chapter on Scalia’s views related to affirmative action and other racial policies. The cartoon was published in the Miami Herald in 1988 after a conservative Court majority had voted to reconsider the reach of a longstanding civil rights law. Morin linked the action to President Reagan, who had appointed most of the justices in the majority, and drew a caricature of Reagan sticking his tongue out at Abraham Lincoln in his chair at the memorial. Under the headline “Supreme Court Votes to Reconsider Major Civil Rights Law,” Lincoln looks distressed. (The Court’s action had come in a case of Patterson v. McLean Credit Union. As it turned out, the justices in 1989 did not significantly scale back the civil rights law in question, even as they voted against the African American woman alleging harassment on the job.)

After reading about the cartoon in American Original, Marty tried to find the Morin work in various Internet cartoon-banks. He turned up other Morin cartoons on race and even one related to the Patterson case, yet not the cartoon I mentioned.

I knew it was unlikely that I had personally clipped the 1988 cartoon, but I also knew I wouldn’t have referred to a drawing I hadn’t actually seen. I suspected I had found and copied it from a justice’s files during research.

In a quick search of the plastic bins stacked in the basement under the ping pong table (the Library of Congress I am not), I found my Patterson files. And there was a cartoon Justice Harry Blackmun had included among his personal conference papers on the case. Blackmun had saved Morin’s cartoon along with newspaper editorials denouncing the conservatives’ vote to review the longstanding law. It endures, even beyond the Internet. I made a copy for Marty and dropped it in the mail.