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tv   The Presidency Rawn James The Truman Court - Law the Limits of Loyalty  CSPAN  December 14, 2021 6:57pm-8:03pm EST

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2nd at noon eastern. >> our weekly series, the presidency, highlights the politics, policies, and legacies of u.s. presidents and first ladies. coming up next, did president truman set the precedent for a politicized high court? ron james provided his answer in the truman court, law and the limits of loyalty. >> my name is steven, and i'm the director of programming and marketing for the kansas city public library. welcome to this special truman day, three days removed, installment in our virtual series. our guest tonight is ron james, author of the soon to be released the truman court, law and limits of loyalty. james is a graduate of yale university and duke university school of law. he has practiced law in washington, d.c. for the last two decades and the author of two previous books. root and branch, and how war's
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protest and harry truman desegregated america's military. before we get started, i want to mention two things. if at any point you have questions tonight, you can drop those in the chat and we'll get to as many oz of the as we can, and if you're interested in purchasing the book and i hope you will be, you can do so at and if you use the code truman 21 tonight, you'll receive 40% off the list price. so check that out. so all right. let's get started. ron, thank you so much for joining us tonight. >> thank you very much for having me, steve. >> thank you. so i want to start by asking you, you know, when the publisher reached out to me about this book, my first reaction was, the truman court, huh? so we have vinson and i was at a loss to name anybody else that truman appointed.
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so, but reading the book, i quickly changed my tune and started wondering, why has nobody told this story before? i wondered, could you share with us how you discovered the story or maybe more to the point, when you discovered there was a book to be written about this story? >> certainly. and again, it's good to be with you. i haven't been back to missouri since my last book, and i was able to spend some time in kansas city. as well as in independence, and certainly without kansas city, no one outside of missouri would have heard of harry s. truman. they provided his political base, and good time with the local npr affiliate when i was out there a few years ago, and i hope to be back soon. the truman court, the idea of the book came to me when i was researching my last book, which as you mentioned, was the double v, how wars, protests, and harry
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truman desegregated america's military, because what we now know as the civil rights movement began with the effort to desegregate america's military. and harry truman was the first president in the post civil rights era, including franklin roosevelt, the first president to openly express public sympathy to all white audiences. american citizens of africa happened to be african-americans. about america's military which is the largest and most diverse institution. americas military, which is now the largest and most diverse institution, i saw this work on the side, which i actually began resurging in my first book root and branch. with thurgood marshall, his
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working through the judicial system. about how truman became the first president to do what we now expect of our presidents. and that is to use the judicial branch as offense, as well as defense. we were call franklin roosevelt, his epic struggles with the supreme court, culminating in what became known as his court packing plan. he preferred to call it judicial reform. but presidents up until that time had use the judiciary -- i should say the judiciary had acted as a kind of goal. and presidents would and act their policies with congress and hope that the laws and policies would pass muster with the judicial branch. harry truman turn that on its head. for the first time, we had a president who is using, not just the supreme court, but the federal judiciary, taking full control of the department of justice to push his policies.
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and now that's what we expect in both major parties in the united states. it's what we expected of presidents and our presidential nominees. >> seems like it almost came out of necessity because of the state that the court weighs in at the time. i wonder, can you set the stage for us? go back to the end of the roosevelt administration? what was happening on the court that made this special circumstances? >> franklin roosevelt -- unlike trumans nominees to the court, franklin roosevelt's nominees, they are well known by many americans certainly anyone who has suffered through law school. because they are understood as these profound jurors and pillars of the law. but they didn't like each
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other. and perhaps that goes hand in hand. they did not get along. and it wasn't just a matter of ideology, which it was. they agreed on new deal policy. but they didn't agree on too much else. by that also was a matter of the fact that they personally came to dislike each other. they dislike each other in this very insular environment, where they had to work closely together without the interference of clerks that the justices have now. they had clerks but it was not what we have today. so they had to work more closely together. and they came to dislike each other actively. and suspect each other's ambitions. and so -- the situation with which franklin roosevelt ended up -- or, i should say, the supreme court ended up with -- a few justices think that
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justice is appointed by the same president, that that justice wants to be president himself. and therefore is perhaps skewering his votes to position himself. and i'm speaking of robert h. jackson, possibly the finest writer ever on the supreme court. he did not go to law school. he still had his writing intact. but the justices came to suspect that he wanted to be president. and then we had william douglas, and justices suspected he wanted to be president. but then they said, oh, robert h., just wants to be chief justice. so there were all these internet scene battles where they came to suspect around each other's votes. and became an if areas force around the time that truman became president. and weeks into his term as
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president vice president, in 1945, the supreme court had already, in his terms, made a mess of itself. >> so truman, you mentioned early in the book that it took four and a half years before fdr got to appoint a justice. and truman match that number in the first four and a half years appointed for, right? and he starts with harold burton. and it seems like truman's approach is -- you know, he is appointing friends, or people that he knows -- but it's not necessarily that he's appointed people that will support him because they are friends or that they will support him politically. he is thinking a step ahead. here is the legal step we need to do when i need to do. here is a justice that supports that legal theory. is that what he's trying to accomplish? >> it's not at the point where
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he appoints burton. which, as you rightly note, it was his first nomination to the court. this happens very early in truman's tenure. harold burton was a senator, and most importantly, was a republican senator. and what americans understood then, just to contextualize, briefly, for everyone, this was the beginning of the gallup poll. the gallup poll being the gold standard of polling in the united states. and then the gallop polls, when the vacancy came about, one of gallup's most important major polls was to ask if you thought that truman should appoint a republican or democrat to a supreme court. this question today was would be anathema. and we are somehow supposed to believe, well, we are sentient
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and educated human beings in america, where an individual ceases to become a democrat or republican when he or she is confirmed to the supreme court. and this is not to say that justices act as republicans or democrats. they don't caucus in that way. they don't attend meetings with the party. but i have ideas. and at this point, in 1945, they were able at least, for the average american to be able to recognize that it's okay for these nominees to the court to have these ideas. and overwhelmingly, republicans and democrats, as polled by gallup, said truman should nominate a republican to the court. because we've had all these nominations from roosevelts, from the democrats. 263 federal judges and four of them were republicans. so americans paid attention to
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that and said, well, we should have balance. there should be political balance on the court. and harry truman, who is trying to solidify his own position now as a vice president who is sworn in to replace a giant. the only president that millions of americans ever knew. truman is trying to solidify his position, not just with the congress but with the american people. part of the way he can do this is by recognizing that maybe i should nominate someone from the opposing party. so he nominates harold burton, so he knew him. and harold burton was a solid -- for lack of a better term, an upright shifts figure. he was known as the boy scout mayor. he appointed elliott ness to run the police department they are in cleveland, to help clean things up. cleveland was a disaster and he
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helped clean not just the crime, but also infiltration into local government. so it was a successful nomination for harry truman. but truman and burton were -- they were friendly. not friends in the way that truman's night later nominees were friends. but this was a decision by the new president to his viewed by millions of americans as an accidental president. the senator from missouri, first and by the pendergast machine. and some other senators refuse to recognize him as a senator. and even some senior staffers said, we will hear about gangsters. and he was elected in his own right to be the senator from missouri. and chosen by franklin roosevelt, not at all his first, second or possibly even third
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choice. but harry truman had supported roosevelt's so-called court packing plan. and that was the end of the day litmus test. and said, if everyone can get along with senator truman, he can be on the ticket because he did not oppose my judicial reforms. and truman, when he becomes president, so suddenly, uses this first nomination as a chance to seek some political unity, not just in washington but in america as a whole. because americans then were allowed to openly say, there should be a republican or democratic nominee to the court. >> one of the things i really looked about the book is the truman court story, it's great. but there's also these bits of history dropped in. sometimes relevant, sometimes sidebars. but just how much has changed and how much hasn't changed. and one of the things that
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comes to mind with burton was, you write that truman and burton shared a belief that the government should protect americans from subversive threats. even at the expense of their individual liberties was that a common thing at the time for a democrat and republican to agree on something that profound? >> it became more common with the rise and the perceived rise of communism in the 1930s. and there were legitimate concerns in the late 1930s and going forward about -- not necessarily communist infiltration in the federal government -- but about communist activism in the united states. and that was something that both members and their parties
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were able to find common ground on agreeing that there would be somewhat cost to suppressing this rising movement. but we must suppress this communist movement. and senator burton and then senator truman found common ground. when truman was president, he knew and understood how senator burton felt about those issues. and it proved to be a good choice going forward into the 1940s from the standpoint of the truman administration. >> and if i recall correctly, at the time, there was one republican left on the court? correct? >> yes, that's right, that's right. >> -- >> yes, it was eight to one. and we were talking just your average american citizen who read newspapers, thinking that franklin roosevelt was
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frustrated, saw the frustration and it became this enormous deal. we want to enlarge the court. but now we have eight votes of democratic nominees and one vote of republican nominees. and they wanted to move toward restoring some balance on the court. so again, there was a good chance for the very new, an elected president and he took full advantage of it. it was a political master stroke for him. >> so right out of the gate, truman kind of sets the stage for his involvement with the court when burton is sworn in, and truman is in the building, right? he's there in the room? the first time a president has done this? >> that's right, for the first time ever, a sitting president walked into the supreme court when it was in session. it was for the new justices ceremonial swearing in. he had already been sworn in
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officially. but for the ceremonial swearing in. all the justices rose, the clerk of the court called on everyone to order. told everyone to rise. and all of a sudden, to everyone surprise, harry truman comes in through the side door. and sits down behind the bar, which is actually the bar. it's the bar one sits behind. and he is just glad handing everyone, having a great time. and the justices are not there yet. so truman comes in before the justices. so truman is shaking hands and glad-handing, all the newspaper man -- almost all men at that point -- they are all taking in and can't believe that the president is here. and there is a quick pause to order. and then the justices come in and harry truman rises with
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everyone else. and they have the ceremonial swearing in. and that's when, again, for the third time, truman stands up, calls everyone to order and the justices rise and harry truman exits. and leaves the building to the article three branch of government. but it really was an extraordinary moment of comedy -- not comedy but -- a showing of respect for government. that i thought really was something that i had not read a whole bunch about. >> we've got a calculated move by truman? was he thinking at that time that i'm going to be there to show that i'm not going to be pushed around? that i'm going to be an influence? or is he just supporting a colleague?
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>> i would say, without hoping not to appear as a cop out, no. truman was an astute politician. and that's not a pejorative. he comes from where he came from. one doesn't come from there, having no job, returning as an army infantry captain, living in his in laws house, becoming president, without being an extraordinarily astute politician. being good at the craft that he chose. secondly, though, part of why he is so good at it is because he had a time doing it. he thoroughly enjoyed himself. and by all accounts, when he came into the supreme court room that day, he had a grand time. and i'm sure we will discuss it later. but each time someone was sworn in as a justice, he threw
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bigger parties for them. but he enjoyed it. he enjoyed the people, enjoyed having the effect on what he saw as the better course for america. >> there's a -- going to get brought up here, making this comparison, living in missouri. but i was reading some thought that you wrote. it seems to me there were some comparisons that could be drawn from our most previous presidents, just in terms of the personality and the perception of being a bull in a china cabinet, bullying his way through everything. you have a moment in the book where you talk about resignations and someone asked him if he had asked for any resignations. do you remember what he said? >> yes, he said, i've asked for everybody's resignation. i expect them all and i will accept the ones i want to accept. these resignations, to be clear, our resignations of roosevelt
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appointees. what appears to america to be the sudden death of roosevelt's traumatizing. they can't believe he's dead. insiders knew and had an idea of how sick franklin roosevelt was. harry truman was flabbergasted. and when he saw how sick he was. this was not something that voters who went to cast their ballot for a fourth term -- they had no idea how sick he was. so they were just stunned by his death. and you see the footage of people of different races crying in the streets, grown men and women, crying in the streets for the loss of this man. and then we get the senator from missouri, who comes in -- he comes later and has nothing to do with. but he says, when in command,
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command. and harry truman had that ethos from when he came in and he wanted everyone's resignation and accepted those from whom he wanted to accept them. >> if you are going to use the supreme court to your agenda advancement, you need to have solid backing in the justice department, right? and truman take steps they are also kind of getting an appointment that is close to him. that is tom clark. can you talk a bit about how he comes to head the justice department? >> yes, i can, but i don't want to leave you hanging on your previous and analogy regarding the past president. the immediate past president. that was actually something i spent the better part of four years thinking about. because there were many
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americans who simply believe that harry truman was not up to the job. that he simply wasn't smart enough for the job. americans had an idea of a certain type of person who should be president of the united states. and that person, especially after having elected franklin roosevelt to four terms as president, that american had to have a certain pedigree or background. you have calvin coolidge, you have franklin roosevelt, you have herbert over. no one data demands intelligence. and stead, you have harry truman, who is using curse words and press conferences. and in fact, there were two famous cartoons of women pulling their children away and kids are going and the mother says, we have to leave now, the president is talking. and this was the idea of having
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this crass bull suddenly in the white house. truman was aware of that, as i think other past presidents were aware as well. i think it's more of a stylistic comparison and an example of a shock to the system if you take president obama, he's urbane nature and harvard education. you take roosevelt, his urbane hr and harvard education. and suddenly the queen is flipped over. it's a shock to the system. and i think it's an excellent point, i spent a good amount of time thinking about it the last few years, about how it was a shock to americans reading their newspapers or listening to their radio and saying who even is this guy? and what is happening here? he is in charge and we are at war. and it kind of came to a head
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later, and part of why it came to a head was because of the supreme court nominees as he began to nominate his friends, which brings us to tom clark, one of his friends. he nominated tom clark to the attorney general of the united states. tom clark, at the time was, gosh, a year older than i am now. i am 44 and he was 45 at the time. clark had been an unexceptional law student and actually ended up in washington by accident. roosevelt had wanted to hire tom clark's older brother, an exceptional law student, a big shot lawyer. and by all accounts on his way to doing grand things and tom clark's older brother said no, i'm doing very well here in texas. and so the senator from texas said, to the white house, well,
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i've got his younger brother, will you take him? >> and they said, fine, sent him up. and they gave tom clark initially something of a lackey job in the department of justice. but he worked his way up. what he might have lacked in academic ability certainly made up for in work ethic. and he became truman's attorney general and became very successful in being an aggressive attorney general. in part because he recognized that he was not the best lawyer in the building. and so what he did was manage the department of justice and said, what can we do to advance the administration's agenda? now we expect that of our attorneys general. and the president certainly expects it of the attorney general. but at the time -- but prior to that, the attorney general had generally been kind of what we think of now, as the solicitor general. as this exceptional lawyer with impeccable credentials.
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now, you can get someone in there like president trump had senator jeff sessions in there. carrying out his agenda. and president george w. bush had albert toe gonzalez. neither one had great legal minds. they were effective, though, for the time in which they were there, in carrying out the presidents agenda. and i would contend that that began in earnest with tom clark, working for president harry truman. >> and clark -- we are going to come back to him -- because he becomes one of those supreme court appointees. but is truman thinking that at the time? >> there is no indication that he is. >> so you get some traction immediately with burton, the real moment for truman's vincent, right? this is the guy that is a
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truman appoint appointee that has a legacy? >> yes. it's kind of a strange and sadly ironic how little known he is today among americans. because at the time of his nomination for the chiefs chief justiceship he was one of if not the biggest man in washington. not including the president. he stands by himself. but he had held so many jobs of monumental importance to the american economy. he had been treasury secretary. he had been -- well, now we call it onb director, by the time it was office of emergency management dealing with the war. he dealt with the appellate court judges. he had been a member of the
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house of representatives from kentucky. he was the authority. both houses recognized. recognized as the premier authority on taxation. and he was known as a grand operator, one of the finest orators ever to be elected to congress. and when he was elected -- when he was nominated to be chief justice, there were great expectations for him. he was perhaps the only nominee who have had great expectations initially from the time of his nomination. and vincent was truly a public servant. major league baseball wanted to -- allowing him to be commissioner. and he turned down the salary, he turned down the job, much to
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the chagrin of his beloved rife wife, roberta. he was an excellent baseball player back in his day. a big baseball fan. he was well remembered in major league baseball. and he turned down the job because world war ii was happening at the time and he thought he should remain in service to his country. >> if i remember correctly, you say that they were going to pay him 100,000 dollars a year, and his government salary was 20,000? >> yes, that was his peak government salary at the time. even his fellow justices, once vincent was confirmed as chief justice, his fellow justices appreciated that. justice william douglas, who had very little nice to say about fred vincent or other
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colleagues as well, he appreciated the sacrifice that fred vincent had made. because they knew he did not have very much in the way of money, finances or insurance, as douglas put it, at that time. >> and vincent, if i recall correctly, he actually gets on the bench and leave the bench? and then goes back to the bureaucracy? and then is nominated for supreme court, not as an appellate judge but as a cabinet member, right? >> he is on the bench -- he is nominated by franklin roosevelt to the d.c. circuit court of appeals. and you kind of see even to this day, an accurate read on him as the most important court that is a circuit court. and world war ii breaks out. and vincent is eager to get off the bench and participate more
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actively in the war effort. he had been in world war i, and america's involvement in the war ended just as fred vincent finish basic training. so he felt like he missed out on world war i. and he wanted to contribute now in his later years in world war ii in a more direct manner. so he left his lifetime appointment with tenure and attention and everything that comes with it. and agreed to become a cabinet member for franklin roosevelt, hopscotched to different jobs. the senate actually stopped holding confirmation hearings for vincent. but they didn't stop holding votes. so the white house would send the nomination, shot down, saying that vincent is the nominee for the office of emergency management. and he was nominated for treasury secretary and they said, we are going to do a voice vote.
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and the staff all new, and they voted on him so many times, and said, this is a matter of course for us. and he was serving as treasury secretary, which was, for president truman, a job he loved. he loved that job. and i think perhaps the only job he would have left for was to become the chief justice. >> i hope the people will read the book but if they don't, i hope they will do their own research on vincent. because this guy is just an incredible character in american history. and then baseball parlance, he was probably a utopian, right? presidents would plug him into whatever position. whatever job they sent him to he was tremendously successful, right up to his stint as chief justice, right? >> yes, but he was unable to continue that success for too long as chief justice. in part through some fault of
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his own. in other parts through no fault of his own. but it's an extremely difficult job. frankly, as we are seeing now, how difficult the job of chief justice is. the justice is supposed to be first among equals. that's a very nice phrase but in pragmatic terms and in practice it makes for a tough job. >> he was probably the guy that was needed, though, right? his predecessor as chief justice, stone, right? he was very much believing in debate and argument. and vincent comes into this environment where consensus building had gone out the window. was he uniquely qualified to play that role? >> he was believed to be. but he wasn't successful. chief again, he did replace chief justice stone, us a probe legal
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mind and a fantastic justice at the court. but not a very successful chief justice of the court. and he's a former columbia law professor. and he enjoyed debate. and the debates we are referencing happened at the conference. so these are the debates where the justices hammer out, as they still do to this day, their thoughts on each individual case. no one else is allowed into this room. the justices are there and the junior justices, now justice amy coney barrett, when they run out of water, she has to go get the water. if they need a book, the justice has to go out and get it. when someone else becomes the junior justice, they had to do that, because no one else is allowed in when they have these debates. and chief justice stone love the conference. it would go on for hours and he
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didn't recognize that it was ruining the court. justices who are dying to get out of their. the votes were not changing. they were just having these academic discussions. chief justice vincent, particularly as a master manager, he was an excellent manager, he was able to get the conversation going. and under chief justice stone, one justice said we were never able to get out of conference. so just imagine, if you were dealing with her job and you can just never leave because the boss never lets you go home. and the conferences were held on saturdays. so this is after the work week. you can imagine the effect that this is having no. now and vincent was interested in these results. what's the vote for what's your reason for your vote? let's move on. next person, what's your, what's your reason? and they would have some discipline into the conference.
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>> so, i don't want to shortchange tom clark and sherman matheson. but we have a lot of audience questions. and i moving slowly. so i wonder if we can move them together because tom clark and sherman mitten, here's where we hit a point for political pressure. pressure on cronyism. is that right? >> yes. it begins with tom clark who, at least had been attorney general. and then it continues and reaches a frenzy -- well, frenzy might be a strong -- it moves to a feeler with justice sherman mint in. because he had set on the supreme court appeals for years. he was a supreme court
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appointee from indiana. and he was a hard-core new dealer. he had some stuff for the president. it was the right thing to do. and it was where his state constituency was but sherman minton as a senator was a rabid man. so much so that he only lasted one term in the senate, which is tough to do these days, for one term senators. very tough back then. he was so fervent for the roosevelt administration's policies. and that came back to haunt him even after he had served for years and distinguished himself from the seventh circuit court of appeals. so by the time that president truman got to sherman minton, he had been passed over. and everyone said that sherman minton was going to be the third nominee, but president
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truman actually called sherman minton to the white house, to tell them that he was not nominating him. that was kind of heartbreak hotel. and you think you are going to be nominated only to get there and told that you will not be nominated. so he was not nominated. tom clark went and at that point truman did not consult with anyone. he knew he was going to appoint minton. it was simply not a question and sherman minton did not serve long but he was a first on the court, in large part because of his personality. he was kind of an explosive personality, particularly in the area of civil rights and he would literally pound on the table, telling the justices, that they need to do the right thing. here the constitution forces them to do the right thing and they need to, essentially, have some guts and do the right thing.
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at one point they thought, well, when we get to the brown case in 1952, the first argument, some of his fellow justices -- it was back in 1949 or 1950, they were worried he may have a heart attack during the conference. he was so exercised over this and he thought, why are we debating these issues that are so clear under the constitution? and sherman minton is not. >> there is also a story -- i think it was with clark but maybe it with with minton -- that kind of made me retrace my steps. and think, okay, there are some solid differences. because truman asked that the hail to the chief not be played, at the swearing in? or was it clark? because they wanted it to be his day? >> no, that was for chief justice vincent. and you put that in perspective for folks it is that harry truman did not have an inauguration when he became
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president that. she's justice stone actually did not have time to put on a robe. he was just wearing his suit. and so truman -- this is my own thought and you can look into it from reading correspondence. my conclusion is that truman decided he was going to give the chief justice the inauguration he had not had. so he had the swearing in at the white house, which was still -- it was still controversial to this day when presidents do that. but president truman did it and had a huge party, invited the public. and they could go on through to the white house, they had abandoned everything. and he asked that'hail to the chief'not to be played, so it would be the chief justices -- and the justice was sworn in. >> i want to get to a few audience questions here. someone asked, how do we get back the balance of power among
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the three branches? interesting in this context, because -- in a lot of ways truman was working to -- into power to get things done. how would you address that? how would we restore to the balance of power? >> i would say he's not trying to change. i think it was trying to bring in another player, the most reticent player, which is in the article three branch. they are supposed to be the most reticent player. i agree with the premise of the question. we are out of bounds. we are deeply out of bounds right now is a country. it is extremely problematic and the bottom line is that congress has to start doing its job. there is this constant talk, we have this three coequal branches. congress is supposed to be the
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most important and powerful branch of government. that's what the constitution has written in it. congress has decided and again is deciding, during the truman administration, to a seed its power. its first duty, to declare war, the president has a police action -- part of why truman lost the -- case was because he had his solicitor general arguing two justices, we are at war. and the justices are saying, the president has said that just last week, this is not a war. it is a war or not a war? the administration is kind of -- and that, as a result of congress not doing its job. and since then congress has abdicated that responsibility, the passing of a budget, congress doesn't pass a budget. they get these continuing resolutions that go on and on. then you get these government shutdowns. so there does not need to be a
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restoration. and when we talk about congress we're talking about the senate. because the house still functions. whether one likes to house or not, the house moves. the senate has stopped functioning, fulfilling its basic responsibilities. i think it's a matter of individuals -- i've been in washington for more than two decades now. and private practice, local government, federal government. it's individuals enjoying the lifestyle and not fulfilling their responsibilities, when they are supposed to do, which is making hard decisions. if you get thrown out, you get thrown out. sherman minton was thrown out by the voters of indiana. he was thrown out and he found something else to do. that's how we restore balance. you can't have three players and one player just decide that it's not going to show up. >> that place nicely into another question here. you mentioned a recent interview you did with gary
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goldman. he mention that congress may be the weakest branch of government right now. what can people do? we have seen -- we vote for different votes folks. and things don't change. how do we effect change in the senate? >> it's difficult. i think congress is the weakest link but not by design. the branches designed to be the strongest. that's problematic. you get corralled into these gerrymandered districts that we have. choosing officia lsthe officials get to tuesday voters rather than the voters choose officials. but again, the larger issue, though, still exists statewide with the senate. and you have to get these votes, you have to call these votes. again, i don't like the what
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about-ism. the current senate majority leader, he's taking his time, running with it, i'm still flabbergasted by what he did, stating that we are not even going to meet with a supreme court nominee. but if you rewind the tape all the way back, we go back to chuck schumer, we have a straw data, george w. bush's nominee for the d.c. circuit court of appeals, which as we mentioned, is the second most powerful court in the united states. and everyone who pays attention to these things knew that even if he got a straw that on to the supreme court the dccc court of appeals -- the democrats decided, we are not holding up a straw the. and asked, chuck schumer, what can we do to get a straw to a vote. and he said over the microphone,
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nothing. so we break down the process then, we end up with a very bad place. >> what do you think about the composition of the court. and these three trump appointees? are you fearful of an extreme right shift on the court or do you think it will be a more reserved move to the right? or maybe not at all? >> well, first of all, i think president trump did what -- he actually did his job, there was a vacancy, you nominate someone. i don't care if it's 8:30 in the morning on january 20th, you've got to have a name, here's the name i'm putting forward. my big problem right now with
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the core is almost with the description of the court. it instances me, this constant discussion of the conservative and liberal justices. no. there might be or there may be too liberal justices on the court. justice kagan, justice sotomayor. justice roberts -- chief justice roberts is a conservative on the court. justice thomas is not a conservative. he is a right-wing justice. he's trying to move the court. and what i will give him is that he owns up to it. he is constantly riding about this saying, we need to see what we are doing. justice thomas owns up to what he is trying to do. or he says, the court just overturned the precedent and acted like it didn't. so he is speaking with, i think, on honesty that i wish the others would. because it's not a matter of conservatism to overturn a
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precedent that is six or seven years old. that's the opposite of a precedent. if you are trying to move the court, just say you are trying to move the court because you think that's wrong. and it's very clear, when he's trying to move the court, he doesn't hide it. that's not a conservative position, i want to move this, because i believe that this was wrongly decided. and i think that, honestly, it's good, for the american people. i also think the justices should make their opinions on the biggest issues accessible to the wider newspaper reading american public. >> you see that a little bit with gorsuch as well. at least the topics important to him, like the fourth amendment, he will signal pretty clearly that i want to change this and here's what i want you to bring me, in order for you to do it. >> correct, correct. that's why i think it is lazy
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for someone like our leading commentators to consistently refer to the liberal and conservative wings of the courts court. no, no. that's not the situation. so we should read the justice's opinions and take them at their word when they are trying to do something. they are telling you what they are trying to do. >> so, some questions getting more back to the topic of the book. someone asked, truman's court were strong supporters of church and state separations. it's a big political issue now. can you discuss the truman court's position on church and state separation? >> wow! it was controversial because it was largely knew then. and we have the beginning of many of the jehovah's witnesses cases. and objections to policy.
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it was one of the courts initial forays into what we now call the culture wars. but back then the court was very resident and what the court tried to do repeatedly. a pejorative way to put it would be to punt. that's a lazy way to put it. when i would say they tried to restrict the ruling to the facts that were presented before them. that's why we got larger rulings later with the school prayer cases and other things that happened during the warren court. because many of those issues had been decided as narrowly as possible during the truman times. and that was due in no small part to the justice felix frankfurter, who was the only jewish member of the court and, as such, during his time, had a
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large -- on the court in that respect. so i think we saw the beginnings of the -- then, but it became larger later. >> someone else asks, what's got you interested in truman to begin with and where would you rank him among presidents in the last hundred years? >> i became interested in president truman, during my first book, root and branch, and seeing how he struggled and had a struggle with what we call the civil rights movement and how truman had such an outsized effect on it, particularly with the blinding of isaac winter, the subject of a recent pbs documentary. i encourage everyone to see it. and i was in treat by him and no small part because of --
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good part of the last 12 years, and there was a lot of research about president truman. and i thought, you know, 1948, i don't think i would have voted for him. and i can say now, i don't think i would have voted for him. i think i probably would have voted for thomas -- and that i think allowed me a removed from which to approach the subject. and, approach the man. not just politically, as a political science major, as an attorney, but also just as an american citizen going through life and getting older. you know, when i started this i was 28, 44 now. i still find him a highly intriguing subject based in
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large part because of where he came from, where he ended up, and it is cliché you've seen all the bad movies, you make your own luck. if there is anybody who made his own luck, he was there in the right place, putting in hard work. hard work it every single level, whether it is in the mud, in missouri trying to get some money for the roads, or as a county judge, or as an army captain out in the mud, or as a backbench senator who is being ignored, literally ignored by members of his own party in the united states senate, and he is still showing up to work writing letters to the white house and being ignored, and still working and working. then, you find out years later, roosevelt says, he literally writes, fdr on the proposal for truman to become his vice president, and the mend ends up
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president of the united states. >> so, one less audience question here that i am going to ask you. a question to wrap up. somebody asked how hands on truman was in picking his supreme court justices. very, right? >> he wasn't asking anybody questions by the time he got to the third one. he had a list in his mind, and in fact when tom clark came to him, when tom clark came to the oval office with a list, you had a list of nominees, catholic nominees because we are going to have a catholic nominee to replace the justice. he said he didn't even look at, it. he had a list in his own mind of who was going to be the nominee's to the court. and, they were going to be men, they were all men at this time. and whom he knew and trusted. >> -- his supporters pointed out that
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his wife and kids [inaudible]. >> his wife is catholic, come on, that has got to count! now most of the court's catholic, it is incredible. >> throughout the book, you weave two great narratives about how truman used the court. a couple of the cases relate to unions, and a couple relate to civil rights. we don't really have time to get too much into those, i would encourage people, please buy the book or get it from the library, whatever, it is a fantastic read and you will learn so much. but, i wonder if you could just in closing summarize how truman used the supreme court to advance his civil rights agenda. >> truman was the first president to address the naacp, and he became convinced, again, particularly after the blending of sergeant isaac woodward that
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something had to be done at the federal level to protect the rights of american citizens who happen to be african americans. and, he knew from his time in the senate as a democrat, that nothing would be able to get through. through the southern democrats on the senate. he began to think of two things, one, what can i do by executive action? which he was able to do with the secretary ending america's military, and then what can i do with my department of justice? in order to get things through this department of justice, what he needed -- a good manager at the top. tom clark hired good people, and they were all on the side of the administration, pushing forward not just defending what the president had done, but pushing forward to move the country forward by common law, which is what we call it. it is common law, building on
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common law. in the federal district courts, and the federal appellate courts. but, he realized in order to come to true fruition, eventually things are going to end up at the supreme court. on that again, we get back to it, the man got lucky. he got four nominations, he got four men on the court who ended up not only going to the administration, but helped lead their fellow justices to what was right. there are still questions about -- once we get to brown versus board of education and 1952, but truman was not an office at the time. during the truman presidency, the court unanimously, consistently without equivocation and very clearly written opinions, that any literate american could understand, argued to their fate loosens that the constitution guarantee the
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rights to all american citizens regardless of race. again, if there is anyone who made his own luck professionally and politically, it was harry truman. he also ended up having his own luck judicially, as well, with the three justices and the chief justice to the supreme court. >> it kind of embodies the added luck of preparation meets opportunity. >> absolutely. >> i want to close with something that i hope might give people a little bit of hope for the supreme court going forward, one of the things that you write in the prologue about truman's appointees is they often supported the president who had nominated them not for a sense of loyalty, but rather because they agreed with his administration on critical questions of constitutional law. and, i wonder, how true is that today? do people worry too much about, we are going on appointees? advancing a republican agenda,
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or democratic agenda with important? he's is not the case? or are these administrations just building laws and arguments around it. constitutional theory that they share with the justices that are going to support them? >> no, i think that is a result of the fact that the major parties, particularly the republican party are simply less ideologically diverse than they were back then. even as recently as the 1970s, you have republicans, you had rockefeller republicans with different kinds of republicans back, then you had democrats who were segregationists, and democrats from the daily machine in chicago. so, they had separate interests. it was not a matter of pushing what might be seen as a democratic agenda, because the so-called democratic agenda was so diverse back then. so senator richard russell of georgia, and certainly a different agenda than the
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democratic mayor of chicago. and, the republican governor of new york. now, it is so clearly drawn, the ideas are so clearly aligned with party that it becomes easy. it seems a matter of common sense to construe the justices opinions with the ideology of a particular party. >> it's not a problem? >> i think it is an extraordinary problem. i think it is a very big problem. i think it is the primary problem with the chief justice, that he is wrestling with, that he has wrestled with quite publicly in opinions. i do not think it is a matter of personal loyalty. i think we are very far from that. i think the day that it just
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gets confirmed he or she -- thank you very much. the fact that there are so many decisions that seem to conform so much with party ideology is a problem. it gets back to the question, i know we have to wrap up, but i just want to say that the judicial branch actually house to produce. that is the difference there. whether anyone agrees or disagrees with what the supreme court decides, come the end of the term, they have decisions for you. you can read them for free. congress just comes in, comes out. two years. you see the congressional leaders talking about this congress, and this congress. i playing close attention to it, i can tell you what is going on in congress right now. i don't know. they come in, they come out, and nothing happens. but, the executive branch has to produce, someone has to run the government, someone has to turn the lights on. the judicial branch has to produce each year, and they do.
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they produced each year. when you do that, you are going to upset some people, and you are going to make some people happy. the problem is that we have the most powerful branch that is not producing, not doing its job, and more than nature of politics -- someone is going to fill that vacuum. >> ron, i would love to have you back someday to talk more about the supreme court and how we fix the problems that we are facing. >> i would love it. love to talk to you guys.
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next, i look back at the 1964 funeral of former president herbert hoover, with presidential library archivist lynn smith, using old footage and photographs, she recreates mr. hoover's trip to his childhood home. >> today's presentation is called hoover's last trip home. our speaker is smith, audio visual archivist at the hoover presidential library and museum, where she's worked since november, 2000. her previous experience include serving as government documents department supervisor at the university of denver and archivist for the u.s. forest service in montana. she holds a b a from the university of northern colorado.


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