Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court

By Joyce Murdoch; Deb Price | Go to book overview
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11
ADRIFT IN A SEA OF GAY CLERKS

BY EARLY 1986, 78-year-old Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. was weary and set in his old-fashioned ways. He had not yet fully recovered from prostate cancer surgery the year before. Very much an aristocratic Southern gentleman, Powell was unfailingly gracious, polite, proper. The atmosphere in his chambers was warm but a bit formal, much like that in the prominent Richmond, Virginia, law firm where he'd been a founding partner.

On a court with five justices in their late 70s, Powell was the one affectionately described by clerks as grandfatherly. He certainly wasn't ribald like Marshall, pompous like Burger or casual like Brennan, who would sit on a desk and joke with clerks. And, unlike Blackmun, Powell didn't start every weekday by breakfasting with his clerks and catching up on their lives.

Powell's dealings with his clerks were professional, respectful and distant. He treated his clerks humanely, even kindly, but tried to remain oblivious to their private lives, unless one needed his help. Otherwise, he neither offered nor welcomed personal revelations. Soft-spoken to the point of being almost inaudible, Powell communicated with his young assistants mostly through memos, even though their offices were only a few feet from his own.

Powell's notions of propriety meant that rumors ricocheting off the walls inside the closed world of the Supreme Court were unlikely to reach his ears. During the 1984-85 term, for example, gossip swirled that a former gay Powell clerk, David Charny, had had an affair during his clerkship with a conservative Reagan administration attorney. The

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