Supreme Court justice Harry Blackmun has long been seen as the primary architect of the landmark 1973 abortion decision in Roe v. Wade — with particular encouragement coming from his two most liberal colleagues, William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall. But a close reading of the papers of the late Justice Lewis Powell, Jr. — only recently made available to anyone other than his official biographer — provides a striking revelation about the profound influence that the centrist Southern justice had on the historic case. The Powell Papers make clear that clerk Larry Hammond, drawing from a contemporaneous lower federal court abortion opinion written by Judge Jon O. Newman, helped provide Powell with the analytical insight that persuaded a seven-justice majority to broaden Roe’s new protection of abortion rights from the first trimester all the way to the threshold of fetal viability.
For many years the Powell Papers — located at Washington and Lee University Law School in Lexington, Virginia — were exclusively available to the justice’s biographer, University of Virginia law professor John Jeffries, Jr. Jeffries’s 1994 book, Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr., is an excellent and highly valuable piece of work, but even a very selective exploration of the Powell Papers reveals that they contain some notable disclosures that do not appear in the ballyhooed papers of the late Justice Thurgood Marshall and that Jeffries was unable to address in full detail in a 500-page account of Powell’s entire life.
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