Harry A. Blackmun (1908–1999)
It was Harry A. Blackmun who fully opened the door to the reproductive rights of women across the country. I met him shortly after his retirement, on two occasions.
Justice Blackmun referred to himself as "Old Number Three" because he was President Richard Nixon's third choice for a Supreme Court vacancy. As he met his fellow judges for their first official photo session, he remembered thinking, “What am I doing here?”
For years Justice Blackmun drove a little Volkswagen Beetle to work—and even to social affairs at the White House. On weekdays he had breakfast with his law clerks in the Court's public cafeteria. When I first met him in his chambers in Washington, DC, he was wearing an old beige cardigan. A baseball bat hung on the wall behind his desk. He put on a jacket for our photo, but right after the photo was taken he hung up the jacket and replaced it with his old sweater.
He had a strong midwestern work ethic, and he told us he had "worked long hours because I was dumber than the rest of the guys and took maybe longer to come to a conclusion."
After all his years of work on behalf of women’s rights, Justice Blackmun still could not figure out why so many were against them. I asked him why he felt so passionate about the issue and he laughed quietly, saying it was probably because he had a wife and three daughters. “Even the dog was female,” he smiled.
Read more about Justice Blackmun here: Diane P. Wood, "The Qualities of a Justice: Harry A. Blackmun," 99 Columbia Law Review 1409 (1999).