BOOK REVIEW: Why the Supreme Court Never Gets Any "Dear John" Letters: Advisory Opinions in Historical Perspective: MOST HUMBLE SERVANTS: THE ADVISORY ROLE OF EARLY JUDGES. By Stewart Jay Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1998 Georgetown Law Journal
Georgetown Law Journal

BOOK REVIEW: Why the Supreme Court Never Gets Any "Dear John" Letters: Advisory Opinions in Historical Perspective: MOST HUMBLE SERVANTS: THE ADVISORY ROLE OF EARLY JUDGES. By Stewart Jay

(New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1997) Pp. x, 302. $ 35.00.

November, 1998

87 Geo. L.J. 473

Author

REVIEWED BY ROBERT J. PUSHAW, JR. *

Excerpt

In 1793, President George Washington directed Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson to ask the Supreme Court to answer numerous legal questions about America's neutral status in the European wars following the French Revolution. The Washington Administration, however, recognized a threshold issue: "whether the public may, with propriety, be availed of advice on these questions." 1 A few weeks later, five Justices sent the President the following reply:


The Lines of Separation drawn by the Constitution between the three Departments of Government -- their being in certain Respects checks upon each other -- and our being Judges of a court in the last Resort -- are Considerations which afford strong arguments against the Propriety of our extrajudicially deciding the questions alluded to; especially as the Power given by the Constitution to the President of calling on the Heads of Departments for opinions, seems to have been purposely as well as expressly limited to the executive Departments.

We exceedingly regret every Event that may cause Embarrassment to your administration; but we derive Consolation from the Reflection, that your Judgment will discern what is Right, and that your usual Prudence, Decision and Firmness will surmount every obstacle to the Preservation of the Rights, Peace, and Dignity of the united States.

We have the Honor to be, with perfect Respect,

Sir, your most obedient and

most humble Servants. 2


At first glance, Stewart Jay's devotion of three hundred pages to these three seemingly straightforward sentences seems a bit like shooting a hummingbird with ...
 
 
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