Supreme Court proverbs

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Thu Dec 14 19:18:49 UTC 2000

On Tue, 12 Dec 2000 Bapopik at AOL.COM wrote:

>    I've heard something like "the U. S. Supreme Court decision isn't final
> because it's good, it's good because it's final."

My book, The Oxford Dictionary of American Legal Quotations, gives the
quote as follows:

There is no doubt that if there were a super-Supreme Court, a substantial
proportion of our reversals of state courts would also be reversed.  We
are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only
because we are final.

Robert H. Jackson, Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 540 (1953) (concurring)

This quote is dear to my heart this was the only well-known legal
quotation that Richard Posner, in a review of the book in American
Scholar, was unable to find in the book.  I responded in a letter to the
editor that it was indeed in the book; Posner had missed it.

Political Aside:  Jackson was a conservative, but I suspect he'd be
appalled by the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore.  Posner,
although a conservative Republican, may also be appalled by it.  Law
professors are comparing it to Dred Scott as one of the court's historical
"self-inflicted wounds."

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Public Services     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at     

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