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8 Rejected Supreme Court Justices

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With the Supreme Court ending its 2007-08 term, we thought this week was a good time to answer some questions you probably weren't asking (but will nonetheless find interesting). All week, the honorable David Holzel will be presiding.

Who are the coulda-been nominees?
Since George Washington nominated the first batch of justices, the Senate has confirmed all but 34 of 156 nominations. (Washington, first in everything, is the president with the most nominations confirmed "“ 12, two of whom declined to serve. But even he had two rejected. John Tyler holds the record as the president with the most nominations rejected "“ 8.)

In our time, the most famous rejected nominee is Robert H. Bork, a legal scholar and U.S. Court of Appeals judge with a long paper trail of conservative opinions. Nominated by President Ronald Reagan in 1987, Bork could have tilted the Court decisively to the right. As a known quantity, he was an easy target for liberal opponents, who organized a campaign against him. He was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee after 12 days of hearings.

"Oh degraded Country! How humiliating to the friends of moral virtue "“ of religion and of all that is dear to the lover of his Country!" the New-York Gazette Advertiser wailed over President James Madison's nomination of Alexander Wolcott, in 1811. "Wolcott's strong enforcement of the controversial embargo and non-intercourse acts while a U.S. collector of customs had cost him support in the press and the Senate. His qualifications for becoming a justice also were questioned," according to the CRS Report for Congress. The Senate turned him down by a 9-24 vote, the widest rejection in Supreme Court history.

225px-Roger_Taney.jpgRoger B. Taney (pronounced tawny) is largely remembered as the chief justice who handed down the Dred Scott decision in 1857. With his sepulchral countenance, Taney is inextricably linked to the grim ruling that all blacks -- slaves as well as free -- were not and could never become citizens of the United States. But when President Andrew Jackson nominated him in 1835 as associate justice, opposition Whigs were still smarting from Taney's removing government deposits from the Second Bank of the United States, while a recess-appointed secretary of the treasury. The Senate voted to indefinitely postpone the nomination. But after Chief Justice John Marshall died in 1836, Jackson sent Taney's name up again. He was confirmed, this time as chief justice.

You might think the Senate just couldn't stomach elevating to the highest court in the land a man with the name Ebenezer Hoar. But it seems the senators were offended by something other than aesthetics. As President Ulysses S. Grant's attorney general, Hoar had insisted on rewarding merit rather than political loyalty, thus blocking a well trod route for patronage. So when Grant nominated Hoar to the Court in 1869, miffed Republican senators gave the virtuous Hoar thumbs down.

A senator has the right to reject a court nomination simply because the nominee is from the senator's home state. Upon this invocation of "senatorial courtesy" rests the demise of Wheeler Hazard Peckham and William B. Hornblower. Both men were nominated by President Grover Cleveland. Both nominees were New Yorkers, and New York Sen. David Hill invoked senatorial courtesy to squelch their nominations in 1894. (Peckham's brother, Rufus Wheeler Peckham, became a justice in 1896.)

douglas-ginsberg.jpgSome nominees withdrew themselves from consideration before they could be rejected. Such was the case of Harriet Miers, whom President George W. Bush nominated in 2005, but withdrew under criticism that she was unqualified. Another withdrawal was that of Douglas Ginsburg (pictured, and not related to current justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg), the conservative, former pot-smoking federal appellate judge who is a footnote in the Bork saga. After Bork was Borked, Reagan mooted the more moderate Anthony Kennedy for the seat. But Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) threatened a filibuster. So Reagan turned right again and proposed Ginsburg. Embarrassingly, there was no getting around the revelation that Ginsburg had inhaled. Ginsburg withdrew himself from consideration, Reagan put forward Kennedy and the Senate, eager to move on, easily confirmed him.

Yesterday: What was Marbury v. Madison? And who were Roe & Wade?

David Holzel is a freelance writer who writes the ezine The Jewish Angle.
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A Chinese Museum Is Offering Cash to Whoever Can Decipher These 3000-Year-Old Inscriptions

During the 19th century, farmers in China’s Henan Province began discovering oracle bones—engraved ox scapulae and tortoise shells used by Shang Dynasty leaders for record-keeping and divination purposes—while plowing their fields. More bones were excavated in subsequent years, and their inscriptions were revealed to be the earliest known form of systematic writing in East Asia. But over the decades, scholars still haven’t come close to cracking half of the mysterious script’s roughly 5000 characters—which is why one Chinese museum is asking member of the public for help, in exchange for a generous cash reward.

As Atlas Obscura reports, the National Museum of Chinese Writing in Anyang, Henan Province has offered to pay citizen researchers about $15,000 for each unknown character translated, and $7500 if they provide a disputed character’s definitive meaning. Submissions must be supported with evidence, and reviewed by at least two language specialists.

The museum began farming out their oracle bone translation efforts in Fall 2016. The costly ongoing project has hit a stalemate, and scholars hope that the public’s collective smarts—combined with new advances in technology, including cloud computing and big data—will yield new information and save them research money.

As of today, more than 200,000 oracle bones have been discovered—around 50,000 of which bear text—so scholars still have a lot to learn about the Shang Dynasty. Many of the ancient script's characters are difficult to verify, as they represent places and people from long ago. However, decoding even just one character could lead to a substantial breakthrough, experts say: "If we interpret a noun or a verb, it can bring many scripts on oracle bones to life, and we can understand ancient history better,” Chinese history professor Zhu Yanmin told the South China Morning Post.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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