Davies: Golf and the Supreme Court

Golf and the Supreme Court share a long history, according to an article by Professor Ross Davies appearing in a recent issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History.

Davies' article suggests that the early justices had little to do with golf until Justice John Marshall Harlan, "one of the greatest golf enthusiasts in the history of the Court," was introduced to the game in 1897. By 1906 a majority of the justices played golf, and the installation of William Howard Taft as president led to the appointment of six golf-loving justices to the Supreme Court, a group Davies refers to as the "Taft Golf Court."

Davies is considering writing a book about golf and the high court in which he would examine justices' golf habits from the earliest days through today. "I'm doing it chunk by chunk," says Davies.

Courtside: Golf is par for the course at the high court, The National Law Journal, August 4, 2010. By Tony Mauro.

"Harlan was hooked on the game, and the Baltimore Sun wrote that he practiced on 'the spacious grounds attached to his mansion on Fourteenth Street … and takes much pleasure in showing off his prowess with the crooked club to his friends.' When the Court was in session, Davies reports, he played nearly every day at the Chevy Chase Club in Bethesda, Md. and sometimes barely made it to the Capitol, where the Court sat, before it convened at noon.

"When Harlan shot a 75 on his 75th birthday in 1908, newspapers took note. At a tribute marking his 25th anniversary on the bench in 1902, colleagues David Brewer and William Day said that Harlan 'slept with the Bible in one hand, the Constitution in the other, and his golf sticks under his pillow.' One bit of evidence that he mixed business with pleasure, Davies noted, was an article indicating Harlan often played with Solicitor General John Richards."

Read the article