When I was seven, in 1962, I sat on the bench of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. I could do this because my grandfather, Hugo L. Black, was the senior associate justice on the court at the time. To me, he was old, strong, a great Justice, and had the most amazing tennis ball shooting machine. The court itself was revered back then, even by those who hated the results reached. There was little talk of corruption, and when there was, the Justices resigned, as Abe Fortus did in 1969.
Elizabeth, Granddad’s second wife, and my step-grandmother, took me to the court and set up this photo. Photographs of the Supreme Court in session are not allowed. And this one would probably be prohibited now, too. But Elizabeth knew how to make it happen. She could get away with it. She knew everyone at the court.
The senior associate supreme court justice sits to the right of the chief justice. So, that chair, the fourth from the left, under the second column from the left, is where my Granddad and I sat. Earl Warren, the Chief Justice, would sit in the center. Either the red curtains were open, or they weren’t installed when the picture of me on the court was taken. I remember thinking it was cool, but the circular staircase was even better.
I was taken to the court by my Granddad’s second wife, Elizabeth DeMeritte, my step-grandmother. Elizabeth took care of everything. She arranged the trip, took the photographs, and created a scrapbook for me. All my siblings traveled to Washington, D.C., to visit her and Granddad. She directed this photo of me on the bench. I’m not sure about the clenched fist. Elizabeth probably told me to do that. I loved Elizabeth.
Everyone talked about my Granddad. He had the old and wrinkled gravitas. The person who placed me in that chair was Elizabeth. And she taught me to respect it.