Yet More Legal Ephemera: The Future Justice and the Broadway Actress


This item is a Senate chamber gallery pass issued by Sen. Hugo Black (D-Ala), a future senator, to a Miss Mary Orr, who may be the future author of a story that became an Oscar-winning movie.*  These passes are not extremely rare, as they were issued frequently and most, including this one, had a stamped signature, not an autograph. (See "Justice Sherman Minton: A Bridge Between Eras" for another example)   Nonetheless, like all historical artifacts they are an emotional connection to the past, a tangible, material item held by a real person who was a eyewitness to history.

Besides its association with a justice of the Supreme Court, date of the pass is the most interesting thing about this item.  It was issued in April 1, 1937, in the height of the Senate debate over FDR’s ill-fated (and ill-considered) measure to reorganize the U.S. Supreme Court by adding a number of new justices.  The so-called "court-packing" plan rocked the political world, raising fears that FDR’s landslide re-election victory in 1936 had spawned dictatorial ambitions in the president. 

What is also intriguing is the recipient, a Mary Orr.  The most prominent person in that era with that name was a young Broadway actress.  The Canton Ohio-born Orr was very intelligent, later becoming a successful playwright and a writer whose first published short story became “All About Eve,” winner of the 1950 Academy Award for best motion picture.  In 1937, Orr was still was a sought after ingénue actress, but perhaps the drama of the Senate debate inspired her and her party’s visit.

Later in 1937, Senator Black would be appointed by FDR to replace Justice Willis Van Devanter, one of the “Four Horsemen,” conservative justices who had banded together to oppose progressive ideas throughout the early 20th century.  Black’s brief membership in the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama would make his confirmation rocky, but on the court he proved a reliable supporter of civil rights. Within three years after Black joined the court, the other three of FDR’s judicial foes were dead or had resigned, and had been replaced by progressives like Black.  It seems time had its own reorganization plan.


  *My identication might be utterly fanciful. The current phone directory website shows over 100 Mary Orrs currently in the U.S., statistical evidence that I could be full of beans. 

RALE 1.4.  (Photos linked to flickr entry).