The Supreme Court and el Dia de los Muertos
Last year I took a class at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft on creating shrines for el dia de los muertos, traditionally celebrated November 2 and 3 in Mexico and parts of the U.S. The class was taught by my friend Suzanne Martino, a gifted assemblage artist. I opted for whimsy over sentiment, celebrating the beloved White Castle on Bardstown Road whose closing in 1988 put a headstone on my and many of my friends' (extended) youth and slacker existence.
Suzanne has since returned to Colorado, but as a remembrance (and because assemblage is so fun), I decided to construct another shrine for 2009. This time I focused on an area of both professional and personal interest, the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Day of the Dead Shrine for Deceased Justices was first conceived to honor the nine dead men (the host of women justices—all three of them—are still living) who I would nominate to the Supreme Court of the Dead. However, as my plans germinated an image of Justice Roger Taney seated in ermine robes intruded into my thoughts, demanding that I create an Infernal Court to balance the eminent nine above it. An artist is only a subject of his creations, so I obliged, and constructed a diptych of two constrasting visions of Justice.
The Blessed Nine include John Marshall Harlan, Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Harry Blackmun, Benjamin Curtis, Robert Jackson, John Marshall, and is anchored (of course) by Louis D. Brandeis. The selection had some clear standouts (Brandeis, J. Marshall, Holmes, Jackson), but I acknowledge that some are quirky picks; Curtis, a Dred Scott dissenter, is there in order to keep an eye on the diabolical Taney.
The composition of the Lower Court is also somewhat personal, made up of Taney, author of the Dred Scott opinion that not only denied blacks their humanity, but also served as the intellectual first shot of the Civil War, as well as all of the Four Horsemen—James McReynolds, George Sutherland, Willis van Devanter, and Pierce Butler—whose conservative philosophy attempted to hold back workers rights, consumer regulation, and the New Deal. They may have been nice men (van Devanter likely was, McReynolds--a racist, anti-Semite and misanthrope--was certainly not), but their jurisprudence was not to my liberal liking and I’m the guy with the paintbrush, Alene’s Tacky glue and Exacto knife. The makeup of this court is only five justices--leaving it in the hell of a permanent minority in dissent.
A few of the photos are displayed here; for other more detailed shots see my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kentuckyhistory/sets/72157622554185727/