Segments in this Video

Judges Must Make Unpopular Decisions (01:28)


Bill Moyers introduces Justice Blackmun with an example: an appeal made by Major League baseball players for the right to move from team to team.

Blackmun on Roe v. Wade (01:34)

Nixon appointed Blackmun In 1970; his appointment was confirmed unanimously and it was wrongly assumed that Blackmun would strengthen the Court's conservative side. Justice Blackmun has since demonstrated a mix of conservative and liberal attitudes. We hear an excerpt of his opinion in Roe v. Wade.

Blackmun--A Strict Constructionist? (04:00)

Blackmun says some felt that he was bound to be a conservative. He says, of the belief that he had somehow changed, "I haven't changed, it's the court that has changed under me." He believes justices to the best they can to be fair.

Humanity Over Legal Philosophy (01:34)

Justice Blackmun keeps the individual--not a Constitutional ideology--in mind when making a legal decision.

Blackmun's Daily Routine (03:25)

Justice Blackmun has breakfast with his staff every day. He describes the taxing duty of listening to lawyers all day. He believes his job is one of the toughest, but finds it rewarding. At 78, he thinks about retirement.

Safeguards against Senility in the Supreme Court (01:20)

Justice Blackmun addresses the potential for an aging justice to make a poor legal decision.

Constant Search for Truth (02:55)

Justice Blackmun address the issue of compromise among the justices--an aspect of the Court that Blackmun believes most people forget. He says the law is, "not a rigid animal, or a rigid profession."

Federal Baseball Club v. National League (02:00)

Justice Blackmun, and the rest of the Supreme Court, changed the way baseball athletes are managed. Blackmun enjoyed writing the opinion for Federal Baseball Club v. National League.

Who Decides? Supreme Court or Congress? (01:23)

The Supreme Court held that Congress was better suited to resolve the Federal Baseball Club v. National League case.

Congress Passes the Buck (00:44)

Congress sometimes pass a bill and leaves it for the Court to decide what Congress had intended to do. Blackmun says this is a result of compromise.

The Buck Stops at the Supreme Court (03:03)

Justice Blackmun believes that, over time, every social question is made into a legal one. Working for the Court of Appeals, Blackmun found comfort in knowing he could refer to a higher court. He was relieved when the U.S. Supreme Court reversed his decision in Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co.

Interpreting Constitution a Daily Affair (03:03)

Blackmun believes the flexibility of the Constitution has allowed it to remain relevant for 200 years. Moyers confronts Blackmun on cases where he seems later to contradict himself.

Why Certain Cases are Reevaluated (02:42)

Blackmun uses a freedom of the press case as an example of the different factors that affect a decision. Blackmun notes that even in acting as a group, the nine justices "can make a mistake."

Bowers v. Hardwick (01:57)

We hear details of the Supreme Court case Bowers v. Hardwick. Michael Bowers, Michael Hardwick, and others are interviewed arguing for and against the right to privacy.

Blackmun's Opinion on Bowers v. Hardwick (02:45)

Blackmun feels that privacy in the home is more important than a law against sodomy. He says Bowers v. Hardwick must be overturned if we are to, "preserve the privacy of the home." He describes certain exceptions to this rule.

Obsession with Homosexuality Clouds Judgement (01:32)

Blackmun explains why the Supreme Court ruled against privacy in the home, and why they accepted the case Bowers v. Hardwick.

Blackmun's Dissent from Bowers v. Hardwick (02:25)

Moyers reads excerpts from Justice Blackmun's dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick. Blackmun's philosophy is to discourage "big brother in the bedrooms of America."

Law Based on Morality (02:04)

Blackmun argues that part of the strength of the American legal system is when laws and morality are combined. He agrees that a sin is not necessarily a crime.

Blackmun Speaks about Homosexuality (00:60)

Blackmun grew up a Methodist, and was raised to believe homosexuality is a sin. He describes his feelings on homosexuality.

Privacy a Constitutional Concept? (03:07)

Blackmun explains various ways the Constitution can be read. Some argue that privacy is not addressed in the Constitution, but Blackmun feels that the right to privacy has constitutional basis. This is evident in his opinion for Roe v. Wade.

Roe v. Wade a Controversial Decision (02:15)

In 1973, the Supreme Court, by a 7-2 vote, ruled that women have the right to a legal abortion. Viewers hear public opinions on the outcome of the case. Blackmun discusses the public's strong reaction to his decision on Roe v. Wade.

Gun Shot Endangers Blackmun's Life (00:57)

Justice Blackmun describes his feelings about a gun shot that was fired into the window of his house. Blackmun is unsure if the shot was random, or a hostile act committed by someone angry at the outcome of Roe v. Wade.

What Influences Supreme Court Decisions? (03:35)

Blackmun doesn't regret his opinion in Roe V. Wade. He explains why he voted the way he did. Blackmun says his final opinion for any case ultimatelyis ultimately the exercise of judgment.

The Future of Roe v. Wade (01:48)

Blackmun discusses what will happen to cases involving the right to privacy in the future; will medical technology or a more conservative Supreme Court overturn outcomes he helped to make?

Blackmun Wants Equality for Women (02:00)

Blackmun says Roe v. Wade is a landmark for the road we must take toward the emancipation of women. He discusses the history of women's rights. He says although the Constitution isn't perfect, "we are on the road to making it better."

Credits: Justice Harry A. Blackmun: Man of the Middle (01:38)

Credits: Justice Harry A. Blackmun: Man of the Middle

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Justice Harry A. Blackmun: Man of the Middle

Part of the Series : In Search of the Constitution
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This program provides an in-depth look at the late Supreme Court Justice who wrote the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, the case that granted women constitutional protection for abortion. Blackmun outlines a typical day in the Supreme Court, explains his own definition of what the court’s role is in the life of Americans, and examines the issue of privacy, a word and concept not mentioned in the Constitution. In addition, Blackmun discusses the emotional and moral challenge of interpreting the Constitution today. (60 minutes)

Length: 59 minutes

Item#: BVL4907

ISBN: 978-1-4213-9240-0

Copyright date: ©1987

Closed Captioned

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