Professor Robert M. O’Neil: Perhaps your most remarkable contribution as a Supreme Court clerk for Justice William Brennan was the total change in the status of Gray v. Sanders (1963). You initially drafted an opinion for the Justice that would have resulted in a decisive reversal of the Ninth Circuit ruling. But you quickly learned that the Court had preliminarily voted 7-2 to affirm. On the basis of your persuasive draft opinion, however, Justice Brennan promptly asked the Chief Justice to reassign the case. That soon resulted in a 7-2 reversal with only Justices Clark and Harlan dissenting. Two intriguing questions arise:
- Given the oral argument and the statutory context, why were you so sanguine about the prospects for reversal?
- And how did you eventually persuade Justice Brennan and four of his colleagues to reach a wholly different result?
[RC: Professor O’Neil clerked with Justice Brennan when Posner did.]
I wasn’t. I was under the mistaken impression that the Court had voted to reverse.
I didn’t use any persuasion. When Justice Brennan read my opinion, he said it was persuasive and he’d tried to persuade the Court to change its vote from affirm to reverse. His persuasive efforts must have been effective, though I don’t recall his having said anything to me about them.