Oliver Wendell Holmes

Oliver Wendell Holmes is one of the most influential–and controversial–figures in American law. As a Supreme Court Justice, he wrote foundational opinions about such important constitutional issues as freedom of speech and the limits of state regulatory power. As a scholar and Massachusetts High Court judge, he helped to reshape the common law for the modern industrial era. In her book, Oliver Wendell Holmes: A Willing Servant to an Unknown God (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Boston College Law School Professor Catharine Pierce Wells offers the first exploration of the 19th-century New England influences crucial to the formation of this jurist’s character. Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism, Holmes belonged to a group of men who formulated a philosophy known as American pragmatism. By placing Holmes within the transcendentalist, pragmatist tradition, Wells’s innovative study unlocks his unique identity and contribution to American law. She recently spoke about her book in a SCOTUSblog Q&A.

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