For more than a hundred years, every Supreme Court justice has signed his or her name in a Bible that is maintained by the Court’s curator. Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan (1833–1911) donated that Bible to the Court in 1906. Today Judge Darrell White (retired), founder and president of the American Judicial Alliance (AJA), is on a mission to dedicate a Harlan replica Bible to every courtroom in America. The goal, expressed in AJA’s vision statement, is “awakening the conscience of One Nation Under God.”
Former Supreme Court Justice David Souter has said that signing the Harlan Bible was the most humbling thing he ever did. Justice Sonia Sotomayor acknowledged that taking her judicial oath on the Harlan Bible was among the “most symbolically meaningful” activities of her investiture.
Harlan, who was an active Christian, earned his nickname “the Great Dissenter” because he frequently cast a dissenting vote, sometimes the only dissenting vote, in notable cases. In 1883, when the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, he was the lone dissenter. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), he was the only justice who voted against allowing states to pass segregation laws. Justice Harlan is now regarded as being ahead of his time in his defense of equal rights for all.
“We intend to place a Bible in every court in America.”
In keeping with the tradition that Justice Harlan started, AJA has dedicated more than two hundred Harlan replica Bibles to various courts. Some have erected special pedestals to display their commemorative Bibles. Others use their Bibles in everyday court proceedings as well as in installation oath ceremonies like Justice Sotomayor did.
“American Judicial Alliance intends to place a Bible in every court in America,” says the group’s founder, Retired Judge Darrell White. “Every judge who is awakened to the Bible’s vital role in America’s heritage and its indispensable emphasis on the rule of law is another judge awakened to our future.” White’s tireless effort shows yet one more way Christians can creatively honor God’s Word and glorify Jesus Christ in our society.
Justice Harlan’s legacy of standing for right, even when in the minority, serves as another reminder that the best position is not always the popular one. With God’s Word as a guide, Christians should fight for truth and justice, even when fighting alone.