The Marble Palace Blog: A famous federal judge writes a romance novel. Yes, a romance novel.

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Thank you for reading The Marble Palace blog, which I hope will inform and surprise you about the Supreme Court of the United States. My name is Tony Mauro. I’ve covered the Supreme Court since 1979 and for ALM since 2000. I semi-retired in 2019, but I’m still fascinated by the high court. I will be happy to receive advice or suggestions for topics to write. You can reach me at [email protected]


J. Harvie Wilkinson III is one of the best-known federal judges who is not a Supreme Court justice. He almost became a judge, joining the shortlist of possible successors to several outgoing judges. Wilkinson, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit at age 77, is also one of the most sought-after pipeline judges for new Supreme Court clerks.

Less well known is Wilkinson’s prolific bustle as a writer, and not just as a writer of forensic opinions. He clerked for Judge Lewis Powell in 1971 and 1972 and later wrote a book called “Serving Justice” about his externship – one of the first such books. Five more books followed, on topics ranging from segregation and affirmative action, to a memoir from the 1960s.

Now comes his latest book, “Love in Deep Twilight: A Pennsylvania Story», a romance novel! It’s hard to remember another such book written by a federal judge. So I asked him why a novel.

“I actually believe that creative writing has helped me as a judge,” Wilkinson said. “I think it makes my legal writing fresher and more accessible. It also opens up all sorts of windows into people and settings that you don’t always get in the narrow view of a case. The law will always remain my first priority, but I can’t describe to you how liberating it was to be able to write without footnotes or the need to get a second or third vote. I believe deeply in the constraints imposed on the legal system, but sometimes you just have to let go in the blink of an eye.

And how does he find time for both his legal work and his off-the-bench writing? “It’s not hard, because if you absolutely love law, like I do, and if you love creative writing, that love provides time and energy to both,” Wilkinson replied. “Your passions help each other. I never felt that they harmed.

The book begins in a small town in Pennsylvania. Its main character is called Leah, and an Amazon summary of the book begins: “Leah is on a journey through Pennsylvania, facing questions she never thought she’d ask: Can she forgive the man who hurt her the most? If she doesn’t, will she need forgiveness? Does life waste away if it can’t find the answers? Following the betrayal of her husband and the deaths in the family, Leah goes through long periods of her life alone. She is torn between her profession and her motherhood, torn between her affection for her small town and the frenetic pace of life in Philadelphia.

If you wonder if sex scenes can be found in the book, as romance novels sometimes have, legal commentator David Lat asked this question, and Wilkinson replied, “Sex is a powerful motif in the novel, but sometimes it is more powerful if implied. I made a conscious decision not to make it explicit – and I would have been unfaithful to my characters had I done otherwise.

Finally, I asked Wilkinson what kind of feedback he had on his book.

“My colleagues and family have mostly been very supportive,” Wilkinson said. “A few friends said it was ‘unbecoming’ for a judge to write a love story. And a few think, “Well, it’s that dumb old uncle in the attic, we’ll let him do whatever he wants.”

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