James J. Kilpatrick has worn half a dozen hats during a long life in the news business. He has been reporter, editor, columnist, commentator, and briefly an adjunct professor of journalism. He regards himself primarily as a writer who functions as a critic of ideas.
Born in Oklahoma in 1920, he began his professional career in 1941 as a reporter for the Richmond, Va., News Leader. In 1949 he succeeded Douglas Southall Freeman as editor of the News Leader's editorial pages.
In 1964 he began writing "A Conservative View." Over the next 28 years, he became the most widely syndicated political columnist in the country. In 1981 he took on a weekly column, "The Writer's Art," on the use and abuse of English. In 1992, seeking a slower pace in semiretirement, he bade farewell to "A Conservative View" and turned to the love of his public life, the U.S. Supreme Court, with a new column called "Covering the Courts." Upward of 200 newspapers have signed on.
Mr. Kilpatrick achieved his 15 minutes of fame during nine years as a debater on "60 Minutes." Over the years he has served as a talking head on "Meet the Press," "Inside Washington," and other television programs. He has written or edited 11 books, including two dealing with the writer's art.
In June 1998, he married syndicated columnist Marianne Means, thus inheriting eight grandchildren to go with his own seven. The newlyweds live in a century-old townhouse in Washington. They both are members of the capital's prestigious Gridiron Club.
He's also a trustee of the Supreme Court Historical Society and a founding trustee of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. He writes frequently in defense of freedom of the press.
It remains to be said only that Mr. Kilpatrick cherishes other honors and high positions. He is No. 1 Pea, Pro Tem., of the Black-Eyed Pea Society of America, an office he voted himself into in 1961. He is the recording secretary of his political party, the True Whig Party, and served as doorkeeper and bartender for the party's last national convention in 1856.
The Court of Peeves, Crotchets & Irks opens its April assizes with a motion from Mark Anderson of Hollis, Maine. He seeks an advisory opinion on the distinction between "different from" and "different than."
When this Case of a Bartered Bride began in November 2001, Hong Yin Gao was only 19 years old. That was when her family sold her to Chen Zhi for the Chinese equivalent of $2,200. Now her case is in the U.S. Supreme Court because Attorney General Alberto Gonzales wants to send her back to China.
Memory fails. A long time ago a popular comic strip thrived upon one gag, endlessly repeated: Two mischievous little boys throw snowballs at a pompous old fellow in a high silk hat. Was this impudence in Jiggs & Maggie? The Katzenjammer Kids?
Late on a January afternoon five years ago, Benetta Wilson was driving her 1997 Ford Explorer on Interstate 8 a few miles east of San Diego. A tragic accident left her a paraplegic. Let me quote from the opinion of Justice Gilbert Nares last July in the California Court of Appeal:
If the English language were not so maddening, it wouldn't be nearly so much fun -- but maddening it often is, and we're talking subtleties today.
Late on the night of March 19, 2004, Earl Eckelberry was driving along Route 50-E near Parkersburg, W.Va. His car left the highway and crashed into an illegally parked tractor-trailer. He died in the wreckage.
"Speak the speech, I pray you," said Hamlet to his Players, "as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue ..."
Without a murmur of comment or dissent, the Supreme Court last week effectively affirmed a sentence of life imprisonment imposed upon an Arizona man for possession of 20 dirty pictures. The court's indifference to the Constitution is arguably a more serious offense than the crime of Morton Berger.
Justice Clarence Thomas stayed mum, as usual, but all eight of his colleagues got into the act two weeks ago when the Supreme Court heard argument in the case of a teachers union.
Yes, it is true that every standard dictionary informs us that "since" may be employed in the sense of "because." I beg you, fergit it!
From the time they were ratified in 1791, the religion clauses of the Constitution have confounded scholars, lawyers and laymen alike.
Two petitions are now pending in the Supreme Court that once again raise the issue of misconduct by police. Would you vote to hear the cases?
The Court of Peeves, Crotchets and Irks opens its winter assizes with a motion from Edward Miller of Chicago.
Almost a quarter of a century has passed since Darrell Grayson was convicted of felony murder in Alabama, but the case is not yet closed.
'Tis the happy yuletide season! In this corner that means it's time to unwrap a few lovely lines from the Santa's bag we call The Good Stuff -- those similes or metaphors or graceful images that light up our passages of prose.
The case stems from the punishment imposed upon a high school student for publicly unfurling a 20-foot banner that read: BONG HITS 4 JESUS.
The good gray New York Times has something in common with that little girl who had a little curl. When the Times is good, it is very, very good. Trouble is, now and then it is horrid.
In Bergman v. Kansas, the court had an opportunity to strike a blow, not only for the ordered equality of public schools, but also for their voluntary inequality.
The Supreme Court heard argument on Monday in two important cases. Ordinarily I would have been there to hear them. On Monday I stayed home.
So much money! And all Laws got was this lousy credit line? In February 2003, she sued Sony in California's state courts, charging the producer with misappropriation of her name and voice.