When the nomination of Lewis F. Powell, Jr., to the Supreme Court of the United States was submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee ten years ago, much was made of his extraordinary record of service to his city, his state, and his profession.1 Justice Powell's career has been a model of individual responsibility to society. His belief in the value of civic life, and in the desirability of making such a life available to everyone, has been a dominant influence in his work on the Supreme Court. In what follows, I shall attempt to define some of the assumptions with which Powell appears to approach the problems-largely constitutional-that have come before him as a Justice. A theme can be discerned: Powell's jurisprudence emphasizes the individual, but not the individual in isolation. Rather, it emphasizes the communal aspects of individual life, the expression of human variety through community. Justice Powell does not define the individual only, or even primarily, in terms of rights against other people or against government. Rather, he is concerned at least as much with the public life of a person, with responsibilities to institutions, to family, and to neighbors. These themes emerge most clearly in Justice Powell's views of federal-state relations, where he takes pains to preserve the more accessible forms of government, and in his conception of the proper role of a judge. A judge, he believes, has a proper place only as a protector of individual rights, not as an expounder of broad principles or a general overseer of the quality of official conduct. And those rights with which judges properly are concerned should be defined with particularity and with sensitivity to opposing interests, including the interests of other individuals. The variety of human social organizations and the importance of these organizations to a rich and complete human life mean that judges must step cautiously even within their sphere of authority. Caution is important not only because these organizations are worth preserving, but also because judges are limited in their ability to understand and affect particular institutions through rules of general application. Justice Powell introduced his concern for community autonomy and its importance to the individual in one of the first opinions he authored as a Supreme Court Justice.2 In subsequent opinions, this theme is played out in Justice Powell's concern with federal-state relations and with the proper role of a judge.
Whitman, Christina B. "Individual and Community: An Appreciation of Mr. Justice Powell." Va. L. Rev. 68 (1982): 303-32.