Allegiance by Kermit Roosevelt is a historical legal thriller set in the US just after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (available August 25, 2015).
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, young law student Caswell “Cash” Harrison is rejected for military service but offered the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to become clerk to Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black. Washington, DC in wartime is a blur of activity, intrigue, and energy, and Cash finds himself chasing down a potential conspiracy that may be connected to the deliberations over one of the most troubling constitutional issues ever tackled by the court—the fate of the tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans forcibly removed from their homes on the West Coast and held indefinitely in internment camps. When violence strikes deep within the court itself, Cash will learn that in wartime, everyone can be a suspect, and where to place one's allegiance can be the most dangerous question of all.
Read this exclusive excerpt from Chapters 3 of Allegiance! And then comment for a chance to win a copy of Kermit Roosevelt's legal thriller set amidst WWII!
“Doing well, Cash?” the voice on the phone asks. It is Herbert Wechsler, who taught me constitutional law, or tried, and now sits at the Justice Department in Washington, DC. He doesn't wait for an answer. “Good. Anyway, this isn't a social call. There's an opening at the Supreme Court. Hugo Black needs a new law clerk.”
“Me?” I am taken aback. A law clerk sits at the Justice's elbow, discusses the cases, offers opinions on weighty and complicated questions. I am not an obvious choice for that role. Not all my exams were as disastrous as con law, but I am by no means one of the bright young things of Columbia. It seems quite possible that Wechsler is thinking of another man entirely. He is young and brilliant but somewhat distracted, and students have never been his chief focus. Perhaps, I suggest, he intends to reach out to someone other than Caswell Harrison.
“Of course I mean you, Cash,“ Wechsler says. ”You're the right sort of guy for this.”
Now he hesitates a moment. ”It's a bit of a last-minute thing, that's all. Justice Black's just had a second clerk drafted out from under him.”
I remain silent. The phrase puts me in mind of one of the glorious generals from the history books in Judge Skinner's study, battling to victory as a succession of mounts go down. It makes more sense now that Wechsler would call me, from one perspective at least. Word of the physical has gotten around: I am a horse that will not falter.
“You could start in June, couldn’t you?” he continues. “And you play tennis.”
This last is a statement, not a question, and it makes me wonder where he is getting his information. I am a competent tennis player, but not a star. “More squash,” I answer. At Merion, lawn tennis is an arriviste that crowds out cricket. “I lettered at Penn.”
“You could keep up with a fifty-five-year-old man, though,” says Wechsler. Again it is not a question, and this time I let it pass.
“Actually, I was thinking,” I say. “That after graduation maybe I’d sign up for something.”
“Sign up? What are you talking about?”
“Volunteer. For the war.”
“Justice Black needs a clerk,” Wechsler says. Now he sounds annoyed, a tone I remember from class. I have failed to identify the principle underlying some judicial decision. “Your name came up.”
He waits for me to complete the syllogism. I try to perform the audible equivalent of a shrug. A new future has appeared, neither perilous volunteerism nor staid Center City law practice.
Wechsler interrupts. “Stop it. No one likes a mumbler. Look, Justice Black will be in Chester this weekend at Owen Roberts’s farm. Go home and talk it over with anyone you need. Then see him. Perhaps you’ll hit it off.”
• • • •
This time I go to Suzanne’s house first when I reach Haverford. She is watching from the window, evidently, for the door flies open before I’m halfway up the drive, and she runs to me with her arms outstretched.
“The Supreme Court,” she says. “How wonderful!”
“I don’t have the job yet,” I tell her. “And I’m not even sure I want it.”
She cups my face with one hand. “What are you talking about?”
“Washington,” I say. It’s not as bad as New York, but even Washington is really no place for a proper Philadelphian. It is filled with politicians, sharp dealers, people pulling this country away from its roots. “I just wonder if that’s the right thing for me. You know, I was going to try to find some way to enlist.”
Suzanne’s face tightens. “Yes, I do know that.” Then she softens. “But don’t you see, Cash? This is perfect for you. This is how you can serve. It’s what you trained for.”
“But how is it serving?”
“You don’t have to pull a trigger to be fighting, Cash. We’re all a part of it. Like John Hall.”
“I don’t,” I say. Hall was two years ahead of me at Episcopal, then went to Harvard, where he continued beating me at squash and visited Suzanne more than I liked.
“I don’t like John Hall. And anyway, he’s in the army.”
“He’s an army lawyer. That’s the best use of his talents.”
“What talents?” I say. Hall always struck me as an idiot. But Harvard Law evidently thought otherwise, and now he has their stamp. Of course, a Supreme Court clerkship is a higher mark of distinction. At least in some circles.
“You told me you’d take care of me,” says Suzanne. “Let me do that for you one time.”
“What do you mean?”
She hesitates. “I mean, let me give something up for you. You’ll be gone for a year. But it gives you the chance to do something important. To make a contribution. I know how much that means to you.”
“But what kind of contribution is it?”
“You’re the lawyer. You tell me.” She leans closer, and for a second I think she is going to kiss me. Then her hands are on my chest, pushing me away.
“Go talk to the Judge. He’s been fussing like a mother hen all day. Can’t talk about anything else.”
I bend down and put my lips on hers. She softens, leans into me, and pulls back. “Go on,” she says.
Judge Skinner’s library holds a chair not unlike my father’s. But he isn’t sitting. He is looking in one of his books, and it seems that even that is put on for my benefit, for as soon as he hears my step he slaps it shut and turns with eyes alight in his craggy face. “The Supreme Court,” he says, and his voice polishes the words to such luster I can almost see the glow. “It’s a real honor.”
“I’m the understudy, from what I hear. The second understudy, in fact.”
“Nonsense. You’ll see Black tomorrow? You won’t agree with him on everything, but I expect he’ll do most of the talking. He’s from the South. Stay off the Klan.”
“I should be able to do that.”
He claps a hand on my shoulder and smiles. “The Supreme Court. I doubt any of my decisions will make it there, but if they do I hope you’ll look kindly on an old man’s work.”
I smile myself. As a senior district judge, he still sits occasionally. “I’m sure there would be nothing to do but look,” I say. “Marvel, really. But so you think I should take this?”
“Of course. It’s an opportunity few people ever have. To see the seat of power. To hold the levers. There’s no telling what you might do.”
“Marvel, I expect. Or watch, anyway.” I pause. “I know it’s grand, but it almost seems irrelevant. I was thinking—”
He cuts me off. “I know what you were thinking. To rush into the fire. I understand the feeling. If I were thirty years younger I’d want it myself. Self-sacrifice is a noble gesture. But it leaves only a footnote in life’s ledger. Suppose I had burnt myself up as a young man. You’d never have known me. Nor Suzanne. And if you do it . . . well, I put Suzanne apart for the moment. Is that what you will leave your family, a name and numbers at the bottom of a page?”
“Your brother.” He nods. “A fine chap. Shall the world remember Charles instead of you? A solid member of the Union League, they will say. A regular at the Devon Horse Show. Those were the Harrisons. That is what you choose?”
“Of course not.”
“The University has a statue of John Harrison,” the Judge says. “I see men polishing his face of an evening. It is fine and tall, but where are the Harrisons now? I mean no criticism. But look about Philadelphia. You will find their name in the rosters of clubs and cotillions, their image in illustrated journals of the popular press. No Harrison leads. No Harrison serves. You were made for more than that, and more is what is now offered you. You think the Court irrelevant?” His voice swells briefly, showing power and folding it under again. I know he can cast thunderbolts with that voice, for I have heard him do it, when I would cross the river from the University and walk down to the courthouse. “The man who dies young is irrelevant. And the man who stays here all his life as well. Philadelphia is not the center of the universe, much though it would like to think so. Drafting wills for the dowagers of Gladwyne is irrelevant. At the Court you would be at the heart of things.” The voice folds over one more time, and now it is like a soft hand on your hair at evening. “We have read history together,” he says. The books line the walls, sleeping in leather. “You know Philadelphia was the capital. For politics, and for finance as well. Washington and New York took those away. And now we have taste. It is what they left us.”
“Taste is something,” I say.
“Taste is a wonderful thing. But some would have you believe it is everything. One need not be a snob to be a gentleman, or an idiot to be an aristocrat. Society left governing to the little men, and that was fine as long as government left society alone. But it hasn’t for the past decade, and it won’t again. If we don’t govern, we will be governed. If society isn’t a part of government now, it’s nothing. Oh, there is a war at the Court if you care to look for it. You need have no worries on that score.” Something stirs in the voice, emerging from its covers, and suddenly it is as if the bustling hen Suzanne described has brushed me with a wing and knocked me clear across the room.
“Weeks on the front line, or years on the Paoli Local. Some nameless patch of foreign ground or the endless rosary of Main Line towns. A moment of death, or a lifetime of dying. Your friends may have no other path. But not you, my boy. Fate has stretched out her hand. You have been chosen.”
• • • •
Owen Roberts is not the man he was, my father says, not since he bent the knee to Roosevelt. But he is still one of us, a Philadelphian on the Court. And his farm is still seven hundred acres, pastures, field, and forest below a wooded hill.
Justice Black is another story. He has always been Roosevelt’s man, eager to tear down any barriers the Constitution sets before his master. In Washington now they are talking of a system that will take money from your paycheck and give it to the government before you ever see it. They are telling farmers how much wheat to grow and fining anyone who surpasses the quota. There is an agency for everything, a rule, a regulation.
So says my father, but Black does not ask my views on Karl Marx. He studies me with shrewd hazel eyes and suggests that perhaps I’m not the right sort of guy after all. “I generally hire a Southern fellow,” Black says. “And usually from Yale. I like to get the layman’s perspective.” After a moment I recognize this as a joke.
“Some of us from Columbia can give you that too.”
“I’m sure,” Black says. He gives me that appraising glance again. “And you play tennis. Well, let’s walk.”
We follow a path from the paddock, turning downhill toward the woods. Flowering honeysuckle sweetens the air. “I had my man picked out this year,” Black continues. He is several inches shorter than me and small-boned, with sandy hair receding above a broad forehead, an open, inquisitive face. “But Uncle Sam’s needs have been outranking mine. Gave him two clerks and two sons.” He shrugs. “I don’t complain. Every generation fights a war.”
He is doing most of the talking, as Judge Skinner predicted. I try to think of a contribution, but what can I say? That working for him fulfills the duty his sons discharge overseas? I am beginning to doubt that myself. “I want ’em back, of course,” Black says. “All four of ’em.” We walk in silence for a moment. He wears a white shirt open at the neck and dark flannel trousers, flicking idly at bushes with a small stick.
“Nice land,” he says eventually. “Pennsylvania.”
“Yes, it is.”
“My great uncle Clum came up here some years ago.”
I warm to the subject. “I hope he found it pleasant.”
“Can’t say. He made it as far as Cemetery Ridge with Birkett Fry. Met some boys from the Second Vermont and didn’t come back. What can I help you with?”
I am caught off guard. Old Uncle Clum was taking shape in my mind as an amiable itinerant, with muttonchop sideburns and a waxed mustache. Now the seersucker fades to rebel gray and a Bowie knife sprouts between his teeth. I push the image away to grapple with the question. “Help me with?”
“That’s what I said.” The stick flicks. Weeds fall. “I don’t hire clerks for what they can do for me. It’s what I can do for them. I won’t hire a man unless I can teach him something.” The stick moves a bit faster. “One fellow I taught to dress a little sharper, but I don’t think that’s your problem. One fellow I taught to stop calling himself by a letter. C. George Mann, he was. I made him see different.” I offer a small appreciative laugh. Black snorts. “You go by Cash, eh? Interesting name.”
“It’s a nickname.” We are back on familiar ground. “From Caswell.”
“Another interesting name. But that’s still not it. What do you want?”
“To be useful.” I have nothing better than this, but Black’s face suggests he is not wholly displeased. “To do the right thing.”
Now Black snorts again. “So does everyone. Don’t get all vague and gauzy on me.” He pauses and looks at me for a long moment with those shrewd eyes. The stick circles in the air. Then it descends. “Well, every man’s got his purpose. Might be I could teach you yours. And I hear you’ve got a heck of a backhand.”
• • • •
My mother holds me tight, and I can feel the relief as she lets go. I am leaving her, but I will be safe. Suzanne’s release is more reluctant. There is a smile on her lips, but the sparkle in her eye is a tear and her head drops down as I step away. “Just a year,” I say, and she nods without looking up.
Judge Skinner just puts his hand on my shoulder. “My boy.” My father does not touch me at all.
“Hugo Black,” he says, in that way he has that makes everything sound beneath you. I know what he means. I am lowering myself; it is a disappointment; I should sit on my tidy shelf until something happens to Charles.
“Yes, Father,” I say. “Hugo Black. He doesn’t seem so bad after all.”
The corners of his mouth turn down almost imperceptibly. “So you think,” he says. “Well, remember this. No man is a hero to his valet.”
Copyright © 2015 Kermit Roosevelt.
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Kermit Roosevelt is a professor of constitutional law at the University of Pennsylvania Law School and a former Supreme Court clerk. His first novel, In the Shadow of the Law, was a national campus bestseller, won the Philadelphia Athenaeum Literary Award, and was selected as a Christian Science Monitor Best Book of the Year. He is the great-great-grandson of President Theodore Roosevelt.