Monday, June 28, 2010

IT'S HELL TO BE NOBODY

Way back in 1970, when I was Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, my secretary announced one day that my uncle, Jim Brennan was on the phone.

I don’t think he had ever called me before, or ever did thereafter.

I picked up the phone and said “Hello” expecting to have a cordial family chat with my Dad’s younger brother.

It didn’t work out that way. He immediately launched into a diatribe about Who did I think I was, big deal Chief Justice, that you don’t return people’s phone calls, and your sainted father, God Rest His Soul, would be ashamed of you being so stuck up like some kinda big shot.

I got him calmed down and found out that a member of a poor family in Lansing to whom my grandmother and my aunts and uncles had been sending clothes and canned goods for many years, had called my office a few days before. I wasn’t in. He left his name and phone number.

My secretary asked me if I knew who he was or what he might be calling about. I said “No” on both points, and told her to ignore the call.

The dressing down from Uncle Jim left an impression.

From that day on, I return phone calls. It’s annoying and inconvenient some times, but it’s better than living with the guilt.

I thought of Uncle Jim today as I reflected on a recent exchange of email with the columnist George Will.

Mr. Will did an interesting column on Sunday about the Kagan appointment. I thought his views on appointing Justices of the Supreme Court might be of interest to delegates to Convention USA, and I wrote to ask if he would consider accepting appointment to the convention’s Advisory Board.

Assuming that he must receive voluminous email, I lead with a subject line that I hoped would get his attention. Under the heading “From a Former Chief Justice,” this is what I wrote:

Mr. Will:

I am certain that you cannot read all your email. I just hope that the subject line will induce you to give me three minutes of your time.

I want to call your attention to www.ConventionUSA.org, an interactive, virtual Article V amendatory convention on the Internet. It is operated by a non profit corporation supported by the dues of the delegates. Any citizen can be a delegate.

We are recruiting a distinguished panel of constitutional scholars and experts to serve as an advisory board. I invite you to join them. There is no cost or obligation other than to render such advice to the delegates as you may get the urge to render, when as and if the urge should strike you.

Your op ed piece today is the kind of realistic thinking I would want all of our delegates to read.

Please look at our web site, at the names already on the Board of Advisors, and accept my invitation.

Thomas E. Brennan
Former Chief Justice of Michigan
Founder, Thomas Cooley Law School
President, Convention USA, Inc.


I sent that email at 6:13:31 PM on June 27.

At exactly 6:14:06 PM on June 27, I received the following reply:

Thank you for your interest in George Will's column.

Due to the high volume of correspondence it is difficult for Mr. Will to reply, but your readership is deeply appreciated.


Doubting that anyone could have read my email, typed that answer and pushed the send button in 35 seconds flat, I sent Mr. Will the following:

While I appreciate the prompt reply to my email, I have the uneasy feeling that it was generated digitally and that no human being has in fact ever seen or read what I wrote to Mr. Will.

Again, I am sympathetic to the demands caused by a high volume of emails, but I had supposed that there are some clerical personnel whose responsibility it is to read or at least skim over, the emails that come in, and make some preliminary decision about whether an email is sufficiently substantive to, at least, merit the attention of a second, slightly higher level of gatekeeper who might have been endowed by his or her Creator with a higher capacity for exercising judgment.

I am therefore requesting that your acknowledgement of this email be accompanied by the name of a real human being who has seen it at your end.

Thanking you in advance for this courtesy, I remain,

Thomas E. Brennan
Former Chief Justice of Michigan
Founder, Thomas Cooley Law School
President, Convention USA, Inc.


I haven’t heard from George. Maybe I should ask my Uncle Jim, God rest his soul, to give him a nudge.

1 comment:

  1. My second email received no response. I suppose the software recognized that it was a second email from the same person and therefore is presumed to be junk. It is indeed hell to be nobody.

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