07.15.2015

The Very Hungry Jurist, Part 1

Adrian Duplantier. Photo via United States District Court, Eastern District of Louisiana.

The history of the creationism/evolution conflict is stalking me again, and in the unlikeliest contexts. I was recently reading Jason Fagone’s Horsemen of the Esophagus (2006), a book about competitive eating that I acquired on a whim from a used book store in Clovis, California. In a chapter entitled “The Gurgitator Islands”—“gurgitator” is the trademarked term for competitive eaters preferred by the International Federation of Competitive Eating—Fagone relates his visit in March 2005 to Metairie, Louisiana, to attend the Acme World Oyster Eating Championship. While there, he encountered a seventy-eight-year-old federal judge who proudly displayed a plaque commemorating a feat from his younger days: eating forty-one oysters in a minute. “If they gave me two minutes, I think I could eat my age,” he bragged: that would be thirty-nine oysters in a minute. (That’s nothing: the current record for the event is apparently forty-seven dozen oysters in eight minutes, averaging to 70.5 oysters per minute.)

The judge in question was Adrian Duplantier (pronounced, I’m told, DEW-PLAHN-SHAY). Relying on the barebones biography on the Federal Judicial Center’s website, you wouldn’t necessarily expect any such bivalvular gluttony from him. Duplantier was born in New Orleans in 1929 and attended Loyola University School of Law there, graduating with his J.D. in 1949. (He later earned a master of laws degree from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1988.) He was in private legal practice from 1950 to 1974, but he was also active in politics, serving in the state senate, where he represented Orleans Parish as a Democrat, from 1960 to 1974, and running unsuccessfully for mayor of New Orleans in 1962. He retired from the state senate in 1974 to become a judge in the Orleans Parish Civil District Court. Four years later, he was nominated by Jimmy Carter to serve on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, which he did from 1978 until his death in New Orleans in 2007.

I recognized Duplantier’s name because he was the district court judge who oversaw Aguillard et al. v. Treen et al., the case that eventually produced Edwards et al. v. Aguillard et al., the 1987 Supreme Court case that established the unconstitutionality of teaching creationism in the public schools. Why the shift in nomenclature, you ask? Two reasons. First, Aguillard’s name changed position when the trial decision was appealed. In the trial, the plaintiff is listed first, but in the appeal from the trial, the appellant—the party asking for a reversal of the original decision—is listed first. Since Aguillard prevailed in the trial, he was the appellee. Second, Treen’s name was replaced with Edwards’s name because Dave Treen (1928–2009), the governor when Louisiana’s Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act was enacted in 1981, was replaced in 1984 by Edwin Edwards (born 1927). The governors personified the state of Louisiana, the lead defendants in the case.

The lead plaintiff was Don (or Donald W.) Aguillard (born 1954), then a biology teacher at Acadiana High School in Lafayette, Louisiana. According to Randy Moore, writing (PDF) in Reports of the NCSE in 2011, “in 1980, Aguillard saw an advertisement in The American Biology Teacher asking teachers to call the ACLU if they wanted to challenge the Louisiana law requiring ‘balanced treatment’ for evolution and creationism in public schools. Aguillard…knew that he ‘couldn’t stand by and do nothing.’” By the way, Aguillard wasn’t the only plaintiff. Here’s the complete list in all its glory:

Don Aguillard; Reverend Phillip Allen; Dr. Paul Biesenherz; Rabbi Murray Blackman; Quentin Dastugue; Charles B. Donnellan, Individually and as father and next friend of Mary and Kathleen Donnellan; Dr. Milton Fingerman; Anthony J. and Gayle Gagliano, Individually and as parents and next friends of Lisa Gagliano; Reverend William W. Hatcher; Louisiana Federation of Teachers; Louisiana Science Teachers Association; Father George Lundy; Reverend James H. Monroe; National Association of Biology Teachers, Inc.; National Coalition for Public Education and Religious Liberty; National Science Supervisors Association; National Science Teachers Association; Rabbinical Council of New Orleans; Reverend F. T. Schumacher; Nancy Schweitzer; Bishop Kenneth Shamblin; Reverend Lonnie M. Sibley; Keith Sterzing, Individually and as Father and next friend of Lara and Peter Sterzing; Reverend James L. Stovall; University of New Orleans Federation of Teachers; Dr. Malcolm Coffin Webb, Individually and as Father and next friend of Peter and Joel Webb; Reverend Charles S. Womelsdorf; and American Association for the Advancement of Science.

(A while ago, when Eugenie C. Scott was researching a talk she was preparing about the history of the National Association of Biology Teachers and its involvement in defending the teaching of evolution, she asked me for the list of plaintiffs. I provided it, and added, “Yes, since you ask, I do have it memorized; sometimes I repeat it over and over to myself to help go to sleep.” I was kidding, mostly.) As you see, the list of plaintiffs is almost entirely alphabetical, except for the AAAS at the end, and Aguillard’s name happens to be first. So what did Duplantier do when the case was filed? You’ll learn in part 2.