"Do you get it?" says Linde, apparently a little worried on my behalf.

"Oh yes," I try to reassure him.

"Then ask me about the continent," he says.

"Tell me about the journey," I say.

Linde smiles.

"The continent," he says. "That's what's important."

As usual, he's got a point.

Robert F. Nagel, a professor of law at the University of Colorado and editor of a selection of Linde's articles and judicial opinions, Intellect and Craft: The Contributions of Justice Hans Linde to American Constitutionalism, calls Linde "one of the most significant American judges in modern times." Louis H. Pollak, dean of Yale Law School and a U.S. district judge from Pennsylvania, has described Linde's assertion of the priority of state constitutions over the U.S. Constitution as "one of this century's most important judicial contributions."

In any case, it's certainly understandable that someone who has spent his life extracting and refining abstractions of justice might feel uncomfortable with the merely personal. Nor is Linde willing to sit idly by while others attempt to pigeonhole him as a champion of civil liberties. It is, he insists, a good deal more complicated than that.

In Oregon, Linde is best known for his opinions on state guarantees of free expression and against warrantless police searches.

In 1984, when Linde was up for re-election to the Supreme Court-normally a pro forma exercise for an incumbent judge-he was opposed by a statewide collection of prosecutors who considered Linde, as a member of the Multnomah County district attorney's office put it in a letter to the newspaper, "Public enemy number one."

For his part, Linde, who won the election in a run-off, dismisses these and similar attacks as a misunderstanding on the part of the prosecutors about his judicial role. "When Oregon has constitutional guarantees, the courts have to enforce them. That applies to Oregonians' constitutional right to bear arms as much as, for instance, the right to counsel even for minor crimes," he says.

In a 1989 article on Linde ("The Unassuming Architect of an Emerging Role for State Constitutions") the magazine Governing characterized Linde's doctrine as a "reaction to an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court." The article continued: "When that court, after the departure of Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1969, began to pull back from its activist posture on questions of individual rights, some state courts began to look for a reason not to follow suit. They found that reason in Linde's writings."

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