William J. Quirk, long-time professor of law at the University of South Carolina and a writer very familiar to Chronicles readers, passed away on September 22. Bill was 80 and had been quite active until the last two years or so.
Professor Quirk was a favourite of several generations of law students, who marveled at how he was able to guide them through the treacherous labyrinth of the U.S. tax code. Every year he taught a course on the Constitution. Not on that mischievous fraud “constitutional law,” mind you, but on the real and actual Constitution.
Bill was a connoisseur of baseball, art museums, film, and fine dining. To be invited to supper with him was an adventure because he was on a first name basis with the chef and owner of every good restaurant in town. Bill was a true urban man, keeping a pied-a`-terre in New York. He lived in walking distance of the university and could never understand why I wanted to move ever farther out into the country.
This makes him sound like an elitist, which would be very wrong. Bill had a tremendous talent for friendship, more than anyone I have ever known. I mentioned the news yesterday to someone who was less acquainted with Bill than myself. He replied that he remembered him as “kind and engaging.” A universal experience.
Professor Quirk was a firm supporter of Pat Buchanan but cast a very wide net in making his brief against elitist government. Like Thomas Jefferson, to whom he often recurred for wisdom, Bill really believed that a government of the people is the best government. He was outraged (if so equable a man could actually be described as outraged) that major social policies were being decided by the federal courts in disregard of and often against the will of the people. He tirelessly pointed out that there was a simple remedy. By the real Constitution, Congress had the power to determine and limit the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. But cowardly Congressmen preferred to evade controversial decisions and leave them to the courts. He delighted to make the case that various government policies were often disguised attacks on the real interests of the working and responsible middle class.
Professor Quirk’s writing was prolific and diverse but his exposition always crystal clear. His books are still pertinent and persuasive: Abandoned: The Betrayal of the American Middle Class Since World War II (1992), Judicial Dictatorship (1995), Courts and Congress: America’s Unwritten Constitution (2010).
Clyde N. Wilson is a contributing editor to Chronicles. A retired professor of history at the University of South Carolina, he is the author of numerous books, including Carolina Cavalier: The Life and Mind of James Johnston Pettigrew and Defending Dixie: Essays in Southern History and Culture. He is the editor of The Papers of John C. Calhoun.