Part II: The Making of “Bobbleheads by The Green Bag”

On December 6, 2021, UVA Law Special Collections debuted Bobbleheads by The Green Bag. The display, located in the Arthur J. Morris Law Library’s entryway, is a semi-permanent addition to our ongoing exhibitions. The exhibit is curated by Meggan Cashwell and Addie Patrick. 

The blog that follows is the second of a two-part series. If you are curious about the history of The Green Bag and the whimsical nature of acquiring their Supreme Court bobbleheads, we encourage you to check out our initial post here. What follows is a synopsis of our delightful conversation with Green Bag editor-in-chief and bobblehead creator Ross Davies.


My curatorial process with Addie always begins the same way: with copious notetaking and countless brainstorming sessions. Often the topic and timing of the exhibit is obvious, like our tribute to Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon the Justice’s passing in 2020. At other times, we try to create a concept that is both unique and historical, such as the department’s forthcoming exhibition on UVA Law student doodles (credit Special Collections head Randi Flaherty). The details matter most when curating an exhibit. Every object is carefully selected to represent the narrative and every word of exhibit text is pored over many times. On installation day, we scooch placards a little to the left and right and inch materials this way and that until everything is perfect. Our love of detail piqued our interest in The Green Bag’s Supreme Court Justice bobbleheads, each one decorated with intricate features—some obvious to the onlooker, others more subtle and nuanced. It is Ross Davies’ deep appreciation for detail along with American legal culture that inspired him to create The Green Bag’s Supreme Court bobbleheads as the journal’s editor-in-chief 

Color photograph of two women placing bobblehead figurines in exhibit cases"
Meggan Cashwell (right) and Addie Patrick (left) install Bobbleheads by The Green Bag in the UVA Law Library entryway.

Addie and I first became acquainted with the bobbleheads when we were curating Remembering Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for the Law Library. Kent Olson, who recently retired as Head of Research Services, kept the library’s collection on his desk. We inquired if we could borrow Justice Ginsburg’s bobblehead for the exhibit and feature it with related paraphernalia. After Kent transferred the bobbleheads to Special Collections upon his retirement this past summer, we approached the department heads and library director about putting the figurines on display.  

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg bobblehead, 2012.

As we began researching, we quickly realized the bobbleheads are not your average ceramic statues. Since The Green Bag released its first bobblehead in 2003, they have become immensely popular in the legal community. The Law Library’s bobbleheads are not the only ones you will come across at the Law School. They adorn the desks of various faculty members as well. It did not take long for Addie and me to feel the enthusiasm around the bobbleheads. We squealed with excitement in the stacks of the library one afternoon when we flipped through the pages of a few past Green Bag issues and came across two bobblehead certificates.  

Our quest for bobblehead knowledge led us back to Kent who referred us to Law professor Thomas Nachbar. He kindly chatted with us regarding his role as a contributing editor (see part I), but he deferred to Ross Davies for all things bobblehead related. Tom introduced us to Ross via email and, a few days before winter break, we sat down with him over Zoom.  

Our desire to bring some reprieve to exam-weary students via the bobbleheads is exactly what Ross intended when he came up with the idea nearly twenty years ago: “It is a part of being human to have a sense of humor, to smile, to have a little bit of fun.” At a time when bobbleheads were all the rage in sports, Ross decided The Green Bag should create a bobblehead in the likeness of then Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist. The bobblehead’s features would nod (pun intended) to some of the Chief Justice’s most noteworthy opinions. 

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist bobblehead, 2003.

First, Ross had to determine who would make a bobblehead that would find its way to the Chief Justice himself. After purchasing multiple bobbleheads and exploring their different qualities, Ross determined that Alexander Global Promotions (AGP) was the obvious choice. According to their site, AGP is the number one bobblehead producer in the world. Ross soon found himself on the phone with Malcolm Alexander, founder of the company, who shared his enthusiasm for the concept. A collaboration blossomed that remains at the center of Green Bag bobblehead production today.

Much like our curatorial methods, Ross has his own involved and detailed process for creating the next bobblehead. Once he and other Green Bag editors select a Justice, Ross begins reading that Justice’s opinions. The facts of the cases, the analogies Justices make in their opinions, and the interesting words they use become the basis for bobblehead annotations. Ross then writes page after page of specs and sends them off to AGP. From there, Ross and AGP go back and forth on drafts until the bobblehead is just right. Ross wanted Justice John Paul Stevens to stand on a Sony Betamax as a reference to Sony v. Universal (1984). Malcolm Alexander suggested that Ross purchase that particular model and send it to AGP so that they could design the base of the bobblehead as an exact replica. Ross explained that the Sony Betamax he purchased sat on a table as a visual reference for AGP employees during production.

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of John Paul Stevens
Justice John Paul Stevens bobblehead, 2004.

The bobbleheads are hand painted, allowing AGP to provide the level of specificity the Green Bag desires for each figurine. The forthcoming Justice Sonia Sotomayor bobblehead is standing on a plate (a reference to her opinion in a patent case), with a slice of pie and a loaf of bread at her feet (references to her use of analogies involving pies, loaves, and slices). AGP made each item look as close to the actual baked good as possible. “Do you know how hard it is to paint a piece of ceramic to look like a piece of apple pie?Ross exclaimed. “We challenge their art; we challenge their ability to make cool things. Justice Sotomayor is wearing a baseball mitt (a reference to a baseball analogy in yet another opinion), and not just any mitt. It is modeled from the mitt of Jorge Posada, catcher for the New York Yankees. Justice Sotomayor is a longtime Yankees fan and sits in the Judge’s Chambers section at Yankee Stadium.

Color photograph of a bobblehead figurine of Sonia Sotomayor
Forthcoming Justice Sonia Sotomayor bobblehead. Image courtesy Ross Davies, 2022.

As for choosing the next Justice to feature, it is largely “arbitrary and capricious” in true Green Bag fashion. Unsurprisingly, Ross says he receives many suggestions. The Green Bag does have one “rule” for the present Court: A Justice has to serve for a minimum of ten years before getting a bobblehead. Ross admits that there is a sense of finality to summing up a current Justice’s career. In response, The Green Bag has started making “pocket part” bobbleheads—mini versions of the originals that feature later opinions. The journal has already produced two pocket versions for Justice William H. Rehnquist.  

The Green Bag’s decision to make non-Justice bobbleheads in recent years has allowed them to include other lawyers who have made a profound impact on the profession. When we asked Ross why he selected young Thurgood Marshall, Belva Ann Lockwood, and William T. Coleman, he simply responded, “They are lawyers whose contributions merit memorialization in a bobblehead.” Ross’ love of American legal history, which he teaches at George Mason University among other subjects, is evident in every bobblehead he crafts. 

At the end of the day, Ross says The Green Bag is simply trying to be nice: “We’re not in this to score points.” The ultimate purpose of the bobbleheads, besides giving a Justice a good-natured laugh, is to spread knowledge about the Supreme Court: “We have a chance to contribute a tiny bit to people understanding the depth and character and trajectory of the Supreme Court. Our challenge is to create and properly orient what we do so it fits the flow of history.” 

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Meggan Cashwell

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.

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Part I: The Making of “Bobbleheads by The Green Bag”

On December 6, 2021, UVA Law Special Collections debuted Bobbleheads by The Green Bag. The display, located in the Arthur J. Morris Law Library’s entryway, is a semi-permanent addition to our ongoing exhibitions. The exhibit is curated by Meggan Cashwell and Addie Patrick.

The blog that follows is the first of a two-part series. The post below provides a history of the law journal The Green Bag and its bobblehead collectibles as well as a behind-the-scenes look at our curatorial process. The second post will feature an interview with Green Bag editor-in-chief and bobblehead creator Ross Davies.


Patrons and passersby who come to the Law Library will notice some familiar faces as they enter through the main doors. At the end of the reader rails, which narrate the Law School’s two-hundred-year history, are two display cases now filled with the nodding figurines of Supreme Court Justices and other notable U.S. lawyers. These whimsical bobbleheads are produced by The Green Bag, a quarterly law journal first published from 1889-1914 and revived in 1997.

Color photograph of bobblehead figurines
The Law Library’s collection of Green Bag bobbleheads.

The Green Bag was likely named after the green bag that many nineteenth-century legal professionals used to carry their papers. The idea for the journal came from Charles C. Soule, an entrepreneurial bookseller from Boston who had been publishing an entertaining advertising brochure, Legal Bibliography,since October 1881. The first Green Bag issues, which Soule began publishing in 1889, included legal cases in verse, portraits of members of the bench and bar, sketches of American law schools, and articles on legal history.1 The Green Bag journal was reestablished in 1997 by Ross Davies, David Gossett, and Montgomery Kosma, three former classmates at the University of Chicago Law School. This “second edition” publishes similar articles designed to inform and amuse legal professionals.2 UVA Law professor Thomas Nachbar, who attended Chicago Law with the three founders, serves as a contributing editor. Nachbar designed the original website for The Green Bag. He and his colleagues admired the publication because they longed for a law journal that would invite discussion and inquiry but not demand the formality of rigorous Bluebook citations.

“We need a forum in which legal thinkers can reveal their thoughts without spending six months to encase them in the cloying paraphernalia prescribed by the prevailing mores of contemporary scholarship. We need a periodical to which the inquiring reader can turn for amusement, enlightenment, and even instruction without having to take the weekend off. The exchange of ideas should be a treat, not a chore; and it is in that spirit that the Green Bag 2d is conceived.”   

David P. Currie, Green Bag3

 In 2003, The Green Bag began producing bobblehead dolls and other collectibles, which add to the journal’s whimsy. The idea came from Davies (more on that in our forthcoming post) who released the first bobblehead, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, in 2003. Standing atop a map of Carbon County, Wyoming, and holding volume 529 of the U.S. Reports, the Rehnquist bobblehead launched The Green Bag’s production of legal collectibles which portray  “Justices as judges, respectfully yet entertainingly.” Davies designs these “ceramic portraits,” as he calls them, and encourages collectors to guess the meanings behind each figurine’s accessories.4 Following a bobblehead’s release, The Green Bag publishes an annotation page which provides citations for the bobblehead. 

Color photograph of bobblehead figurine of Justice William H. Rehnquist
Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist bobblehead, 2003.

Green Bag Supreme Court bobbleheads, of which there are 28 so far, span the history of the Court, from the very first Justices to those currently serving. Each Justice has a unique set of features (annotations) that represent some of their most notable opinions, which occasionally incorporate some personal aspects as well. Sandra Day O’Connor’s bobblehead is wearing shoes that replicate the ones she wore when she was sworn in as the first female Justice on September 25, 1981. Sitting beside her bobblehead is a bobbling cow, signifying her childhood spent on the Lazy B Ranch in Arizona, an experience Justice O’Connor considers instrumental to her career. In recent years, The Green Bag has started making non-Justice bobbleheads including Belva Ann Lockwood, young Thurgood Marshall, and William T. Coleman Jr. The bobbleheads are handmade by Alexander Global Promotions.  

Color photograph of bobblehead figurine of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor
Justice Sandra Day O’Connor bobblehead, 2004.

The Green Bag produces about a thousand of each bobblehead and distributes them in an “arbitrary and capricious” manner. Some subscribers find bobblehead certificates printed within the pages of their Green Bag issue. The certificates must then be delivered in-person to the offices of O’Melveny & Myers, LLP, in Washington, DC, the official “bobbleheadquarters,” according to The Green Bag’s website. On occasion, The Green Bag prints certificates on the backs of trading cards called “Supreme Court Sluggers,” many of which feature paintings by John Sargent III and Alec Spangler. Like the bobbleheads and the more recent snow globes, The Green Bag gives these cards away “arbitrarily and capriciously.” Surprise certificates also show up in items auctioned for charity and in other unexpected places.5 Lucky Law School librarian Kate Boudouris received the Justice Byron R. White bobblehead when she attended a presentation by Davies at the 2019 American Association of Law Libraries Annual Conference.  

The Law Library’s collection of bobbleheads, which is extensive but incomplete, adorned the desk of Kent Olson, former Head of Research Services. Olson had been collecting the bobbleheads on the library’s behalf since 2003. He tendered his certificates with Nachbar who, at one time, helped distribute the bobbleheads as a contributing editor. Once distribution transferred to O’Melveny and Myers in DC, Olson sent a friend to pick up the bobbleheads on the library’s behalf. Olson turned the bobbleheads over to Law Special Collections when he retired in the summer of 2021. The bobbleheads are a unique addition to the library’s archives, which primarily consist of print materials.  

Color photograph of woman cleaning bobblehead with paintbrush
Meggan Cashwell, library postdoc, cleans each bobblehead in preparation for their debut.

The exhibit traces the history of The Green Bag as a publication and explores the process of acquiring the bobbleheads. The display is organized chronologically, with past and present Justices grouped separately. We intentionally timed the display to provide a bit of fun to students and faculty during exams. For the initial two weeks, we invited patrons to take our own version of The Green Bag’s “Lunchtime Law Quiz.” Those who answered three out of five questions correctly were rewarded with UVA Law prizes 

Color photograph of two women photographing bobbleheads
Jane McBrian (left), digitization specialist, and Addie Patrick (right), library coordinator, photograph the bobbleheads for eventual inclusion on the Law Special Collections website.

Our display is, in part, inspired by the University of Minnesota’s online exhibit, “Equal Caricature Under Law,” curated by Barbara Berdahl, Pat Graybil, and Ryan Greenwood. Yale University, the official repository of The Green Bag bobbleheads, also had a display, “Wobbling Justice.” The Law Library intends to add to the exhibit if we are among the lucky subscribers to receive certificates for future bobbleheads.

 

Content for this exhibit and two-part blog series is indebted to conversations with Kent Olson, Thomas Nachbar, Ryan Greenwood, and Ross Davies.

Notes

  1. Ross E. Davies, “Legal-Bibliographical Roots: Fragments of a Green Bag Origin Story” The Green Bag 24, no. 3 (Spring 2021): 253-72.
  2. For more on the Green Bag bobbleheads, see Jessica Gresko, “Bobbleheads Honor Supreme Court Justices,” The Advocate, 1 January 2014, https://www.theadvocate.com/baton_rouge/news/article_07350219-8da0-5bde-91f1-af8e84b79fae.html; “Bobbleheads Honor Supreme Court,” Politico, 31 December 2013https://www.politico.com/story/2013/12/supreme-court-justice-bobbleheads-101621; Christopher Capozziello, “Relax, Legal Scholars: Bobbleheads are Safe at Yale,” New York Times17 March 2010.
  3. David P. Currie, “Green Bags,” The Green Bag 1, no. 1 (Fall 1997): 1-2.
  4. Ross E. Davies, “Ceramic Spirits of the Law” The Green Bag 24, no. 4 (Summer 2021): 357-70. 
  5. The Green Bag’s website outlines the process of how to acquire a bobblehead.

Written by

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick

Addie Patrick is the Library Coordinator at the UVA Law Library.

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Meggan Cashwell

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