Supreme Court Month, Part 3

John Catron

John Catron

Meet John Catron (1786-1865).

John Catron was born in southwestern Virginia, the son of German immigrants. They moved to Kentucky in the early 19th century and Catron served in the Army under Andrew Jackson during the War of 1812. After the war he moved to Tennessee and studied law, passing the bar in 1815. He practiced law in Sparta, Tennessee for a few years before moving to Nashville. From 1824 to 1834 he served on the supreme court of Tennessee, being appointed its Chief Justice in 1831.

In 1836, Congress increased the Supreme Court from seven to nine justices. On March 3, 1837, his last day in office, Andrew Jackson appointed Catron to one of the new seats. Congress approved on the 9th and Catron was sworn in on May 1st.

Catron owned slaves all his life and is known to have fathered a son with one of them. (The son eventually bought his freedom and became a successful barber in Nashville.) He voted in favour of the Dred Scott case. However, he opposed secession and lived briefly in Louisville during the Civil War.

Catron served as a relatively unaccomplished justice for 28 years, until his death on May 30, 1865. Before Catron’s vacancy could be filled, his seat was abolished in 1866 to deny Andrew Johnson the opportunity to appoint Supreme Court justices. Thus, John Catron is the only judge of the Supreme Court to have no predecessor and no successor.

In Part 4 we will starting with Lincoln’s 10th Justice and taking a closer look at the Civil Rights era with our last batch of Chief Justices.

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