The last time a new seat was created on the Supreme Court was in 1869, when Congress bumped the number back up to nine after the hated Andrew Johnson left office. Ulysses Grant’s first choice for the new seat was Ebenezer Hoar, the Attorney-General; but Hoar’s stance against unregulated patronage in civil service hiring and his opposition to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson worked against him, and his nomination was defeated in the Senate in December 1869. Grant, on Hoar’s advice, then chose Joseph Bradley (1813-1892), who was approved and took office on March 21, 1870.
Joseph Philo Bradley was born in a small town near Albany and was given a loan by the local Dutch Reformed Church to study for the clergy at Rutgers; he switched to law instead and graduated in 1836. He was a school headmaster after graduation until a classmate persuaded him to read law under the Office of the Collector for the Port of Newark, and he passed the bar in 1839, striking out on his own to practice patent and railroad law in New Jersey and gained a nationwide reputation as a commercial litigator.
In his findings Bradley took a broad view of Congress’s power to regulate commerce, but a narrow interpretation of the 14th Amendment. He was responsible for bringing United States v. Cruikshank to the Supreme Court’s attention in 1875 (he joined Nathan Clifford’s dissent, which found the Bill of Rights also restricted individuals, but also moved to rescind the rioters’ indictments, on the grounds that the indictments were worded too vaguely)and also decided the case of In re Guiteau, in which Bradley denied a writ of habeas corpus (used to remove someone from unlawful detention) to Charles Guiteau, the man who assassinated James Garfield. Bradley was the justice who replaced David Davis on the 1876 election commission, thereby throwing the presidency to Rutherford Hayes.
Bradley became very sick, most likely of tuberculosis, and left the Court to recover in October of 1891. He died the following January.
George Shiras, Jr. (1832-1924) replaced Bradley on July 26, 1892. To date, Shiras is the only person to be elevated to the Supreme Court without any prior elective, governmental or judicial experience whatsoever.
George Shiras, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh and went to Ohio U and Yale. He dropped out of Yale Law School and practiced law in Dubuque, Iowa, for three years until 1858, when he returned to Pittsburgh. He became a bigwig on the legal scene in Pittsburgh over the next 34 years as a attorney for major industrial interests; his one small brush with politics came when he agreed to be one of Pennsylvania’s sinecural electors in the presidential election of 1888.
George Shiras wrote 259 opinions over 11 years on the Court. He was the swing vote in 1895’s Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co., which overturned the federal income tax.
Shiras submitted his resignation in February 1903, as he had promised himself he would only sit on the Court for 10 years. He lived for another 21 years, splitting his time between vacation homes in Florida and Michigan, and died of pneumonia in August 1924 at his home in Pittsburgh.
Theodore Roosevelt chose William R. Day (1849-1923) to replace Shiras, and he took his seat on March 2, 1903.
William Rufus Day, the son of a justice of the Ohio Supreme Court, was born in Ravenna, Ohio (near Akron) and graduated from UMichigan in 1870 before studying law for a year and settling in Canton, Ohio, to set up practice. From 1872 to 1897 he was a criminal and corporate lawyer and became friends with fellow Canton attorney William McKinley. Day was an advisor to McKinley during his campaigns for Congressman, Governor, and President, and McKinley appointed Day Assistant Secretary of State in 1897 and promoted him to Secretary of State in 1898, but Day resigned five months later to join the peace commission following the Spanish-American War. Day returned from the peace treaty’s signing in Paris in February 1899 and was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.
In 19 years, Day wrote 439 opinions, but only 18 dissents. He was very anti-trust and a frequent supporter of breaking up monopolies. He wrote the court opinion in 1908’s Bobbs-Merrill Co. v. Straus, which established a rule for determining distribution rights in copyright law known as the “first-sale doctrine”; 1913’s Bauer & Cie. v. O’Donnell, which found that the creation of licensing agreements do not extend the length of patent rights; Weeks v. United States of 1914, which found that evidence collected by the federal government in violation of the 4th Amendment could be found inadmissible in court; and Buchanan v. Warley of 1917, which ruled municipal ordinances segregating neighbourhoods to be unconstitutional. Interestingly, records show that Day had a law clerk regularly come in to interrupt arguments in the case of Standard Sanitary Manufacturing Co. v. United States in 1912 with updates on the World Series. (The winners were the United States, which broke up a cartel of 49 plumbing-fixture companies known as the Bathtub Trust, and the Red Sox, which beat the Giants 4-2 in the 10th inning, in the 8th game of the series.)
Day retired in November 1922 and briefly served on a commission to adjudicate war claims against Germany, where his title was, bizarrely, “Umpire”. He died in July 1923 on Mackinac Island, in the mouth of Lake Michigan. He was buried in Canton.
Pierce Butler (1866-1939) was appointed to the Supreme court on December 21, 1922, by Warren Harding, and took office on January 2, 1923. He served for 16 years.
Pierce Butler was born to poor Irish immigrants in a log cabin in Minnesota. He went to Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., and passed the bar in 1888. He served as county attorney for Ramsey County (including St. Paul) from 1892 to 1898, and moved to Canada from 1912 to 1922 to practice railway law in Toronto.
Pierce Butler was one of the “Four Horsemen” who stymied the New Deal during the Depression. He believed in the doctrine of incorporation and was the lone dissenter in Palko v. Connecticut of 1937, which found that double jeopardy did not apply to the states, and the lone dissenter in 1928’s Buck v. Bell, which found that goverments had the right to sterilize the feeble-minded. (History would eventually prove him right on both counts.) He also dissented in 1928’s Olmstead v. United States, which upheld the legality of federal wiretapping.
Butler died in DC in November of 1939 and was buried in St. Paul.
Frank Murphy (1890-1949) was appointed to the Supreme Court on January 18, 1940. He was one of only five justices of the Supreme Court to never get married, the others being James McReynolds, Benjamin Cardozo, David Souter and Elena Kagan.
William Francis Murphy was born to an Irish family in Michigan, on the shores of Lake Huron northeast of Saginaw. He got an LLB from the University of Michigan in 1914, then studied law at Lincoln’s Inn in London and did graduate work at Trinity College, Dublin. He served in Germany as a Captain in World War I and came back to practice law in Detroit, and soon embarked on holding a string of public offices: First Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan from 1919 to 1923, judge of the Recorders’ Court of Detroit from 1923 to 1930, Mayor of Detroit from 1930 to 1933, and Governor-General of the Philippines from 1933 to 1935, a position abolished by the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934 and replaced by the transitional post of High Commissioner, in which Murphy served from 1935 to 1936; he was then governor of Michigan from 1937 to 1939 and Attorney-General from 1939 to 1940.
In the nine years Murphy was on the Court he wrote 199 opinions, 68 of them dissenting. He took an expansive view of civil liberties and was nicknamed “the Saint” by Felix Frankfurter for making decisions based on passion rather than reason. He dissented vehemently in Korematsu v. United States, calling it “the legalization of racism”. (That was actually the very first time the word “racism” was used in a Supreme Court opinion.) During World War II he served as an infantry officer at Ft. Benning, Ga., during recesses of the Court, while also serving as chairman of both the the National Committee against Nazi Persecution and Extermination of the Jews and of the Philippine War Relief Committee.
Murphy died of a coronary thrombosis in Detroit in July 1949. He was engaged to be married that August.
Tom C. Clark (1899-1977) joined the Supreme Court on August 19, 1949, and served for 18 years.
Thomas Campbell Clark was born in Dallas and served for a spell in the Texas National Guard during World War I before he got into UT Law, graduating in 1922 and practicing privately in Dallas until 1937, except for a period between 1927 and 1932 when he became the city’s civil DA. He joined the federal Justice Department in 1937 as a specialist in war risk litigation, co-ordinated the establishment of Japanese internment camps in 1942, became head of the Justice Department’s anti-trust division in 1943, headed its criminal division from 1943 to 1945, and served as Attorney-General from 1945 to 1949.
Clark was a conservative justice, and Truman later regretted appointing him. Nevertheless, he opposed segregation and later proved to be a crucial vote in expanding civil liberties in the Warren Court. he wrote the majority opinion in 1961’s Mapp v. Ohio, which used the incorporation doctrine to apply the rules on searches and seizures in the 4th Amendment to state law.
In 1967 Lyndon Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark, Tom C. Clark’s son, as Attorney-General. Tom C. Clark saw this as a conflict of interest and assumed senior status on June 12, effectively retiring. He served as a visiting judge to lesser federal courts and as a director of the Federal Judicial Center before he died in NYC in the summer of 1977.
Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993), the first black person – the first visible minority – to become a justice of the Supreme Court, the justice more revered than nearly any other member of the Supreme Court, was nominated by president Lyndon Johnson on June 12, 1967, was confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 69 to 11 on August 30, and was sworn in on October 2.
Thoroughgood Marshall (he changed it in second grade to make it easier to spell) was born in Baltimore and went to Lincoln University in Oxford, Penn., to become a dentist, and was suspended twice in his freshman year for hazing. He started getting serious about school and law after getting married in 1929, graduating from Lincoln and going to Howard University Law School in DC, graduating in 1933. In 1936 he set up private practice in Baltimore, and also started his work with the NAACP. He became chief counsel to the NAACP in 1940 and argued 32 cases before the Supreme Court in that role, of which he won 29, including Brown v. Board of Education. During this time he became friendly with FBI director J. Edgar Hoover and privately encouraged the FBI’s campaign to discredit maverick civil rights leader T.R.M. Howard. President Kennedy appointed Marshall to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1961 and President Johnson appointed him Solicitor-General in 1965, where he won 14 of the 19 cases he argued for the government before the Supreme Court.
Marshall was a liberal justice and a supporter of individual liberties, allying most often with William Brennan. He was very strongly opposed to the death penalty, voting against it at every opportunity. He wrote the decision for 1976’s TSC Industries, Inc. v. Northway, Inc., which set out a rubric used to this day in securities law concerning the materiality of false or misleading statements. He wrote a dissent arguing against hiring policies favouring veterans in Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney of 1979 because such policies would (at the time) be biased against women applicants.
Marshall retired in 1991 and died of heart failure at Bethesda in 1993. The Baltimore airport, the law school of Texas Southern University, the central office building for the federal court system in Washington, and the law library of the University of Maryland are named after him, and has a feast day (May 17) in the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church of America. his son, Thurgood Marshall Jr., is chairman of the Board of Governors of the US Postal Service.
Clarence Thomas (1948-present) was chosen by George Bush Sr. to replace Marshall and took his seat on October 23, 1991. His confirmation hearings were turned into tabloid fodder by the accusations of Anita Hill, a subordinate, who claimed Thomas sexually harassed her. Thomas was confirmed by a vote of 52 to 48.
Clarence Thomas was born in the small Gullah-speaking coastal town of Pin Point, Georgia, and grew up in Savannah. He attended the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., and graduated from Yale Law School in 1974. He was an assistant attorney-general in Missouri from 1974 to 1977, starting in the criminal division and moving on to revenue and taxation. He eventually moved to Washington, DC, to head the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education from 1981 to 1982, then was chairman of the EEOC from 1982 to 1990 and a judge of the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit from 1990 to 1991.
Thomas, nicknamed “Scalia’s Shadow” for his frequent joining to Antonin Scalia’s opinions, is a conservative justice. He is in favour of interpreting the Constitution literally (also known as “strict construction”) and supports the principle of stare decisis. He interprets the 1st Amendment more broadly than almost any other justice, but interprets the 4th Amendment very narrowly. His decisions have limited federal use of the power to regulate interstate commerce; especially in his concurrences in 1995’s United States v. Lopez and in 2000’s United States v. Morrison, which limited that power strictly to actual economic activities.
And that is that, every justice ever to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States. As an addendum, I suggest you go here to find a very insightful look into the Court’s latest major cases, Fisher v. University of Texas (affirmative action), United States v. Windsor (gay marriage), and Shelby County v. Holder (the Voting Rights Act).
In 1836 Congress approved the increase of the Supreme Court from seven to nine justices. The junior of these two new justices was John McKinley (1780-1852), appointed on April 22, 1837, by Martin van Buren.
John McKinley was born in northern Virginia and moved to Kentucky as a baby. He passed the Kentucky bar in 1800 and practiced in Louisville and Frankfort before moving to Huntsville, Alabama, in 1819. He served for a while in the state assembly before serving as a US Senator from 1826 to 1831, and again from March to April of 1837.
McKinley’s service consisted of 14 years of competent yet entirely unremarkable service. He died in the summer of 1852 in Louisville.
Millard Fillmore, his term nearly over, selected a number of candidates for the empty seat, none of which panned out. One of the men who refused Fillmore’s offer, Judah S. Benjamin of Louisiana, would have been the first Jew on the Supreme Court had he accepted. (Benjamin’s life is fairly incredible as it was: he served as Secretary of State in the Confederate government, and after the Civil War he moved to England and became a barrister of the Queen’s Counsel.) The seat stayed vacant until March 23, 1853, when president Franklin Pierce appointed John A. Campbell (1811-1889).
John Archibald Campbell was born in northern Georgia and was a child prodigy, graduating from the University of Georgia at 14. He enrolled at West Point, but dropped out when his father died. (Campbell was at West Point around Christmas of 1826, during which time there was a massive fracas known as the Eggnog Riot, for which 20 cadets were court-martialed and nine were expelled. Campbell was involved with the riot, but not charged, as was future Confederate president Jefferson Davis. Future Confederate general Robert E. Lee was at West Point at the time as well, and testified at the court-martial hearings.) Campbell was admitted to the Georgia bar at the age of 18, and later moved to Montgomery, Alabama, before settling in Mobile in 1839 to practice law and serve intermittently in the state legislature. He became a colonel of the US Army in 1836 by serving under Gen. Winfield “Old Fuss and Feathers” Scott in the Second Creek War, which forcibly removed the Muscogee Creek Natives from Alabama and deported them to Oklahoma.
Campbell did little on the Supreme Court. He resigned on April 30, 1861, upon learning of the attack on Ft. Sumter, and returned to Alabama. He served as Assistant Secretary of War to the Confederate government from 1862 to 1865, and was imprisoned for 6 months in Georgia after the Confederate capital at Richmond fell to Union forces. After the war he practiced law in New Orleans, and died in the spring of 1889 in Baltimore.
Abe Lincoln replaced Campbell with David Davis (1815-1886), a close friend and colleague, on October 17, 1862. He served until he was elected to the Senate in 1877. He is the only judge of the Supreme Court with no recorded religious affiliation.
David Davis was born to a rich family in Maryland and went to Kenyon College and to Yale, graduating in 1835. He then moved to Bloomingdale, Illinois, to practice law. He was a judge of the Illinois 8th Circuit from 1848 to 1862, was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention, and was Lincoln’s campaign manager during the 1860 election.
On the Court, Davis wrote the majority opinion in 1866’s Ex parte Milligan, which found that military courts could not try civilians if civil courts are available. Politically, Davis was an Independent, although he tried and failed to receive the Liberal Republican Party presidential nomination in 1872.
In 1876 disputes over results in several states led to a tie in the election for President. A bill was passed to appoint a deciding commission composed of five members each from the House, Senate and Supreme Court; it would also have 7 Democrats, 7 Republicans, and Davis, the Independent. The Democrat-controlled legislature of Illinois, hoping to curry favour, elected Davis to the Senate. It backfired, however, since Davis resigned from both the Court and the commission and was replaced by a Republican justice, resulting in Republican Rutherford Hayes winning by a vote of 8 to 7.
Davis served one term in the Senate, from 1877 to 1883. He was also president pro tempore of the Senate from 1881 to 1883, during which time he was next in line to the presidency, if anything were to happen to President Chester Arthur (until 1967, if the vice-president assumed the presidency, as Arthur did after James Garfield’s assassination, the vice-presidency stayed vacant until the next election).
Davis died in Bloomington in June 1886. At the time of his death he was the largest private landowner in Illinois.
Rutherford Hayes, fresh off his win, replaced Davis with John Marshall Harlan I (1833-1911), who took office on November 29, 1877. He was the grandfather of John Marshall Harlan II, another Supreme Court justice.
John Marshall Harlan I was born near Danville, Kentucky, and went to law school at Transylvania University. He served as adjutant general of Kentucky from 1851 to 1859, starting as a Whig and later joining the Know-Nothings before supporting the Constitutional Union Party during the 1860 election. He was an anti-secessionist and served as a colonel in the 10th Kentucky Infantry until resigning to take care of his family in 1863. He was elected Attorney-General of Kentucky later that year, serving until 1865. He joined the Republicans in 1868 and practiced law in Louisville.
Harlan loved being on the Supreme Court, got along well with his benchmates and did good work, supplementing his income by teaching law at Columbian Law School (now part of George Washington University). He was the only justice to dissent from Plessy v. Ferguson, and also dissented from Lochner v. New York. He was called “the Great Dissenter”.
Harlan died in October 1911 in Washington after 33 years of service, the sixth-longest tenure in Supreme Court history.
Mahlon Pitney (1858-1924) joined the Court on March 13, 1912, to replace Harlan. Pitney was one of two justices (with Willis Van Devanter) to be appointed by William Howard Taft as President and serve under him as Chief Justice.
Mahlon Pitney was born in Morristown, New Jersey, and graduated from Rutgers in 1879. He served as a Republican Congressman from 1895 to 1899, as a New Jersey state senator from 1898 to 1901, an associate justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1901 to 1908, and Chancellor of the New Jersey Supreme Court from 1908 to 1912.
Pitney was a social Darwinist, libertarian and believer in substantive due process. His most important decision was the court opinion for 1917’s New York Central Railroad Co. v. White, which ruled that employers could be held liable for workplace injuries regardless of fault.
Pitney resigned from the Supreme Court in 1922 after suffering a stroke. He died in DC in December 1924. his great-grandson was Christopher Reeve, the best Superman.
Edward T. Sanford (1865-1930) was appointed on January 29, 1923, and served a little over 7 years.
Edward Terry Sanford was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. He graduated from the University of Tennessee in 1883, and from Harvard Law School in 1889, then practiced in Knoxville and lectured at UTennessee School of Law from 1898 to 1907. He served as US Assistant Attorney-General from 1907 to 1908, where he was the lead prosecutor in 1907’s United States v. Shipp, the Supreme Court’s only criminal trial. (Guilty!) He sat as a judge of the US District Court for the Middle and Eastern Districts of Tennessee from 1908 to 1923.
Sanford was a decidedly conservative justice, frequently siding with Chief Justice Taft. He wrote 130 opinions in his time on the Supreme Court, the most important being the majority opinion in Gitlow v. New York in 1925. It upheld a state ban on anarchist literature, but it also implied that the 14th Amendment obliged states to comply with some sections of the Bill of Rights. This was the birth of the doctrine of incorporation, without which the Civil Rights Era wouldn’t have happened.
Sanford died of kidney failure on March 8, 1930, a few hours before William Howard Taft died. He was buried in Knoxville.
Herbert Hoover nominated North Carolina’s John J. Parker to the vacancy; however, his nomination was opposed by labour groups, and was defeated in the Senate. Hoover then filled the spot with Owen Roberts (1875-1955) on May 20, 1930. Throughout World War II he was the only Republican appointee on the Supreme Court.
Owen Josephus Roberts was born in Philadelphia and graduated at the top of his class from UPenn Law School in 1898. He was an assistant DA in Philly and was appointed by Calvin Coolidge to investigate the Teapot Dome Scandal in 1923, leading to the conviction and imprisonment of Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall for bribe-taking. Roberts then returned to private practice until 1930.
Roberts was a swing vote on the Court, and his leanings toward the opinions of justices McReynolds, Sutherland, Butler and Van Devanter agaist New Deal legislation frustrated FDR to the point where he planned to make a 15-seat Supreme Court stacked with liberal justices. Roberts’s 1937 switch to the liberal side in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish legitimized minimum-wage legislation, ended the Lochner Era and put an end to FDR’s court-stacking plans, making Roberts’s decision “the switch in time that saved the Nine”. Roberts was also concerned with civil liberties: he dissented on Korematsu v. United States and wrote the majority opinion in 1938’s New Negro Alliance v. Sanitary Grocery Co., which safeguarded the right to boycotts based on discriminatory hiring practices.
While on the Court Roberts chaired two commissions, both named after him. The first, in 1942, studied America’s missteps before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor; and the second, in 1943, co-ordinated Allied efforts to preserve works of art and archival materials in war zones.
Roberts was disturbed by the result-oriented liberalism of the Court, and relations grew strained between him and his fellow justices. He resigned in July 1945 and served as Dean of UPenn Law School from 1948 to 1951. He died in the spring of 1955 at his farm in Chester County, Penn., after being ill for four months.
Harold Hitz Burton (1888-1964) was put on the Court on September 22, 1945, by Harry S Truman. He was the last sitting member of Congress to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Harold Hitz Burton was born in Jamaica Plain, a suburb of Boston; his father, a dean at MIT, had went with Robert Peary on expeditions to the North Pole. Harold went to Bowdoin College in Maine and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1912. He worked as an attorney for power companies in Salt Lake City and Boise until World War I, when he saw action on the Western front as an infantry captain, earning the Belgian Croix de Guerre. Returning home, he practiced law in Cleveland and served as Mayor of Cleveland from 1936 to 1940. He was elected to the Senate in 1940 and became good friends with fellow Senator Harry Truman.
Burton’s style as a judge was dispassionate and even-handed. It was also uneventful. His most important contribution was his help in ensuring a unanimous verdict in Brown v. Board of Education.
Later in life Burton suffered from Parkinson’s Disease and he retired in October 1958. He died of kidney failure in DC in the fall of 1964.
Ike Eisenhower replaced Burton with Potter Stewart (1915-1985), who became a justice on October 14, 1958.
Potter Stewart was born while his parents were on vacation near Lansing, Michigan; he grew up in Cincinnati. He went to Yale (and was in the Skull and Crossbones) and graduated in 1937, then went to Yale Law School (with Gerald Ford and Byron White) and graduated in 1941. He served on oil tankers in the Naval Reserve in World War II and then practiced law and sat on the city council in Cincinnati. He was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1954 to replace the late Judge Xenophon Hicks, and served until 1958.
Stewart sat firmly between extremes of ideology. He dissented on Griswold v. Connecticut based on his denial of a constitutional right to privacy, but called the contraceptive ban at the heart of the case “an uncommonly silly law”. He was in the majority for Furman v. Georgia, Gregg v. Georgia, and Roe v. Wade, but was the lone dissenter in the 1967 case of In re Gault, which extended Miranda rights to minors.
But Potter Stewart is best known far and wide for a line in his concurring opinion in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio. At issue was whether a state government could ban the showing of a film it deemed obscene. Stewart found that the Constitution protected all forms of obscenity short of “hardcore pornography”. In trying to define hardcore pornography, he wrote, “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.” Forever thereafter, “I know it when I see it” became synonymous with Potter Stewart and hardcore pornography. Stewart later admitted the opinion was judicially untenable, and recanted it in Miller v. California in 1973.
Potter Stewart retired in June 1981 to spend time with his grandchildren while he still had his health. He appeared in some PBS specials about the Constitution with CBS News veteran Fred Friendly, and Stewart died of a stroke while on vacation in New Hampshire in December 1985. soon thereafter, Watergate muckraker Bob Woodward revealed Stewart had been the primary source for The Brethren, Woodward’s book looking behind the scenes of the early Burger Court.
Sandra Day O’Connor (1930-present), the first female justice of the Supreme Court, was put there by Ronald Reagan on September 21, 1981. She served nearly 25 years, making her the longest-serving female justice (and 26th overall).
Sandra Day was born in El Paso and grew up on a cattle ranch in Arizona. She graduated from Stanford in 1950 and married John Jay O’Connor III, a lawyer, in December 1952, 6 months before graduating from Stanford Law School. She stayed in California and was an unpaid deputy county attorney in San Mateo (after over 40firms refused to hire her because she was a woman) before returning to Arizona to be the state Assistant Attorney-General from 1965 to 1969. She served in the state senate from 1969 to 1975 and was a judge of the Maricopa County (which includes Phoenix) Superior Court from 1975 to 1979 before being elevated to the Arizona State Court of Appeals.
Day O’Connor was a conservative justice, although a rightward shift in the Court made her the swing vote in the later years of her tenure (for example, she was the deciding vote in Bush v. Gore). She was furthest away, ideologically, from Clarence Thomas, and almost never joined to his opinions. she considered cases narrowly and aimed to avoid expanding law by herself, but joined the majority and wrote a concurring opinion condoning homosexual freedoms in Lawrence v. Texas.
Sandra Day O’Connor wrote a letter to the President on July 1, 2005, announcing her intent to resign, which she did on January 31, 2006. She was made the ceremonial Chancellor of the College of William and Mary from 2005 to 2012. She is currently a trustee of the Rockefeller Foundation and still hears cases as a substitute federal judge. Her husband died of Alzheimer’s in 2009.
George W. Bush’s initial replacement for Sandra Day O’Connor was John Roberts, but after William Rehnquist died it was changed so that Roberts would succeed Rehnquist as Chief Justice instead. Bush then put forward Harriet Miers, a Texan lawyer serving as White House Counsel;, her lack of qualifications caused such a stir that her candidacy was withdrawn on October 27, 2005. Then Samuel Alito (1950-present) was nominated on November 10, confirmed and sworn in on January 31, 2006.
Samuel Anthony Alito, Jr. was born in Trenton, New Jersey, and raised in its suburbs. He was in the Army ROTC while at Princeton , studied for a year in Italy, and upon graduating in 1972 was a commissioned officer in the US Army Signal Corps and placed in the Army Reserve. He was on active duty for the last four months of 1975 after he graduated from Yale Law School, and was honourably discharged in 1980 as a captain. He was Assistant US Attorney for New Jersey from 1977 to 1981, Assistant to the Solicitor-General from 1981 to 1985, and Deputy Assistant to the Attorney-General from 1985 to 1987, then was US Attorney for New Jersey from 1987 to 1990 before being appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit in 1990, serving until 2005. Concurrently, he was an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University Law School in Newark from 1999 to 2004.
Alito is a reliably libertarian conservative justice and frequently sides with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. He wrote a concurrence in the 2007 case of Morse v. Frederick in which he agreed that speech advocating drug use could be banned in public schools, he said that any such ban could not interfere with political free speech, such as debate on the legalization of medical marijuana. He was the sole dissenting vote in the 2011 case of Snyder v. Phelps, in which he believed that protests at funerals infringed on the rights of the grieving and could be subjected to prohibitions. He joined the majority in 2013’s Shelby County v. Holder in striking down section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act for relying on data for determining racial prejudice that had been out of date for over 40 years, and dissented in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius, United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.
The most junior member of the cohort of justices inaugurated on September 26, 1789 was John Blair (1732-1800).
John Blair, Jr. was born in Williamsburg, colonial Virginia (now Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia) and went to the College of William and Mary before leaving for England and studying law at the Middle Temple, then returned to Virginia to practice law and serve in the House of Burgesses, where he opposed Patrick Henry’s radical calls for revolt but still worked for the Patriots by joining the Virginia constitutional convention in 1776, and later served in various state judgeships starting in 1778. Blair was also one of the Virginia delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.
As per most early judges, Blair did little on the Court, resigning in October 1795 and dying on August 31, 1800.
Blair was replaced by Samuel Chase (1741-1811) on January 27, 1796, the last justice appointed by George Washington. He served until he died 15 years later. Chase is also the only US Supreme Court justice to have been impeached.
Samuel Chase was born in southwestern Maryland, moved to Annapolis when he turned 18 and passed the Maryland bar in 1761. (His fellow Annapolis lawyers gave him the nickname “Old Bacon Face”.) He served in the Maryland General Assembly from 1764 to 1784, where he garnered a reputation for being brash and temperamental. He represented Maryland at the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. He moved to Baltimore in 1786 and became chief judge of the Baltimore District Criminal Court in 1788 and Chief Justice of the Maryland General Court in 1791, holding both posts until 1796.
Chase was an ardent Federalist on the bench, and after criticizing the government’s judicial policy in 1803, Thomas Jefferson convinced Rep. J. Hopper Nicholson to impeach Chase. The House indicted Chase with 8 counts of various misdemeanours on circuit duty in late 1804. The Senate voted to acquit Chase of all charges on March 1, 1805, thus affirming the independence of the judiciary in America.
Old Bacon Face died of a heart attack in June 1811. He was buried in Baltimore, in the same cemetery as Francis Scott Key.
On November 23, 1811, James Madison appointed Gabriel Duvall (1752-1844) to replace Chase. Legal scholars contend that Duvall has a serious claim to the title of being the most useless judge in Supreme Court history.
Gabriel Duvall was born in southeastern Maryland and passed the bar in 1778.He worked as a clerk of the state militia and of the Maryland House of Delegates, of which he was a member from 1787 to 1794. he was a US Congressman from 1794 to 1796, Chief Justice of the Maryland General Court from 1796 to 1802, and Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury from 1802 to 1811.
In the 23 years Duvall sat on the bench he wrote only 18 opinions: 15 majority, 2 concurring, and one dissent, in cases mostly concerning financial matters or Maryland state law. By the end of his career he had become feeble and deaf, clinging to his post for fear of who might follow him. He retired in January 1835 and died 9 years later at his home in Glenn Dale, Maryland.
Philip Barbour (1783-1841) replaced Duvall on March 15, 1836, and served until his death in February of 1841. His brother, James Barbour, was Secretary of War under John Quincy Adams.
Philip Pendleton Barbour was born in Virginia and went to William and Mary. He was a member of the Virginia assembly from 1812 to 1814 and a Congressman from 1814 to 1825 and again from 1827 to 1830; he was Speaker of the House from 1821 to 1823. In 1830 he was appointed to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, serving to 1836.
Barbour was firmly a Jacksonian Democrat, but did not do much on the Court. He died in 1841 of a heart attack in the middle of the Amistad Case. A county in West Virginia was named after him.
Peter V. Daniel (1784-1860) was appointed by Martin van Buren on March 3, 1841, and served until his death.
Peter Vivian Daniel was born in northern Virginia and went to Princeton for a year before passing the Virginia bar in 1808. He was a member of the Virginia assembly from 1809 to 1812 and Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia from 1818 to 1836. He was appointed to Philip Barbour’s vacated seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 1836.
Daniel authored only one important opinion in his career, 1848’s West River Bridge Co. v. Dix, which established that it was not unconstitutional for a government to violate a grant or contract in the course of exercising its powers of eminent domain. Daniel died in Richmond in March 1860.
President James “The Old Public Functionary” Buchanan attempted to fill the seat with his attorney-general, Jeremiah S. Black, but the Senate rejected him in 1861. The seat stayed vacant until July 16, 1862, when president Abraham Lincoln appointed Dr. Samuel Miller (1816-1890) to the Supreme Court. He served until his death.
Samuel Freeman Miller was born in Richmond, Kentucky, and got a medical degree from Transylvania University in Lexington. He passed the bar in 1847 after studying law in his spare time. Miller was an abolitionist, so he moved to the free state of Iowa, settling in Keokuk. He became an incredibly well-respected member of the legal community and of the Republican Party – so much so that the Senate confirmed his appointment to the Supreme Court within half an hour of receiving it.
On the Court, Miller backed the policies of the Lincoln administration. He was in the majority on 1876’s United States v. Cruikshank, which held the government was powerless to stop private citizens from violating the constitutional rights of others, but wrote the opinion on 1884’s Ex parte Yarborough, which ruled the government had the power to protect blacks from the KKK. Overall, Miller was extremely productive on the Court, writing twice as many opinions as any of his benchmates. The legal establishment clamoured for his appointment as Chief Justice in 1873, but it went to Morrison Waite instead.
Miller also sat on the commission to determine the victor of the 1876 presidential election, voting for Rutherford Hayes. Miller died in DC in October 1890 and was buried in Keokuk.
Henry Billings Brown (1836-1913) was appointed to the Supreme Court by Benjamin Harrison on29 December 1890, and sat until May 1906. He was responsible for one of the worst decisions in Supreme Court history by writing the majority opinion for Plessy v. Ferguson.
Henry Billings Brown was born in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts and graduated from Yale in 1856. He then moved to Detroit and became an expert on Great Lakes shipping law, occasionally serving as a county judge and as a deputy US Marshall. He hired someone to take his place in the Union Army during the Civil War, and became financially independent after the death of his father-in-law, a rich lumber merchant. He was appointed to a seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in 1875, serving until 1890. He also taught admiralty law at the University of Michigan Law school and medical law at Detroit Medical College, and wrote a textbook on admiralty law for Georgetown University.
Besides his majority opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown also concurred in Lochner v. New York, but also wrote for the Court in 1898’s Holden v. Hardy, which upheld a Utah law limiting the work days of miners. He was largely against government intervention in business, but supported federal income tax.
Brown went mostly blind in his old age and retired at the age of 70. He died of heart failure in Bronxville, N.Y.
William Moody (1853-1917) was appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to replace Brown on December 12, 1906, and sat for a month short of four years.
William Henry Moody was born in Newbury, Massachusetts, and graduated from Harvard in 1876, where he was friends and classmates with Teddy Roosevelt. He was appointed US Attorney for Eastern Massachusetts in 1890 and was the junior prosecutor in the Lizzie Borden murder case. He was elected to Congress from 1895 to 1902, then served as Secretary of the Navy from 1902 to 1904 and Attorney-General from 1904 to 1906.
In his brief time on the Court, Moody wrote 67 opinions, including the majority opinion in 1908’s Louisville & Nashville Railroad Co. v. Mottley, which limited federal civil judicial jurisdiction to cases where the plaintiff’s cause of action is based on federal law.
In 1908 Moody was struck by rheumatism, which crippled him so much that he left the Supreme Court to recuperate on May 7, 1909, and never returned. He resigned in November 1910 after receiving a special pension from Congress and died at Haverhill, Mass., in July 1917. A Navy destroyer in World War I, the USS Moody, was named after him.
William Howard Taft chose Joseph Lamar (1857-1916) to succeed Moody on December 12, 1910, and he served for about five years.
Joseph Rucker Lamar was born in northern Georgia and graduated from the University of Georgia in 1877, then studied law at Washington and Lee before setting up a law practice in Augusta, Ga. He was a member of the Georgia state assembly from 1886 to 1889 and served on the Georgia Supreme Court from 1901 to 1905.
Lamar did not do much in his time on the Court, but he did represent America at the ABC Powers Conference of 1914, averting the US from declaring war on Mexico over some border incidents during the Mexican Revolution. He received a formal Thanks from Congress for his work there.
Lamar’s work schedule played havoc with his health and he died on January 2, 1916. He was buried in Augusta.
Louis Brandeis (1856-1941), the first Jew to serve on the Supreme Court, and arguably the first liberal Justice in the modern sense of the word, was appointed by Woodrow Wilson on June 1, 1916, and served for almost 23 years, until February 13, 1939.
Louis Dembitz Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky, to Bohemian immigrant parents. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1877 with the highest GPA in the school’s history (a record that stood for over 80 years thereafter). The next year he took a job at a law firm in St. Louis, but seven months later returned to Boston to start his own law practice. He became so successful that Melville Fuller, the Chief Justice, recommended Brandeis to a friend as “the best attorney he knew of in the Eastern U.S.” Increasingly, Brandeis turned to prosecuting monopolies and big business and defending workers’ rights pro bono, to the point he was known as “the People’s Lawyer.” He developed an interest in Zionism in the early 1900s and encouraged Jewish settlement in Palestine. He was active in the Progressive Party and stood behind the liberal tendencies of the Wilson administration, leading to his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Brandeis quickly established himself as the most liberal member of the Court. He opposed the pro-business hegemony of the Lochner Era; in this, he was allied with Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., who opposed overturning legislative acts protecting workers. Brandeis later allied with Harlan Stone and Benjamin Cardozo as “the Three Musketeers” to defend FDR’s New Deal legislation before the Court. Brandeis was an early proponents to the right to privacy, and was largely in favour of unregulated free speech, with the exception of speech with a “captive audience”, such as on billboards, a distinction he made in writing the majority opinion for 1932’s Packer Corporation v. Utah.
Brandeis’s poor eyesight worsened in his old age and retired in February 1939, then died of a heart attack in October 1941. Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., is named after him, as is the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville; also, a suburb of the Israeli city of Hadera is named Kfar Brandeis in his honour.
William O. Douglas (1898-1980) took his seat on the Supreme Court on April 12, 1939. He held it for nearly 37 years, the longest term of service in Supreme Court history. He also holds the Court record for written opinions (1,164), dissenting opinions (484), marriages (4) and divorces (3).
William Orville Douglas was born in Otter Tail County, Minnesota, the son of a Presbyterian minister from Nova Scotia. The family later settled in Washington state, and Douglas got a scholarship to Whitman College in Walla Walla, working his way through school as a waiter, janitor, and cherry picker. He taught in high schools for 2 years after graduating to save up for law school, graduating 5th in his class from Columbia Law School in 1925. He got a job with a rich New York firm, but quit soon after and taught law at Columbia, and later Yale, before leaving to work for the Securities and Exchange Commission, becoming Chairman of the SEC in 1937 and a close friend to FDR.
“Wild Bill” Douglas’s struggle-ridden upbringing had shaped him into one of the staunchest defenders of the poor and disenfranchised the Supreme Court had ever seen. He was openly partisan on the Court, saying, “The Constitution is not neutral.” He clashed with Felix Frankfurter over matters of judicial restraint and rarely used text or precedent in his short, pithy opinions, relying instead on philosophy and contemporary societal observations. He was suspicious of the “tyranny of the majority” and wrote the Court’s opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut, establishing a Constitutional right to privacy, a point with which he split with his longtime ally, Hugo Black. In 1953 he granted a stay of execution to the spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg; Chief Justice Vinson overturned the stay, and Douglas briefly faced congressional impeachment proceedings that ultimately went nowhere. He was an environmentalist; his dissent in 1972’s Sierra Club v. Morton argued that certain inanimate objects, like trees, should have a certain sort of legal standing before the Court. (Douglas sat on the Board of Directors for the Sierra Club from 1960 to 1962, and wrote a glowing review of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring for the Book-of-the-Month Club.) Douglas wrote more than two dozen books in his lifetime (more than any other justice), mostly about law, nature, and philosophy, as well as a few autobiographies.
By the late 1960s most of Douglas’s salary had been taken up by his divorces and he had to take work on the side, including for a possibly illicit group called the Parvin Foundation, which had in its crosshairs House minority leader Rep. Gerald Ford. Abe Fortas was also tangled up in the Parvin Foundation; his personal justification for resigning in 1969 was to protect Douglas from investigation. Nevertheless, in April 1970 Rep. Ford moved to start impeachment hearings against Douglas that were eventually stopped when no evidence of wrongdoing was found.
On New Year’s Eve 1974 Douglas suffered a crippling stroke while on vacation in the Bahamas, but attempted to return to work despite being severely disabled. He finally retired at the urging of his old friend Abe Fortas on November 12, 1975, after 36 years and 209 days on the bench. Even then, Douglas assumed he had taken senior status and continued to attempt to work, only stopping after all nine justices signed a formal letter asking him to stop when he tried to submit an opinion in the case of Gregg v. Georgia in 1976. Douglas died on January 19, 1980, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, despite there being no proof he ever served in the military.
Douglas’s old nemesis, President Gerald Ford, appointed as his successor John Paul Stevens (1920-present), who took office on December 19, 1975. When he retired in 2010 at the age of 90, he became the 2nd-oldest and 3rd-longest serving justice in Supreme Court history.
John Paul Stevens was born in Chicago to a rich family; his father owned the largest hotel in Chicago (it is still standing, and is now the Chicago Hilton). As a boy he met Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh, and was at Wrigley Field to see Babe Ruth hit his famous “called shot” in the 1932 World Series. He earned a BA in English from the University of Chicago in 1941 and was working on his master’s when he left to join the Navy in world War II; working as a codebreaker, he was awarded a Bronze Star for his help in the assassination of Admiral Yamamoto in 1943. After the war he went to Northwestern Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 1947 with the highest GPA in the school’s history. He then served as a clerk to justice Wiley Rutledge in 1947, then practiced law in Chicago from 1948 to 1970, when he was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, serving until 1975.
Stevens was a diligent, if uninspiring, justice. He often wrote dissenting opinions and allowed his beliefs to change with experience; for example, where he initially opposed affirmative action, he grew to support it in his later years. From the late 1980s onward he was generally considered a liberal judge. Justice Stevens retired on June 29, 2010, and is enjoying a quiet retirement.
Elena Kagan (1960-present), currently the most junior of all Supreme Court justices, was appointed by Barack Obama on August 7, 2010.
Elena Kagan was born on the Upper West Side of New York to a family of middle-class Conservative Jews. She dressed as a judge for her high school yearbook photo. She went to Princeton, got a scholarship to Oxford, and earned a JD from Harvard Law School in 1986. She clerked for Thurgood Marshall (who called her “Shorty”) and went into private practice in DC. She was a professor at the University of Chicago Law School from 1991 to 1999, when she was nominated to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit; her nomination lapsed, and so Kagan returned to teaching, joining the faculty of Harvard Law School in 1999 and becoming Dean in 2003, where she won favour with her students by creating a more student-friendly environment. Barack Obama appointed her as the first female Solicitor-General in 2009, and she argued the Government’s position before the Supreme Court in the 2010 case of Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
As Kagan has no previous judicial experience, she remains a largely untested quantity. The legal analyst Jeffery Rosen has praised her as “unusually eloquent”, and she’s more or less considered a safe liberal seat on the Court, having so far voted to uphold Obamacare and gay marriage.
In 1807 the supreme Court was increased to seven justices, in order to make an odd number. Thomas Jefferson filled this new seat with Thomas Todd (1765-1826), who took office on March 3 and stayed until his death.
Thomas Todd was born in northern coastal Virginia. He fought for six months in the Revolution, then attended Washington and Lee University, graduating in 1783. He studied law and surveying and moved to the far west of Virginia, in what would become the state of Kentucky. He was chief clerk to the Kentucky Court of Appeals from 1789 to 1801, when he became a judge of that Court, and Chief Justice from 1806.
Todd’s expertise was in land and survey law. In almost 20 years on the Supreme Court he wrote only 14 opinions. The most important was a ruling in the 1824 case of Riggs v. Taylor, in which Todd found a copy of a document used as evidence should only be admissible if the original document is lost or destroyed.
Todd died at his home in Frankfort, Ky., in February 1826. At his death he owned a lot of land around Frankfort, valued at about $70,000 – about $1.4 million in today’s money.
Robert Trimble (1776-1828) replaced Todd on May 9, 1826, the only Supreme Court appointment of John Quincy Adams. He served until he died two years later.
Robert Trimble was born in Berkeley County, Virginia (now West Virginia), and moved to Kentucky when he was 3. He studied at a law school in Lebanon, Ohio, and passed the Kentucky bar in 1803. He was elected to the Kentucky state legislature for a term in 1803, then appointed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1808, returning to private practice in 1810. He was appointed US Attorney for the District of Kentucky in 1813, then a judge of the federal District Court for the District of Kentucky in 1817.
Trimble wrote the majority opinion in the 1827 case of Ogden v. Saunders, which ruled that the federal government did not hold the exclusive right to pass laws concerning bankruptcy. The case is notable because it’s the only constitutional case in Chief Justice Marshall’s tenure that he dissented upon. This is made more notable still by considering that Trimble almost always sided with Marshall on every other case.
Trimble died suddenly of a “bilious fever” (an old-timey name for any fever accompanied by gastrointestinal distress) at his home in Paris, Ky., in August 1828. A county in Kentucky was named after him.
Andrew Jackson decided to fill the sudden vacancy with JQA’s outgoing Postmaster-General, John McLean (1785-1861), after he declined appointments as Secretary of the Navy and Secretary of the Treasury. McLean joined the Supreme Court on March 7, 1829, and stayed until he died.
John McLean was born in northern New Jersey and lived as a child in Virginia and Kentucky before his family settled in Ridgeville, Ohio. He passed the Ohio bar in 1807 and founded a newspaper in nearby Lebanon. He served as a US Congressman from 1813 to 1816, as a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court from 1816 to 1822, as the federal Commissioner of the General Land Office from 1822 to 1823, and as Postmaster-General from 1823 to 1829, in the cabinets of James Monroe and John Quincy Adams.
McLean stayed politically active on the Court, but with fluid loyalty; he started as a Jacksonian Democrat, then became an Anti-Jacksonian Democrat, an Anti-Masonic, a Whig, a Free Soiler, and finally ended up as a Republican. He sought (and lost) the Republican presidential nomination in 1856 and 1860. McLean was a fervent abolitionist and was the other dissenter (besides Benjamin Curtis) in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford. McLean’s most important decision on the Court was his majority opinion in the case of Wheaton v. Peters in 1834, which established that copyright on published works exists as created by Congressional copyright law, rather than as a naturally existing right protected by common law.
McLean died in Cincinnati in March 1861. His son Nathaniel was a Union brigadier-general in the Civil War, serving at the Second Battle of Bull Run and at Chancellorsville.
Abraham Lincoln replaced McLean with Noah Swayne (1804-1884) on January 24, 1862, and served for nearly 20 years. He is the only Quaker to serve on the Supreme Court.
Noah Haynes Swayne was born in Virginia and studied medicine until his teacher died, then read law instead and passed the bar in 1823. He became an abolitionist and left the slave state of Virginia for the free state of Ohio, setting up practice in Coshocton, but moving to Columbus in 1830 when Andrew Jackson appointed him US Attorney for the District of Ohio. He was sent by the governor of Ohio to Washington in 1835 to mediate the increasingly violent border dispute between Ohio and Michigan, now known as the Toledo War. Swayne was elected to the Ohio legislature in 1836 and was an early national organizer of the Republican Party.
Swayne, who had defended fugitive slaves, had gotten his place on the Court on John McLean’s advice, and great things were expected of him. In that light, Swayne was a disappointment. He rarely wrote opinions and did nothing of great importance except write the majority opinion in 1881’s Springer v. United States, upholding (temporarily) the federal income tax instituted in 1864.
Swayne lobbied and failed twice to be elevated to Chief Justice, being passed over in favour of Salmon Chase and Morrison Waite. Swayne became feeble in his old age and was pressured into retirement by president Rutherford Hayes, which Swayne did in January 1881, on the condition that he could choose his successor. Swayne moved back to Ohio, died in NYC in June 1884, and was buried in Georgetown, DC. His son, Wager Swayne, was a major-general of the Union Army, awarded the Medal of Honor for actions at the 2nd Battle of Corinth (Mississippi, 1862) and military governor of Alabama during Reconstruction.
Swayne’s choice as his successor was fellow Ohio attorney Stanley Matthews (1824-1889), who was appointed on May 12, 1881 and served until his death. He was the only Supreme Court appointee of president James Garfield.
Thomas Stanley Matthews was born in Cincinnati, went to Kenyon, practiced law in Tennessee from 1840 to 1845, returned to Ohio and edited the Cincinnati Herald from 1846 to 1848, served as clerk to the Ohio House of Representatives, as an Ohio state senator from 1856 to 1857, as US Attorney for Southern Ohio from 1858 to 1861, and as a lieutenant-colonel of the Union Army during the Civil War, ran for Congress and lost in 1876, and served as a US Senator from 1877 to 1879.
The most important decision of Matthews’s career was the majority opinion in Yick Wo v. Hopkins in 1886. It concerned a city ordinance in San Francisco forbidding laundries in wooden houses without a permit, which was used to discriminate against the Chinese. Matthews found that a law with non-biased wording, but a biased application, still violated the 14th Amendment, an embryonic forerunner to the civil rights era some 70 years later.
Matthews died in DC in March 1889. Most of his papers are in the Rutherford Hayes Presidential Library in Fremont, Ohio.
Benjamin Harrison then nominated David Brewer (1837-1910) to the Supreme Court. He was sworn in on December 18, 1889, and served until he died. His uncle was fellow Justice Stephen J. Field.
David Josiah Brewer was born in Smyrna, in the Ottoman Empire (now Izmir, Turkey), to missionaries teaching Ionian Greeks. They returned to America in 1838, settling in Connecticut, and Brewer attended Wesleyan University, Yale, and Albany Law School. After graduating the latter in 1858, Brewer went to practice law in Kansas City, then went to Colorado to find gold, then returned empty-handed to Leavenworth, Kansas, where he was appointed Commissioner of the Leavenworth Federal Circuit Court in 1861. He was a judge of the Probate and Criminal Court of Leavenworth from 1862 to 1865, of the First Judicial District of Kansas from 1865 to 1869, of the Kansas Supreme Court from 1870 to 1884, and of the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit from 1884 to 1889.
Brewer was an active, productive, influential, and surprisingly liberal judge. He fought for minority rights and women’s labour protections (he wrote the opinion for Muller v. Oregon in 1908), struck down restrictions on property rights, and contributed significantly to the doctrine of substantive due process. He likely would have dissented in the case of Plessy v. Ferguson, but his daughter had died at the same time as the trial, and so abstained from the decision. His writings underlined the basis of American common law in the tenets of Christianity, and would often write that America was “a Christian nation”.
Brewer died in March of 1910 in Washington. He was buried in Lansing, Kansas.
Brewer’s successor was Charles Hughes (1862-1948), from October 10, 1910, to June 10, 1916. He would later become Chief Justice; go back to Part 2 for his bio.
After Hughes came John Clarke (1857-1945), who was appointed after the seat was refused by Attorney-General Thomas Gregory. Clarke was sworn in on July 24, 1916, and served until September 18, 1922.
John Hessin Clarke was born in New Lisbon, Ohio, went to Western Reserve College in Cleveland, articled under his father and passed the Ohio bar in 1878. He moved to Youngstown in 1880, where he co-owned a local newspaper and was active in local politics as a reform-minded Democrat. Clarke moved to Cleveland in 1897, and became general counsel to the New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad. He ran for the Senate and lost in 1903, then was appointed as a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio in 1914, serving until 1916.
Clarke hated being on the Supreme Court. He disliked the routine and the loss of the independence he had as a trial court judge. He and justice James McReynolds hated each other, even though Clarke got on well on a personal level with other justices, especially Willis Van Devanter and William Day. Clarke was a legal realist, and his votes often sided with Louis Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Clarke quit the Court in 1922 and spent his time campaigning to get America to join the League of Nations. He had supported former Secretary of War Newton Baker for Democratic presidential nominee in 1932, but was nevertheless very supportive of FDR and the New Deal. He went very deaf in his old age, moved to San Diego in 1931, and died there in March of 1945.
George Sutherland (1862-1942) was appointed to the Supreme Court on September 5, 1922, staying until January 1938. To date he is the only Mormon to serve on the Supreme Court, albeit a lapsed one.
George Sutherland was born in Buckinghamshire, England, to parents who converted to Mormonism and moved the family to Springville, Utah, in 1863, but left the LDS church several years later. George started working at the age of 12 to support his family, and saved up enough to enroll at Brigham Young Academy, graduating in 1881. He worked on the railways for a year before enrolling at University of Michigan Law School, passing the bar in 1883. He practiced law in Provo, then moved to Salt Lake City in 1893 and was elected to the 1st Utah State Senate as a Republican in 1896. He was a US congressman from 1901 to 1903 and a US Senator from 1905 to 1917.
Sutherland was considered the leader of the “Four Horsemen” who blocked FDR’s New Deal programs. He wrote the majority opinion declaring municipal zoning laws to be constitutional in 1926’s Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co., and the majority opinion in 1936 in United States v. Curtiss-Wright Export Corp., which determined the President’s powers in conducting foreign affairs were not entirely dependent on Congressional approval.
As the New Deal gained traction, Sutherland’s influence waned on the Court. He retired in January 1938 and died in Stockbridge, Mass., in July 1942.
Stanley Reed (1884-1980) served as Sutherland’s successor from January 27, 1938 to February 25, 1957. He was the last serving justice to have no formal law degree.
Stanley Forman Reed was born on New Year’s Eve 1884 in a small town in northern Kentucky, close to Bourbon County. he got a bachelor’s degree from Kentucky Wesleyan College in 1902, another bachelor’s from Yale in 1906, studied law at Columbia and the University of Virginia without graduating, and traveled to France in 1909 to audit classes at the Sorbonne. He passed the Kentucky bar in 1910, sat in the Kentucky General Assembly from 1913 to 1917, served as an Army officer in WWI, and returned to work as a corporate lawyer specializing in the agricultural industry. He raised prize-winning Holstein cattle in his spare time.
Reed’s facility with agricultural law brought him to the attention of the federal government and was appointed general counsel to the Federal Farm Board in 1929, serving until he was appointed as general counsel to the Reconstruction Finance Corporation in late 1932, where he co-created the Commodity Credit Corporation with RFC president Jesse Jones in 1933 and helped successfully defend the Roosevelt administration’s monetary policy. FDR appointed Reed Solicitor-General in 1935, where he was able to successfully argue the legality of New Deal reforms before the Supreme Court following the collapse of the “Four Horsemen” in 1936. While there, one of his employees was a man named Alger Hiss. Reed was later subpoenaed in 1949 to testify at Hiss’s espionage trial.
After joining the Court in 1938, Reed was soon joined by his mentor, Felix Frankfurter, and his protégé, Robert Jackson. Together they would form the core of the conservative wing of the Supreme Court through most of the 1940s and 1950s. His writing was praised by Earl Warren for its clarity and decisiveness, and on social matters was often a moderate and a swing vote, but did not believe in the doctrine of incorporation, and wrote the majority opinion in Adamson v. California in 1947. Reed was the last justice to be swayed by Earl Warren to join the unanimous verdict in Brown v. Board of Education (Reed had a sort of “big fish in a small pond” attitude to segregation, wherein he believed it would be easier for blacks to succeed in a more or less parallel all-black society, rather than having to compete in America at large.) Reed also wrote the majority opinion in 1944’s Smith v. Allwright, striking down a Texas law barring blacks from voting in primaries.
Reed retired in February 1957, at the age of 73. He occasionally served on lower courts on a temporary basis until his age, frailty and illness made him move into a nursing home on Long Island. He died in April 1980, at the age of 95, making him the longest-lived justice in Supreme Court history.
Charles Whittaker (1901-1973) became a Supreme Court justice on March 22, 1957, and served until 1962.
Charles Evans Whittaker was born on a farm in Kansas and dropped out of the 9th grade. He later took private lessons from a tutor and got into the Kansas City School of Law, graduating in 1924 and becoming a corporate lawyer in Kansas City, Missouri. He was appointed a judge of the US District Court for the Western District of Missouri in 1954 and a judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit in 1956.
Whittaker did not commit to a strict judicial philosophy and was a swing vote on the Court. he agonized for months over his decision in the 1962 case of Baker v. Carr, concerning judicial interference with legislative redistricting, and suffered a nervous breakdown. At Chief Justice Warren’s request, Whittaker resigned from the Court at the end of that March.
In 1965 Whittaker became chief counsel to General Motors. He was a harsh critic of the Civil Rights Act and of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. Whittaker died in November 1973 of an abdominal aneurysm, in Kansas City.
Byron White (1917-2002) was appointed by JFK on April 16, 1962, and served until June 1993. He is the 12th longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, and the only one from Colorado.
Byron Raymond White Was born in Ft. Collins, Colo., and grew up in nearby Wellington. He went to UColorado at Boulder on a football scholarship, playing halfback for the Colorado Buffaloes and was made an All-American before graduating in 1938. (It was on the Buffalos that White got the nickname “Whizzer”, a name he disliked.) After college he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates (now the Steelers), leading the NFL in rushing yards in his rookie year before leaving the league for 2 years to study at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He came back in 1940 to play 2 seasons with the Detroit Tigers, becoming the highest-paid player in the league ($15,000 in 1940, or $249,600 in 2013). He served in the Navy as an intelligence officer in WWII and was awarded two Bronze Stars. After the war White went to Yale Law School, graduated magna cum laude in 1946, and clerked for Chief Justice Fred Vinson for a year before returning to Denver to practice law. White was elected to the Football Hall of Fame in 1954 and used his celebrity to campaign for JFK in 1960, and was then appointed Deputy Attorney-General (RFK’s second-in-command).
White, praised by JFK’s administration for his sharpness and humility, wrote 994 opinions in his career on the Court. He lacked any strict judicial philosophy, taking narrow, factually-based views of cases and questioned attorneys fiercely. He was an opponent of substantive due process and was one of two dissenters (besides William Rehnquist) in Roe v. Wade. He preferred serving under Chief Justice Rehnquist; he claimed he wasn’t in Earl Warren’s “circle”.
After retiring White kept a set of chambers at the federal court house in Denver. He died of pneumonia in 2002. In 1966, the NFLPA created an annual award for charity work in his honour; coincidentally, the 2000 recipient, Baltimore Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary, had, as a child, crossed paths with Byron White by being involved in the 1976 Supreme Court case of Runyon v. McCrary, which abolished racial segregation in private schools.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-present), the second woman and the first Jewish woman on the Supreme Court, was appointed in 1993 by Bill Clinton and sworn in on August 10 that year.
Ruth Joan Bader was born in Brooklyn and grew up as a devout Reform Jew. She graduated from Cornell in 1954, then married Martin Ginsburg, a tax lawyer. Bader Ginsburg got into Harvard Law School, transferred to Columbia Law School and graduated in 1959, then clerked for a judge of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York after being turned down by Justice Felix Frankfurter for being a woman. From 1961 to 1963 she was a researcher for the Columbia Law School Project on International Procedure, where she learned Swedish in order to write a book. She taught law at Rutgers from 1963 to 1972, and at Columbia from 1972 to 1980. She was also general counsel to the ACLU from 1973 to 1978. Jimmy Carter appointed her to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit in 1980.
In her Senate nomination hearings, Bader Ginsburg refused to answer a number of questions on controversial opinions, pointing instead to her judicial record as proof of her convictions, a tack which established a precedent among nominees. Bader Ginsburg is most senior of the liberal wing of the Court, and is well known for being pro-choice and pro-equality, and an opponent of any strictly textual interpretation of the Constitution; she also believes in the judiciary engaging with other branches of government to form policy, a move criticized as politicizing the Court. Despite the radical difference in policy and temperament between the two, Bader Ginsburg is personally closest with justice Antonin Scalia, and the two often go to the opera together.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg is currently the oldest sitting justice on the Supreme Court, and much speculation has been made about when she may retire. She overcame colon cancer in 1999 and was hospitalized twice in 2009, then her husband died in 2010; all these events were accompanied by unrealized predictions of her retirement. She herself has said she intends to retire at the age of 82 (in 2015) to coincide with the retirement age of the first male Jewish justice, Louis Brandeis.
The Judiciary act of 1789 created a six-seat Supreme Court – one Chief, five Associates. Four Associate Justices were appointed on September 26, 1789, but the last one wasn’t filled until February 10, 1790. That justice was James Iredell (1751-1799).
James Iredell Was born in Lewes, Sussex, and came to America in 1768 to act as a British customs agent at the port of Edenton, North Carolina. He was on the side of the Revolution and became a very influential political essayist and judicial reformer, being elected to the North Carolina superior court in 1778 and serving as its attorney-general from 1779 to 1781.
Although Iredell heard few cases and therefore wrote few decisions, those which he did were some of the most influential of the pre-Marshall Supreme Court. He was the lone dissenter in 1793’s Chisolm v. Georgia, in which he argued that a state government should not be liable to be sued without its consent; most people agreed with Iredell, and the notion was codified by the Eleventh Amendment in 1794. In Calder v. Bull in 1798, Iredell’s opinion stated that the only state laws that ought to be overturned were those that explicitly contradicted the textual provisions of the Constitution, an idea that would eventually be incorporated into the doctrine of judicial review.
The stress of riding circuit wrought havoc on Iredell’s health, and he died suddenly at his home in Edenton in October 1799. A county in North Carolina was named after him.
Alfred Moore (1755-1810) was appointed by John Adams to replace Iredell, a fellow North Carolinian. Moore was sworn in on December 10, 1799, and served for about five years. Moore was 4’5″, making him the shortest Justice in Supreme Court history.
Alfred Moore was born near Wilmington, N.C., apprenticed as a lawyer under his father and was admitted to the bar in 1775. He served as a captain in the rebel state militia during the War of Independence; also, his father and brother were killed and his family estate was sacked by the British. He was elected to the state assembly after the War and was state attorney-general from 1782 to 1791. He lost a campaign for election to the US Senate in 1794 by a single vote.
Moore wrote only one opinion in his time on the bench, upholding that France was an enemy country in the undeclared Quasi-War. Moore retired in 1804 and went on to help found UNC Chapel Hill. He died in October 1810 at his summer home in Bladen County, N.C.
William Johnson (1771-1834) replaced Moore on March 26, 1804, and served until his death thirty years later.
William Johnson Jr. was born in Charleston, S.C., and graduated from Princeton in 1790, studying law under C.C. Pinckney (of XYZ Affair notoriety) and passing the bar in 1793. he was a state House representative from 1794 to 1798, when he was made a judge of the South Carolina supreme court.
William Johnson was known on the Court as a free thinker and frequent dissenter. In 1808 he ruled against the executive’s overextension of power over maritime trade, against the instruction of the Attorney-General and President Jefferson. Johnson died in NYC in August 1834, following complications from jaw surgery.
Andrew Jackson proceeded to replace Johnson with James Moore Wayne (1790-1867), who took his seat on January 9, 1835, and held it until he died in 1867.
James Moore Wayne was born in Savannah, went to Princeton, and passed the Georgia bar in 1810. he served as a state-level judge in Georgia from 1819 to 1829, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives as a Jacksonian Democrat.
His work on the Court mirrored his Jacksonian political beliefs: free trade, privately-funded infrastructure, and opposition to the chartering of the Bank of the United States.
Wayne’s death coincided with the brief attrition of Supreme Court seats from 10 to 7 following the Judiciary Act of 1866, and therefore his seat died with him.
The second-most senior associate justice in the original lineup of the Supreme Court was William Cushing (1732-1810), who was sworn in on September 26, 1789, and served until his death in 1810.
William Cushing was born in Scituate, a seaside town in Plymouth County, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard in 1751 and was admitted to the bar in Massachusetts in 1755. After a brief stay in Scituate, Cushing became the first practicing attorney in Maine (which was then part of Massachusetts). In 1772 Cushing was appointed to the Superior Court of Judicature of Massachusetts to replace his father, justice John Cushing. He was the only member to be retained when the Court was dissolved and reconvened in November 1775 following the start of the War of Independence, and became the new Court’s first sitting Chief Justice in 1777, serving until 1789. (John Adams was appointed its first Chief, but never took the bench and resigned in 1776.) In 1783 Cushing presided over the Quock Walker Cases, wherein Walker, a slave, sued for his freedom, claiming slavery went against the Massachusetts Constitution of 1779. Cushing ruled in his favour, and in 1783 Massachusetts became the first US state to abolish slavery.
Cushing was the longest-serving of George Washington’s Supreme Court appointments, but between Cushing’s ill health and spotty record-keeping only 19 of his decisions are known to exist. Upon John Rutledge’s rejection as Chief Justice, George Washington nominated Cushing as Chief Justice, who was confirmed unanimously by the Senate, and Washington sent Cushing his commission on January 27th, 1796. Cushing sent it back on February 2nd, with a letter declining the appointment. Cushing died in Scituate in September of 1810.
James Madison attempted to fill the seat with former attorney-general Levi Lincoln, Sr., who declined the offer. Madison then nominated Alexander Wolcott, a customs inspector from Connecticut with a lot of sway in the Democratic-Republican Party. He was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 9-24, the widest defeat of any Supreme Court nominee. Cushing was eventually succeeded by Joseph Story (1779-1845), who took office on November 18, 1811, and served until his death in 1845. Story is the youngest justice in Supreme Court history: he was 32 at the time of his appointment. He also holds the record for longest time spent as the most junior justice, for 4,228 days, until the appointment of Smith Thompson in 1823.
Joseph Story was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts. His father, Elisha, a doctor, was one of the men who dressed as an Indian and threw tea in the harbour at the Boston Tea Party. Story went to Harvard and passed the bar in 1801, settling in Salem, Mass., working as counsel to a large shipping firm and writing poetry. He was elected to the state House of Representatives from 1805 to 1808, when he spent ten months as a federal Congressman, ending in March 1809. He went back to law in Salem and was re-elected to the state legislature, becoming Speaker in 1811.
After John Marshall, Story was the most important member of the antebellum Supreme Court. He was a brilliant legal scholar, and from 1829 was concurrently a law professor at Harvard. He wrote the decision in 1816’s Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee (establishing SCOTUS’s supremacy over state courts ), and for the United States v. Amistad case in 1841, made into the 1997 Spielberg movie. (Story was played by Harry Blackmun, a retired Supreme Court justice.) He wrote a number of legal texts, which paid handsomely: by 1844 he made more than twice as much annually from book royalties than from his Supreme Court salary. His most important work, the 3-volume “Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States”, was written in 1833, and was the first scholarly treatise examining the provisions of the American Constitution.
Joseph Story died at his home in Cambridge, Mass., in September of 1845. His son was William Wetmore Story, a famous sculptor, whose Angel of Grief of 1894 is an often-imitated model for tombstones.
Story’s seat was filled by Levi Woodbury (1789-1851) on September 20, 1845, until his death in 1851. He was the first Justice to have went to an actual law school.
Levi Woodbury was born in southern New Hampshire, graduated from Dartmouth in 1809, briefly went to Litchfield Law School in Connecticut, and was admitted to the New Hampshire bar in 1812. He was a clerk of the New Hampshire state senate from 1816 to 1817, a justice of the state Supreme Court from 1817 to 1823, the Governor from 1823 to 1824, the Speaker of the New Hampshire House of Representatives in 1825, a US Senator (Democrat) from 1825 to 1831, the Secretary of the Navy from 1831 to 1834 (he was elected to the N.H. state senate in 1831, but didn’t take office), the Secretary of the Treasury from 1834 to 1841, and a US Senator again from 1841 to 1845.
Levi Woodbury’s work on the Supreme Court is not very noteworthy; however, he was the first of only three people to serve in all 3 branches of the federal government plus serve as a state governor (the others being Salmon Chase and James F. Byrnes). Woodbury died in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in early September, 1851.
Famously do-nothing president Millard Fillmore then appointed the only Whig to serve on the Supreme Court, Benjamin Curtis (1809-1874). He took his seat on September 22, 1851, and sat for 6 years, 1 week, and 1 day. Though Woodbury, his predecessor, was the first justice to go to law school, Curtis was the first Supreme Court justice to graduate from law school.
Benjamin Robbins Curtis was born in Watertown, a suburb of Boston. He graduated from Harvard in 1829 and from Harvard Law School in 1831, passing the bar the next year. He became a leading figure in Massachusetts legal circles and was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1849, where he chaired a committee to reform the state judiciary; the resulting act was so well received it passed without amendment.
Curtis wrote the decision in 1852’s Cooley v. Board of Wardens, which set an important precedent in Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, particularly in matters of marine navigation. But Benjamin Curtis’s most important contribution to the Supreme Court was the way in which he left it. In the infamous Dred Scott Case of 1857, Curtis was, along with John McLean, one of two dissenting justices. Not only that, but Curtis disagreed so strongly with almost every point of the majority decision that he resigned in disgust on September 30, 1857. He remains to this day the only Supreme Court justice to resign on a matter of principle.
(Some historians have since suggested there was more to Curtis’s resignation than that: he disliked circuit duty, didn’t get along with his fellow justices, and made much less money on the Court than he did in private practice.)
Benjamin Curtis returned to private practice in Boston and went on to argue several cases before the Supreme Court. He was chief counsel to president Andrew Johnson during his impeachment trial in 1868, and thereafter turned down an appointment as Attorney-General. He ran as a Democrat for a US Senate seat in 1874, but lost. Benjamin Curtis died in Newport, R.I., on September 15, 1874. He was buried in the noteworthy Mount Auburn Cemetery, in Cambridge, Mass.
Nathan Clifford (1803-1881) was appointed by James K. Polk to the seat Curtis vacated. He took office on January 12, 1858, and stayed until his death 23 years later.
Nathan Clifford was born on a farm in northwestern New Hampshire and attended a college-prep school in New Hampton, N.H. He was a schoolteacher for a while, then studied law under Boston mayor (and future Harvard president) Josiah Quincy III and was admitted to the bar in Maine in 1827. He was a state Representative from 1830 to 1834 (Speaker 1832-34) and state Attorney-General from 1834 to 1838. He then served as a US Congressman (Democrat) from 1839 to 1843, US Attorney-General from 1846 to 1848, and ambassador to Mexico from 1848 to 1849.
Clifford brought experience in Mexican land grants to the Supreme Court. He was also proficient in commercial and maritime law. He believe in a sharp division of power between state and federal government, and wrote nearly 400 majority opinions, many of which were much too long and overly digressive. He sat on the Electoral Commission of 1877, voting for Samuel Tilden and never fully accepting Rutherford Hayes’s victory as President.
Clifford died of a stroke in Cornish, Maine, in July of 1881, and was buried in Portland, Me.
Horace Gray (1828-1902) succeeded Clifford On December 20, 1881, and sat until he died nearly 20 years later.
Horace Gray was born in Boston to a family of wealthy merchants. He graduated from Harvard at 17 and traveled through Europe before returning to sort out his family’s finances and pass the bar in 1851. He was appointed as Reporter of Decisions to the Massachusetts supreme court in 1856, and was appointed to that court in 1864, becoming Chief Justice in 1873. He was also elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1866.
Gray was the first Justice to hire a full-time law clerk. He wrote too-long opinions that relied heavily on legal history. He wrote the opinion in the 1892 case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, which helped established the legal existence of “anchor babies”. He also wrote the 1892 opinion in Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York v. Hillmon, where it was decided an out-of-court statement of intention to do something was not hearsay.
Gray resigned from the Supreme Court in July 1902 after falling gravely ill. He died that September in Nahant, Mass.
Theodore Roosevelt then chose to appoint one of the Supreme Court’s greatest all-stars, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1841-1935), who was sworn in on December 4, 1902. When he retired on January 12, 1932, two months before turning 91, he was the oldest-ever Supreme Court justice.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was born in Boston, the son of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., a doctor, medical reformer, abolitionist, poet, essayist, co-founder of The Atlantic Monthly magazine and close friend to many of the luminaries of 19th-century American literature, including Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Walt Whitman. Oliver Jr. went to Harvard, like his father, and immediately upon graduating in 1861 joined the Union Army and fought in the Civil War, seeing action everywhere from the Peninsular Campaign to the Battle of the Wilderness. Holmes was shot in the chest at the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, wounded in the neck at Antietam and at Chancellorsville he hurt his heel so badly his foot was nearly amputated. He was a Captain by the end of the war, and was brevetted to Colonel before he was discharged. After the war he returned to Harvard to study law and passed the bar in 1866. For the next 15 years he practiced commercial and maritime law in Boston during the fall and winter, and went to London in the spring and summer, where he was the toast of British society. He became a law professor at Harvard in 1882, but resigned that December to take a seat on the Massachusetts supreme court, assuming the chief justiceship in 1899.
Holmes was known for his short, pithy, quotable opinions, a style that ensured he would become one of the most widely referenced justices in Supreme Court history. In the thirty years that Holmes was on the Supreme Court, his most famous ruling was in the 1919 case of Schenck v. Untied States, which upheld the conviction under the Espionage Act of a critic of the US government during world War I. Holmes’s majority opinion in the case famously said the First Amendment did not protect the right to “falsely shout ‘fire’ in a theater.” Conversely, later that year he dissented in the similar case of Abrams v. United States, writing that such measures could not be taken if the criticism didn’t interfere with the war effort. He also wrote the majority opinion in the 1927 case of Buck v. Bell, allowing for the forced sterilization of a mentally disabled woman, in which he wrote, “Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” Holmes was a proponent of legal realism, a philosophy which held that legal thought was inseparably linked to contemporary moral and political discourse. This caused him to support judicial restraint in overturning labour protection laws (he dissented in Lochner v. New York), and thus became an early opponent of the Lochner Era on the Court, and would later be an ally to genuinely liberal justices like Louis Brandeis. He so often found himself on the losing side of the Court that by the 1920s he was nicknamed “the Great Dissenter”.
Upon turning ninety in 1931, someone asked Holmes if he had anything he wished for. Holmes is said to have replied, “Ah, to be young and seventy again.” He finally retired in January 1932 and died of pneumonia at his home in DC, two days before his 94th birthday. His life was made into the 1950 film The Magnificent Yankee, directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape) and starring Louis Calhern as Holmes. It did not do well at the box office, although Calhern was nominated for an Oscar for his performance.
Benjamin Cardozo (1870-1938), the second-ever Jew on the Supreme Court, was appointed to replace Holmes, taking office on March 2, 1932, and dying six years later. Herbert Hoover was praised for his choice of Cardozo; the appointment is characterized as one of only a few in the Court’s history to be totally unmotivated by politics.
Benjamin Nathan Cardozo was born in NYC to Sephardic Jews descended from pre-Revolutionary immigrants from England. He was a cousin of the poet Emma Lazarus, and was tutored as a teen by the novelist Horatio Alger. His father, Albert, was a judge of the New York Supreme Court until resigning over a corruption scandal involving a corporate takeover of the Erie Railway. Benjamin got into Columbia at the age of 15, passed the bar in 1891, and made it onto the New York Supreme Court in 1914, moving up to the New York Court of Appeals in 1917, becoming Chief Justice in 1927 and serving for five years.
Cardozo was an expert in tort and contract law, and was vital in adapting common law to the demands of the 20th century. He was also one of the “3 Musketeers” that supported New Deal legislation in the Supreme Court. Cardozo himself was very humble about his abilities; he called himself a “plodding mediocrity”.
Cardozo suffered a heart attack in late 1937, then a stroke early the next year, finally dying in Westchester County, N.Y., on July 9, 1938, and was buried in Queens. Owing to the fact Cardozo never married, was apparently celibate his whole adult life, and had an early relationship with Horatio Alger – a man accused of doing unseemly things with boys – unfounded rumours have circulated Cardozo was secretly gay; yet Learned Hand, a contemporary of his, is quoted as saying he had “no trace of homosexuality”.
Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), a fellow Jew, took Cardozo’s seat on January 20, 1939, and held it for 23 years. He was the first justice to hire a black law clerk, in 1948. His firm belief in judicial restraint made him the Court’s chief devil’s advocate for most of the Warren era. It was a position he defended… with relish.
Felix Frankfurter was born in Vienna (making him, in the original German, a genuine Wiener) and immigrated to America when he was 12, settling in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. He played chess and shot craps on the streets of New York as a teen, and graduated from City College of New York in 1902. He got into Harvard Law School, where he shone academically and graduated in 1906 (he really cut the mustard). He practiced law in Manhattan and became an assistant to the federal attorney for the Southern District of New York, Henry Stimson. When Stimson was appointed Secretary of War, Frankfurter went to DC with him and became the law officer to the Bureau of Insular Affairs. Frankfurter supported Theodore Roosevelt in the presidential election of 1912, and became politically disengaged following the collapse of the Progressive Party thereafter. He accepted a position at Harvard Law School in 1913, staying until the American entry to World War I in 1917, when he left to become a JAG and a special assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker.
After the war he became involved in Zionism, at the encouragement of Louis Brandeis. He lobbied Woodrow Wilson to support the Balfour Declaration of 1917, participated in the first conference of the American Jewish Congress in Philadelphia in 1918, and was a Zionist delegate to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919. Frankfurter was one of the founders of the ACLU in 1920, and the next year was made a chair at Harvard Law School. After 1932 he became a trusted high-level advisor to Franklin Roosevelt; his service was interrupted briefly in 1933 and 1934, when he was the visiting Eastman Professor of Law at Oxford University. Frankfurter brought with him to FDR a number of bright young lawyers to help build the New deal; these men were often referred to as “Felix’s Happy Hot Dogs”.
On the Court, Frankfurter wrote a lot of opinions: 247 majority opinions, 132 concurring, and 251 dissenting. He opposed the doctrine of incorporation and any interpretation of the Constitution that severely limited executive or legislative powers, a concept known as judicial restraint. While this would have made him a liberal on the Court during the Lochner Era, during the Civil Rights era his reluctance to assert the rights of the individual against the powers of the government made him its most capable conservative. Earl Warren and Hugo Black disliked how talkative he was. He attempted to bring new justices under his wing, becoming a mentor to Tom C. Clark, Sherman Minton, John Marshall Harlan II, Harold Hitz Burton, and Charles Whittaker; he had attempted to do the same with William Brennan, but the two men repelled each other.
Felix Frankfurter suffered a stroke in 1962 and retired near the end of that August. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, and died of heart failure in February, 1965.
Arthur Goldberg (1908-1990) was appointed on September 28, 1962, by John Kennedy, serving until he quit in March of 1965. He was the last member of the Cabinet to be appointed to the Supreme Court.
Arthur Joseph Goldberg was born on the West Side of Chicago (the youngest of 8 children of Russian immigrants) and went to DePaul University before earning a doctorate in law from Northwestern University in 1930. He worked as a labour lawyer and taught at John Marshall Law School in Chicago from the 1930s to the 1950s, and served in the OSS during World War II. He became general counsel to the Congress of Industrial Organizations in 1948 and negotiated its merger with the American Federation of Labor in 1955 to form the AFL-CIO. In 1961 John Kennedy appointed Goldberg as Secretary of Labor, serving until he was appointed to the Supreme Court.
Despite being on the Supreme Court for less than three years, Goldberg was very influential on liberal thought in the Court. He wrote a very well-received concurrence on 1963’s Griswold v. Connecticut, and was the first Supreme Court justice to hold the opinion that the death penalty constituted cruel and unusual punishment.
Goldberg left the Supreme Court in March of 1965 to succeed Adlai Stevenson II as Ambassador to the United Nations, which he did for the rest of the LBJ administration. He served during the Six-Day War and was the key drafter of Resolution 242, calling for Israel to vacate its occupied territories. After leaving the UN in 1968 Goldberg returned to private practice in New York City; he ran for Governor of New York in 1970 as a Democrat, but lost to Nelson Rockefeller. Thereafter he practiced law in Washington and served as president of the American Jewish Committee. Goldberg was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1978 and died in January of 1990 in DC.
Abe Fortas (1910-1982) succeeded Goldberg on October 4, 1965, and served until his scandal-ridden resignation in 1969.
Abraham Fortas was born in Memphis, the son of British Jews who taught him the violin, for which he got the nickname “Fiddlin’ Abe”. He graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis in 1930, and graduated second in his class from Yale Law School (paying his way through with fiddling gigs) in 1933. He then commuted between New Haven and Washington, DC, working as an assistant professor at Yale and as a legal advisor to the Securities and Exchange Commission. During the FDR administration he was general counsel to the Public Works Administration, and became Undersecretary of the Interior in 1942; while there he became enamored with Puerto Rico, and became good friends with Luis Muñoz Marin, the first elected governor of Puerto Rico. Fortas later had a hand in drafting the Puerto Rican constitution in 1952. While living in DC he started up the N Street Strictly-No-Refunds String Quartet, perfoming every Sunday, and through it he became friends with the violinist Isaac Stern. During World War II he left temporarily to join the Army, but was discharged a month later for tuberculosis of the eyes. He advised the US delegation to the UN organizational meeting in San Francisco in 1945, then left to start the private law firm of Arnold & Fortas, which later became Arnold & Porter and is now one of the largest law firms in the world. In 1948 Fortas persuaded Hugo Black to overturn an unfavourable ruling against his client, Lyndon Johnson, during a close Senate primary. Johnson won the election, and was thereafter very good friends with Fortas. In a case before the DC circuit in 1953, Fortas convinced the Court to allow for expert testimony in the then-nascent science of psychiatry to back up the defense’s case for an insanity plea, a system for deciding insanity cases now known as the Durham Rule. Fortas’s biggest moment as a lawyer came in 1965, when he went to the Supreme Court and successfully defended a poor Florida man accused of breaking into a billiards hall. The man was named Clarence Gideon, and the case of Gideon v. Wainwright established that states needed to provide lawyers to suspects unable to afford their own. (The case was made into the film Gideon’s Trumpet in 1980. Fortas was played by Oscar-winning Puerto Rican José Ferrer.)
Johnson persuaded Arthur Goldberg to leave the Supreme Court in 1965 to give his friend Fortas a place On the Court. Fortas collaborated with Johnson while on the Court, steering his Great Society reforms away from possible constitutionality challenges. Fortas also wrote Johnson’s 1966 State of the Union address. Fortas was very concerned with children’s rights and wrote the majority opinion in 1967’s In re Gault, which extended constitutional rights to juvenile justice proceedings, and in 1969’s Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which established First Amendment rights for students in public schools.
When Earl Warren announced his retirement in 1968, Johnson nominated Fortas as Chief Justice, but his appointment was blocked by Republicans and Dixiecrats in the Senate. In 1969 scandal erupted when it was discovered that Fortas had signed a contract in 1966 with Wall Street financier Louis Wolfson, for unspecified legal consultations in exchange for a retainer of $20,000 per year for life. Wolfson came under investigation for securities fraud, and rumours arose that Fortas was pushing for the President to pardon Wolfson. Earl Warren persuaded Fortas to resign from the Court, which he did on May 14th, 1969. He then founded a new law firm, Fortas & Koven, and practiced prosperously in DC. He sat on the board of directors of Carnegie Hall and of the Kennedy Center, made friends with the cellist Pablo Casals, and advised Martin Scorsese (who was then dating Maggie Koven, Fortas’s law partner’s daughter) on the First Amendment protection of the use of foul language in film. Abe Fortas died in Washington on April 5, 1982, and a memorial service was held at the Kennedy Center.
Once Fortas’s seat was vacant, Richard Nixon nominated as his replacement Clement Haynsworth, a judge of the 4th Circuit from South Carolina. Haynsworth’s nomination was defeated in the Senate on November 21, 1969, and so Nixon nominated Harrold Carswell, a Georgia native and judge of the 5th Circuit. The senate rejected Carswell on April 8, 1970. Nixon’s third choice, Harry Blackmun (1908-1999), passed the Senate on May 12, 1970, and was sworn in on June 9. Blackmun, a Methodist, broke the 38-year streak of Jews holding the seat he assumed.
Harold Andrew Blackmun was born in Nashville, Illinois, and was raised in a working-class suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota, where he went to the same elementary school as Warren Burger. He got into Harvard on a scholarship, joined the Harvard Glee Club, and earned a degree in mathematics in 1929, then went to Harvard Law School, graduating in 1932. He went back to the Twin Cities to practice law and serve on the law faculties of UMinn and William Mitchell College, and in 1959 was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.
Blackmun started his time on the Supreme Court as a conservative, supporting the death penalty and voting with Warren Burger so often they were known as the “Minnesota Twins”. He did, however, have liberal leanings; he authored the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade (and wrote a concurrence to Planned Parenthood v. Casey 19 years later) and the majority opinion in 1975’s Stanton v. Stanton striking down unequal ages of majority between men and women, and by the mid-1980s he had split with Burger over the nature of unspecified rights guaranteed under the 9th Amendment, as shown in his scathing dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick, where he defended the right to sodomy. By end of his tenure, he sided with liberal justices more often than not.
Blackmun retired from the Supreme Court in the summer of 1994 at the age of 86. He appeared in the 1997 Stephen Spielberg film Amistad, playing his predecessor, Supreme Court justice Joseph Story. Blackmun broke his hip at home on February 22, 1999, and died ten days later in hospital from complications after surgery. His crazily complete collected papers, including an oral history with former law clerk Harold Koh lasting 38 hours, were given to the Library of Congress in 2004.
Stephen Breyer (1938-present) was made Blackmun’s successor by Bill Clinton on August 3, 1994, He spent 4,119 days as the junior-most Justice, until the appointment of Samuel Alito in 2006 – 29 days short of the record set by Joseph Story.
Stephen Gerald Breyer was born in San Francisco and went to Stanford, Magdalen College, Oxford (on a Marshall scholarship) and Harvard Law School. In 1964 he was a law clerk to Supreme Court justice Arthur Goldberg, and was an assistant to the Assistant Attorney-General for Antitrust from 1965 to 1967, the same year Breyer married the daughter of the 1st Viscount Blakenham (British agriculture minister under Harold Macmillan and son of the Earl of Listowel). Breyer was continuously on the faculty of Harvard Law School between 1967 and 1994. Concurrently, Breyer was on the Watergate special prosecution team in 1973, chief counsel to the Senate judiciary committee from 1979 to 1980, a judge of the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit from 1980 to 1994 (chief judge from 1990), and a member of the US Sentencing Commission from 1985 to 1989.
Breyer is a liberal, pro-choice judge. He tends to uphold legislation being challenged, deferring to Congress more than any other justice. His expertise is in administrative law, and is a staunch defender of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
James Wilson (1742-1798) was one of the original members of the Supreme Court. He joined on September 26, 1789, and served until he died.
James Wilson was born to Presbyterian farmers in Scotland and won a scholarship to the University of St. Andrew’s, where he trained to be a minister. He moved to Philadelphia in 1766 and taught at the University of Pennsylvania, where he got an honorary master’s degree. He joined the revolutionary cause, was a Pennsylvanian delegate to the Continental Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence. A very skilled lawyer, Wilson was one of the most intelligent framers of the Constitution ; he worked on the Constitution’s first draft, and was the one who proposed that slaves should count as three-fifths of a person for congressional representation. (Whoops!)
The Supreme Court only heard nine cases during Wilson’s tenure. At the end of his life he became mired in debt and was briefly in debtor’s prison in New Jersey in 1797. He then suffered malaria before dying of a stroke in North Carolina while visiting a friend.
Wilson was replaced on the Court by Bushrod Washington (1762-1829), who served from December 20, 1798, to his death on November 26, 1829. Bushrod was the nephew of George Washington.
Bushrod Washington was born in northeastern Virginia, the son of George Washington’s brother John. He went to the College of William and Mary and apprenticed law under the abovementioned James Wilson. He then lived and practiced in Richmond until joining the Supreme Court.
Washington was a competent but unremarkable judge. As a Federalist, he tended to side with Chief Justice Marshall. His most important decision was made while on circuit duty, in 1823’s Corfield v. Coryell, wherein Washington established a definition of what the Constitution meant by “privileges and immunities”, concluding that it protected a broad but defined set of “fundamental” rights. More interestingly, despite being a lifelong slave owner, from 1816 to 1829 Washington was president of the American Colonization Society, which founded the country of Liberia as a new homeland for freed slaves.
Washington died in Philadelphia in the fall of 1829 and was buried at George Washington’s country estate at Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Washington was succeeded by Henry Baldwin (1780-1844), who was sworn in on January 6, 1830 and served until he died on April 24, 1844.
Henry Baldwin was born in New Haven, Connecticut, went to Yale and Litchfield Law School, and passed the bar in 1798. He served as a public attorney in western Pennsylvania and was elected to Congress as a Democrat in 1816, serving until 1823. His strong support of Andrew Jackson’s election in 1828 gained him his seat on the Supreme Court.
Baldwin was most notable for his schizophrenic attitude to slavery: while personally finding it “abhorrent”, he regularly instructed juries to respect its legal status. He was a close friend and ally of John Marshall, and was at Marshall’s bedside as he died in 1835.
Baldwin suffered from paralysis and poverty in his old age and died in Washington in the spring of 1844. His remains were later dug up and moved back to Pennsylvania.
John Tyler tried to fill the seat with two Pennsylvania judges, Edward King and John Read, which were rejected. Then the new president, James Polk, attempted to appoint future president James Buchanan, who refused, and Rep. George Washington Woodward, who was rejected. Finally, Robert Grier (1794-1870) took the empty seat on August 4, 1846, and held it until January 1870.
Robert Cooper Grier was born near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and went to Dickinson College, earning his BA in a year and staying as a teacher. He studied law in his free time and passed the bar in 1817. His work in support of Andrew Jackson got him a patronage judgeship in Allegheny County in 1833, in which he served competently for 13 years.
His most important work on the Supreme Court was writing the opinion for the Prize Cases, a collection of four cases in 1863, which found Abraham Lincoln’s order to blockade Southern ports during the Civil War was constitutional. Grier suffered three strokes in 1867 and became very frail, retiring from the bench at the urging of his colleagues in late 1869, with his term officially ending on January 31, 1870. He died that September in Philadelphia.
Ulysses S. Grant wanted to fill Grier’s seat with Edwin Stanton (1814-1869). Edwin McMasters Stanton was born in Steubenville, Ohio, attended Kenyon College, became an abolitionist Democrat, passed the bar in 1836, worked as a federal land claims agent in California, served as Attorney-General in the last four months of the Buchanan administration, became a Republican, and served as Secretary of War through most of the Civil War, from 1862 to 1868. Stanton was at Lincoln’s deathbed, and was the man who said, “Now he belongs to the ages.” When Grant called on him to serve on the Supreme Court, Stanton was dying of asthma. In some strange Make-A-Wish Foundation move, the Senate confirmed Stanton to the Court on December 20, 1869, and Stanton died four days later, on Christmas Eve. Since Stanton never took any oath of office, and his predecessor was still technically holding his seat at the time of Stanton’s confirmation, the official records of the Supreme Court of the United States do not count Edwin Stanton as a justice. He was buried in Washington and in 1871 became the second-ever non-president (after Benjamin Franklin) to appear on a US postage stamp.
William Strong (1808-1895) was appointed to the vacant seat by Ulysses Grant, taking his seat on March 14, 1870 and serving for ten years.
William Strong was born in northern Connecticut and went to Yale before setting up his law practice in Reading, Pennsylvania. He served as an abolitionist Democrat in the US Congress from 1847 to 1851 and as a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from 1857 to 1868, at which time he returned to private practice in Philadelphia, now as a Republican.
Strong was an early adopter of the use of the Equal Protection clause in the 14th Amendment, writing the opinion in Strauder v. West Virginia in 1879, which determined people could not be excluded from juries on grounds of race. Significantly, Strong sat on the commission to determine the winner of the 1876 presidential election; like every other Republican on the commission, he found in favour of the Republican and eventual winner, Rutherford Hayes.
Strong quit the bench in 1880 to return to private practice, religious activism, and also to set an example to a number of enfeebled justice who refused to retire. He died at Lake Minnewassa, New York, in the summer of 1895,and was buried in Reading.
Hayes then appointed Civil war hero Bvt. Maj.-Gen. William Woods (1824-1887), who served from December 21, 1880, to his death on May 14, 1887.
William Burnham Woods was born in Newark, Ohio and went to Yale and returned to Newark to practice law in 1847. As a loyal Democrat, Woods was elected mayor in 1856 and to the Ohio assembly in 1858, where he was elected Speaker. He left the assembly in 1862 to join the Union Army, getting a commission as a lieutenant-colonel of the 76th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. After seeing action at Shiloh and Vicksburg he was promoted to brigadier-general and commanded under Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman during his attack on Atlanta, and then during Sherman’s famous March to the Sea and his campaign in the Carolinas, where Woods distinguished himself at the Battle of Bentonville. Woods was brevetted (i.e., promoted in title only) to major-general in early 1865, and retired from the Army in February of 1866. He moved to Alabama and worked as a lawyer and cotton farmer until appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in 1869, having converted during the war to Republicanism.
His moderate views and politically convenient status as a southern Republican got him onto the Supreme Court, but once there did little of note, serving uneventfully until his death six-and-a-half years later.
Lucius Lamar (1825-1893) was appointed to replace Woods on January 16, 1888. he served until his death almost exactly 5 years later. He was the first native Southerner appointed to the Supreme Court after the Civil War.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar II was born in Putnam County, Georgia, the son of a judge (Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar I). He was the nephew of Mirabeau Lamar, President of the Republic of Texas from 1838 to 1841. He graduated from Emory University, married a professor’s daughter, and moved to Oxford, Mississippi, where he practiced law and taught mathematics at the University of Mississippi. He moved back to Georgia in 1852, was elected to the Georgia House of Representatives in 1853, returned to Mississippi in 1855 and served as a US Congressman (Democrat) for Mississippi from 1857 to 1861. He resigned from Congress at the start of the Civil War and drafted the ordinance of secession for the state of Mississippi. He became Lieutenant-Colonel of the 19th Mississippi Volunteer Infantry (a regiment he funded out of his own pocket), but left the army in May 1862 after an attack of vertigo. Later that year he was appointed as the Confederate ambassador to Russia, and special envoy to England and France, but the Confederate Senate refused to confirm him and he got no further than Paris. He returned to UMiss after the war and taught law, metaphysics, and social science, then was re-elected to Congress, serving as a Representative from 1873 to 1877 and a Senator from 1877 to 1885. That year, Lamar was appointed as Secretary of the Interior in the cabinet of Grover Cleveland, serving until 1888, where he was constantly bombarded by crooked political hacks seeking patronage appointments. While serving as Secretary of the Interior a number of things were named after Lamar, including a river in Yellowstone National Park and counties in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.
Lamar’s tenure on the Supreme Court is only notable for him being the only person so far from Mississippi to serve on the Supreme Court. He died in Macon, Georgia, on January 23, 1893.
Howell Jackson (1832-1895) succeeded Lamar on February 18, 1893. He would only serve less than 30 months before dying in August of 1895.
Howell Edmunds Jackson was born in Paris, Tennessee, studied classics at West Tennessee College, then spent a year at the University of Virginia before finishing a law degree at Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tenn., and going into practice in Memphis. He opposed secession, but served the Confederacy as a receiver of confiscated Union property. (His brother William was a Confederate brigadier-general of cavalry, seeing action at Vicksburg and Atlanta.) After the war he swore fealty to the Union and continued practicing law in Memphis. He was elected to the Tennessee assembly in 1880 and the following year was elected a US Senator, serving for five years. Jackson was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1886, serving until his appointment to the Supreme Court.
Jackson was a vital member of the Court for his wealth of experience in patent law. He wrote 46 majority and 4 dissenting opinions during his time as a justice. A year after his appointment Howell Jackson contracted tuberculosis. William Jackson petitioned Congress to grant Howell a pension to retire on, but Howell recovered just enough to hear one last case, 1895’s Pollock v. Farmer’s Trust & Loan Co., in which he dissented. He called the ruling declaring income taxes unconstitutional “the most disastrous blow ever struck at the Constitutional power of Congress”. He died in Nashville 3 months later.
Rufus Peckham (1838-1909) was given the resulting vacancy by Grover Cleveland on December 9, 1895, and held it until his death in the fall of 1909. His brother, Wheeler Peckham, was one of the federal attorneys that brought down Tammany Hall, and had been nominated to replace Samuel Blatchford the previous year, but political machinations had contrived against him.
Rufus Wheeler Peckham, Jr. was born in Albany, N.Y.; his father, Rufus Sr., was a congressman. Junior studied law in the practice of Senior and passed the bar in 1859. He then spent a decade in private practice before serving as DA of Albany from 1869 to 1972, then as legal counsel to the City of Albany, then got on the New York Supreme Court in 1883 and the New York Court of Appeals in 1886. During this time he was an active member of the Democratic Party (serving as a delegate to the 1876 convention) and a confidante of robber barons, including the Vanderbilts and Rockefellers.
Peckham is remembered for being the epitome of the Lochner era – in fact, he wrote the opinion in Lochner v. New York. But he also held an expansive interpretation of the Sherman Act, holding it as vital to protecting consumer rights. In civil rights, he voted in favour of Jim Crow laws – joining the majority in Plessy v. Ferguson – but against discrimination against the Chinese. He died in office in Altamont, N.Y., and was buried in Albany.
Horace Lurton (1844-1914) was appointed to the empty seat on December 20, 1909. Aged 65 at the time, he holds the record as the oldest Supreme Court appointee.
Horace Harmon Lurton was born in Newport, Kentucky, and served as a sergeant-major in the Confederate Army, where he was captured twice by the Union, ending the war in a prison camp on an island in Lake Erie. His mother petitioned Lincoln to free him, and Lurton earned a law degree from Cumberland University in 1867. He went into practice in Clarksville, Tenn., and was made a chancery judge from 1875 to 1878. He then was appointed to the Tennessee Supreme Court in 1886 and the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in 1893, concurrently serving as dean of law at Vanderbilt University from 1905 to 1909.
On the Supreme Court Lurton frequently voted the same as his closest ally, the progressive justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Lurton wrote the Court’s decision in 1911’s Coyle v. Smith, which decided the federal government couldn’t dictate the location of state capitals.
Beginning in December 1913 Lurton started suffering from asthma, then caught pneumonia. He died of a sudden heart attack in Atlantic City in July of 1914.
Lurton’s replacement was James McReynolds (1862-1946), who was appointed by Woodrow Wilson on August 29, 1914, and served until January 31, 1941. He is best known as being the least likeable human being ever to serve of the Supreme Court.
James Clark McReynolds was born in Elkton, Kentucky, and graduated as valedictorian from Vanderbilt University in 1882, getting a law degree 2 years later from the University of Virginia. He worked as a secretary to future Supreme Court justice Sen. Howell Jackson, then practiced law in Nashville while teaching at Vanderbilt. He became Assistant Attorney-General in 1903, quitting in 1907 to practice law in New York City. He returned to DC when he was appointed Attorney-General in 1913, where he quickly proved difficult to work with. By his own admission, the main reason Woodrow Wilson appointed McReynolds to the Supreme Court was so he would see a lot less of him.
McReynolds is considered the most abrasive, bigoted justice in Supreme Court history. Chief Justice Taft called him irresponsible and “a continual grouch.” McReynolds openly disrespected blacks and women, turning his chair around when female lawyers argued before the Court. For years he refused to speak or shake hands with Jewish justice Louis Brandeis, and petitioned President Herbert Hoover not to appoint another Jew in the form of Justice Benjamin Cardozo, to whom McReynolds also never spoke. A lifelong bachelor and teetotaler, he refused to employ women, Jews, minorities, smokers, drinkers or married men, the only exception being his longtime court messenger, a black man named Harry Parker. He also constantly went on unannounced vacations, usually to go duck hunting, leaving his work unfinished. He was, however, very charitable and fond of children, adopting no fewer than 33 British children during the Blitz.
In his rulings, McReynolds was a conservative, especially in matters of welfare and economic regulation. He was one of the “Four Horsemen” who prolonged the Lochner era and stymied New Deal reforms, deploring Roosevelt’s plans as turning the government into a “great almoner”. He wrote over 500 opinions, most very brief and concise. He proved to be a strong defender of civil liberties; his opinion in the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sisters, protecting the right for parents to opt out of public schools, would later be cited in the decisions of Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut.
McReynolds went very deaf in his old age and assumed senior status on January 31, 1941, effectively resigning his seat. He died in Washington five years later, in August 1946; none of his fellow justices attended his funeral, although half a dozen justices, including Chief Justice Vinson, did attend the funeral of Harry Parker in 1953. McReynolds left his sizable fortune to charity.
FDR confidante James F. Byrnes (1882-1972) was appointed to replace McReynolds on July 8, 1941. He served for 15 months, one of the shortest tenures of any justice.
James Francis Byrnes was born in Charleston, South Carolina, and left school at 14 to be a court stenographer. At 18 he was made a law clerk, which legally required he be 21; he fudged the application form with the help of his cousin, Gov. Miles McSweeney. He apprenticed as a lawyer and passed the South Carolina bar in 1903. He served as a Democratic congressman from 1911 to 1925, gaining the confidence of Woodrow Wilson and championing large-scale highway construction in the 1920s. He failed to win a Senate seat in 1924 after a smear campaign by the KKK claimed he was still secretly Catholic (Byrnes had converted to Episcopalianism as a teen) Byrnes returned to private practice in Spartanburg, S.C., investing in local industry and becoming very rich. He finally won his Senate seat in 1930, holding it until joining the Supreme Court. In the Senate, he supported the New Deal, and spearheaded federal funding for the wildly successful and handsomely profitable Santee Cooper dam project.
Byrnes’s short and uneventful spell on the Supreme Court pales in contrast to his later career. He resigned from the bench in October of 1942 to head the Office of Economic Stabilization, which controlled wages and prices during World War II. In May 1943 he became Director of the Office of War Mobilization and one of FDR’s closest advisors; he was on the short list of vice-presidential choices for the 1944 election. Byrnes attended the Yalta Conference as part of the American delegation, and took very thorough notes. Upon Roosevelt’s death Byrnes was a close advisor to Harry Truman in the first months of his presidency. Truman rewarded him in July of 1945 by making Byrnes Secretary of State, in which capacity he attended the Potsdam Conference and the Paris Peace Conference. Byrnes’s relationship with Truman grew strained over anti-Communist strategy. A speech Byrnes gave in Stuttgart repudiating Stalinism and outlining America’s policy for a stronger West Germany made him TIME’s Man of the Year for 1946. He resigned from Cabinet with some bitterness in 1947, and later served as Governor of South Carolina from 1951 to 1955. He favoured segregation, but recognized problems in its application and poured money into improving the Negro school system. He became a Republican in the later 1950s and secretly advised Nixon on his “Southern strategy”. Byrnes died in Columbia, S.C., in April of 1972, aged 89.
Wiley Rutledge (1894-1949) became a Supreme Court justice on February 11, 1943. He stayed until his death six years later.
Wiley Blount Rutledge, Jr. was born in Tar Springs, Kentucky. He got a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, attended the University of Indiana part-time while teaching high school, and got a law degree from the University of Colorado in 1917. He taught law at the University of Colorado, then was dean of law at Washington University in St. Louis from 1930 to 1935 and dean of law at the University of Iowa from 1935 to 1939, the year FDR appointed him to the Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit.
Rutledge was a liberal activist judge, joining justices Frank Murphy, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas in opposing Felix Frankfurter’s policy of judicial restraint. He supported the doctrine of incorporation and fought for the supremacy of due process; this was shown most prominently in his dissent in the 1946 case of Yamashita v. Styer, wherein Rutledge argued that even an enemy belligerent (in the person of Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita) was entitled to habeas corpus.
In August 1949 Rutledge was driving through Maine when he suffered a stroke. He died two weeks later at the age of 55.
Rutledge’s successor, Sherman Minton (1890-1965), took the bench on October 12, 1949, and sat for exactly 7 years and 3 days. He is the last member of Congress to serve on the Supreme Court, and the only native of Indiana to do so.
Sherman Minton was born in Georgetown, Indiana. His mother died of breast cancer when Sherman was 10, and he turned against God for taking her from him. He worked his way through Indiana U, graduating at the top of his class in 1913 and earned a law degree in 1915, again at the top of his class. He won a scholarship to Yale Law School, where William Howard Taft praised his work, and Minton earned his master’s from Yale in 1916. He went to New Albany, Ind., and practised law until he joined the Army at the start of World War I, commissioned as a captain. He protected supply lines in France and stayed as part of the occupation force until 1919, during which time he studied law at the Sorbonne. He came back to Indiana, became a Democrat, ran for Congress in 1920 and lost. He practiced law in Florida through most of the 1920s before returning to head Indiana’s public utilities commission in 1932. He finally won a seat in the Senate in 1934. In the Senate he vociferously defended New Deal legislation; and when FDR proposed stacking the Supreme Court, it was Minton who drafted a bill to that effect. When Minton lost re-election in 1940, FDR hired him as an advisor until May 1941, when Minton was appointed to the US Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Shortly after his succession Harry Truman also appointed him as head of the War Department’s Clemency Board. The increased workload, coupled with a worsening case of anemia, made Minton very sickly, made worse by a heart attack in September 1945 (after which he was in Walter Reed Hospital for 3 months) and breaking his leg in August 1949 (he tripped on a rock in his yard).
Sherman Minton believed in the supremacy of legislation in shaping policy. Consequently, his judicial restraint made him one of the most conservative justices of the Warren court. He supported anti-Communist legislation during the Red Scare, and did not believe in an absolute right to free speech. He abhorred segregation, and needed no convincing to join the majority in Brown v. Board of Education. Minton also stayed fiercely loyal to Truman, dissenting in 1952’s Youngstown Sheet and Tube Co. v. Sawyer.
Minton’s anemia eventually worsened, and he retired in October 1956. He spent his retirement travelling, lecturing, and keeping in correspondence with Harry Truman. He died of internal bleeding in April 1965. He left his papers to the Truman Library.
William Brennan (1906-1997) replaced Sherman Minton on October 15, 1956, until July 20, 1990 – the 7th-longest tenure of any justice.
William Joseph Brennan, Jr. was born in Newark, N.J., the son of Irish immigrants. He graduated from UPenn with a degree in economics in 1928, then from Harvard Law School in 1931, returning to Newark to practice law. He was commissioned as a major in the Army in 1942, doing legal work for the Ordinance Division. By the end of World War II, he was a colonel. Brennan was then appointed to the Superior Court of New Jersey in 1949, then to the Supreme Court of New Jersey in 1951. During the Red Scare, Brennan gave lectures attacking Sen. Joseph McCarthy for conducting “witch-hunts”; McCarthy was the only senator to vote against Brennan’s appointment in 1956.
William Brennan was a very liberal judge, and held a great deal of influence over his fellow justices. Under Earl Warren, Brennan was nicknamed “the deputy Chief” for being frequently called upon to write majority opinions; he continued to hold considerable influence in the Burger court, but by the end of his career the Supreme Court had swung rightward, and frequently Brennan’s only ally was Thurgood Marshall.
Brennan retired in the summer of 1990. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993 by Bill Clinton, and Brennan enjoyed a quiet retirement, dying in July of 1997 in Washington, aged 91.
George Bush Sr. appointed David Souter (1939-present) to fill Brennan’s seat, taking it on October 9, 1990, and holding it for close to 19 years before retiring in June 2009, making him the first judge to leave the Roberts Court.
David Hackett Souter was born outside Boston and spent his teenage years living on a farm in New Hampshire. Upon getting his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1961 he won a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Magdalen College, Oxford, returning to Harvard in 1963 to enter law school. He found private practice not to his liking, and left it after two years to take a job as Assistant Attorney-General of New Hampshire in 1968, working his way up to Deputy Attorney-General in 1971 and Attorney-General of New Hampshire in 1976. He was made a justice of the Superior Court of New Hampshire in 1978, moving up to the New Hampshire Supreme Court in 1983. George Bush Sr. appointed Souter to the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in April of 1990, three months before nominating Souter to the Supreme Court in July, acting on the advice of Sen. Warren Rudman (a friend of Souter’s) and the President’s Chief of Staff, John Sununu Sr. (former governor of New Hampshire).
It was hoped (and feared) that Souter would be a solidly conservative judge, in the mold of Justice Anthony Kennedy and the failed nominee Robert Bork. His nomination was opposed by NOW and the NAACP, and Sens. Ted Kennedy, John Kerry and Bill Bradley voted against his confirmation. In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, however, Souter voted to continue abortion rights; and thereafter remained a reasonably reliable liberal vote on the Court, working best with Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He was one of the dissenting votes in 2000’s Bush v. Gore – in fact, he was troubled by his fellow justices’ openly partisan actions in the case, and considered resigning from the Court thereafter.
Souter wrote a letter to Barack Obama on May 1st, 2009, announcing his intention to resign at the beginning of the Court’s summer recess. He left on June 29th and returned to New Hampshire. He holds retired status and sometimes sits on panels of the US Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.
Sonia Sotomayor (1954-present) was appointed to succeed Souter by President Obama, and was sworn in on August 8, 2009. She is the Supreme Court’s first Latin-American member, its third female and its 13th Catholic.
Sonia Maria Sotomayor was born in the Bronx to Puerto Rican immigrants. Her mother raised her alone after Sonia’s father died when she was 9. She got into Princeton on a full scholarship, and graduated in 1976, the year she married a biologist named Kevin Noonan. (She went by “Sonia Sotomayor de Noonan” until the two divorced, amicably, in 1983.) After Princeton Sotomayor went to Yale Law School, editing the Yale Law Review” and earning a doctorate in 1979. At both Princeton and Yale Sotomayor filed a number of human-rights complaints, both on matters of race and gender. Right out of school she was hired as an assistant at the NYC DA’s office and worked as a public prosecutor. She entered private practice as a civil litigator in 1984, which she did (concurrently serving on the board of directors of the Puerto Rican Legal Defence and Education Fund from 1980 to 1992) until she was appointed to the US District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1992, then to the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in 1998.
Sotomayor has been a liberal activist judge; her one point of conservatism, the toughness on crime she displayed as a prosecutor, has not come up in her time on the Court. She dissented in the 2009 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling (her first case) and was in the majority for 2012’s National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius.