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 John Marshall Harlan

John Marshall Harlan

Birth
Boyle County, Kentucky, USA
Death 14 Oct 1911 (aged 78)
Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA
Burial Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA
Plot Sec R-11, Loc 28
Memorial ID 448 · View Source
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Jurist, US Supreme Court Justice. He served in this position from November 1877 until his death in October 1911. He is best known for his role as the lone dissenter in the Civil Rights Cases (1883), and Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which, respectively, struck down as unconstitutional federal anti-discrimination legislation and upheld southern segregation statutes. These dissents, among others, led to his nickname of "The Great Dissenter." Born into a prominent Kentucky slaveholding family, his father, James Harlan, was a lawyer and politician and served as a US Congressman from 1835 to 1839. After attending school in Frankfort, he enrolled at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and graduated with honors. In 1852 he decided to join his father's law practice and in 1853 he attended law school at Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. A member of the Whig Party like his father, he got an early start in politics when he was offered the post of adjutant general of Kentucky in 1851, serving in that post for the next eight years, which gave him a statewide presence and familiarized him with many of Kentucky's leading political figures. With the Whig Party's dissolution in the early 1850s, he shifted his affiliation to the Know Nothing Party, despite his discomfort with their opposition to Catholicism. In 1858 he was elected as the county judge for Franklin County, Kentucky and the following year, he renounced his allegiance to the Know Nothing Party and joined the state's Opposition Party, serving as their candidate in an unsuccessful attempt to defeat William E. Simms for the seat in Kentucky's 8th congressional district. In the 1860 presidential election, he supported the Constitutional Union candidate, John Bell. In the secession crisis that followed Abraham Lincoln's victory, he was instrumental in keeping Kentucky from seceding to the Confederate States of America. When the state legislature voted to create a new militia, organized and led a company of Zouaves before recruiting a company that was mustered into the service as the 10th Kentucky Infantry. He served in the Western theater until the death of his father in February 1863, after which he resigned his commission as colonel and returned to Frankfort in order to support his family. He was then nominated by the Union Party to become the Attorney General of Kentucky and won election by a wide margin. In 1864 he campaigned for Democrat George McClellan in the presidential election and worked as a junior partner to the state Democratic party in the aftermath of the Civil War. After losing a bid for reelection as attorney general, he joined the Republican Party in 1868. He moved to Louisville, Kentucky and formed a law practice, partnering with John E. Newman and Benjamin Bristow, and ran unsuccessfully for governor of Kentucky in 1871 and 1875. In 1877 he was nominated by President Rutherford B. Hayes to fill the US Supreme Court vacancy created when Justice David Davis resigned after being selected by the Illinois legislature to become a US Senator and the end of November in that year, he was confirmed by the US Senate. He supplemented his income by teaching constitutional law at the Columbian Law School ( later the law school of George Washington University). He was also assigned the 7th Federal Judicial Circuit until 1896, when he switched to his home circuit, the 6th Circuit, upon the death of its previous holder, Justice Howell Edmunds Jackson. During his time on the US Supreme Court, he did not fully embrace the idea of full social racial equality but he wrote several dissents in support of equal rights for Black Americans and racial equality. He was also viewed by some as oppositional toward other races, such as Chinese, and dissented in cases involving persons of foreign descent born in the US were citizens by birth. He was the first justice to argue that the 14th Amendment incorporated the Bill of Rights (making rights guarantees applicable to the individual states). In 1896 the US Supreme Court handed down one of the most famous decisions in US history, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), which established the doctrine of "separate but equal" as it legitimized both Southern and Northern segregation practices. However, he was the lone dissenter about the Louisiana law at issue, which forced separation of white and black passengers on railway cars, saying that it was a "badge of servitude" that degraded African-Americans, and claimed that the Court's ruling would become as infamous as its ruling in the Dred Scott case. He died in Washington DC at the age of 78, after almost 34 years with the US Supreme Court, the third-longest tenure on the court up to that time (and the sixth-longest ever as of 2014). The "Harlan Scholars" of the University of Louisville/Louis D. Brandeis School of Law, named in his honor, is an undergraduate organization for students interested in attending law school. His grandson, John Marshall Harlan II, also served as a US Supreme Court Associate Justice from March 1955 until he resigned in September 1971 due to poor health.

Bio by: William Bjornstad



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  • Maintained by: Find A Grave
  • Added: 1 Jan 2001
  • Find A Grave Memorial 448
  • Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for John Marshall Harlan (1 Jun 1833–14 Oct 1911), Find A Grave Memorial no. 448, citing Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, District of Columbia, District Of Columbia, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .