John Harlan I

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John Marshall Harlan
Former Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: November 29, 1877 – October 14, 1911
Nominator Rutherford B. Hayes
Predecessor David Davis
Successor Mahlon Pitney
Spouse(s) Malvina French "Mallie" Shanklin
Religion Presbyterian

John Marshall Harlan (the first) (1833-1911) was an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1877–1911. Born into a privileged slaveowning family, Harlan himself briefly owned slaves but later became famous for dissenting from the "separate but equal" racial doctrine once established in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896).

Harlan's father had been a close friend of Henry Clay and served as a United States congressman, Kentucky state legislator, secretary of state, and state attorney general. Harlan became a Know-Nothing after the demise of the Whig Party, and he was first elected as a county judge in 1858. He gave many recorded racist and states' rights speeches that became an embarrassment after the Civil War, in which he served on the Union.

Harlan helped deliver key votes to Rutherford B. Hayes at the nominating convention in 1876, and Hayes remembered that in nominating Harlan to a seat on the Supreme Court vacated by the surprising resignation of Justice David Davis, which was apparently so Davis could avoid serving on the Electoral Commission deciding the outcome of the 1876 election. Harlan then served 34 years on the Court, one of the longest tenures ever.

Harlan dissented so often that Justice Felix Frankfurter called him “an eccentric exception,” in Adamson v. California (1947).

Harlan was prescient both on civil rights and on incorporation of the Bill of Rights into the Fourteenth Amendment, to apply them against the states. [1] Harlan also voted in favor of the constitutionality of an income tax.[2] He dissented from the Lochner v. New York (1905) decision that was later overturned. Harlan's rare misstep was to reject the Court's adoption of the rule of reason for the Sherman Antitrust Act in Standard Oil v. United States (1911), as reflected by Harlan's last published opinion[3]

Harlan had a temper, and was known to read his dissents from the bench while wagging a finger at fellow Justices. He adhered to the Bible along with the U.S. Constitution, and kept both dear to his heart.

Harlan's grandson John Marshall Harlan II was also a justice of United States Supreme Court.


  1. Hurtado v. California (1884).
  2. Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. (1895).
  3. United States v. American Tobacco Co. (1911).