John Marshall Harlan
October 20, 2021
John Marshall Harlan (born June 1, 1833 in Boyle County, Kentucky - † October 14, 1911 in Washington, D.C.) was an American lawyer and from 1877 until his death a judge of the United States Supreme Court. He was appointed to succeed David Davis as the 44th judge in the history of the court and was one of the first constitutional judges in the United States to obtain a law degree. In contrast to most of his predecessors and colleagues, his legal education was not based, as was customary at the time, on a mere apprenticeship in a law firm. He was best known through the controversial decision of the Court of Justice in May 1896 in the Plessy v. Ferguson, with whom the Supreme Court declared racial segregation legislation in the southern states constitutional. Harlan, himself a former slave owner, was the only judge to reject the 7-to-1 decision. In his minority opinion, he predicted that the judgment would go down in court history as a shame. The principle based on the judgment “Separate but equal”, which in the following decades defined the legal and social basis for racial segregation, was adopted in 1954 by the decision of Brown v. Board of Education repealed. Harlan's 34-year tenure is one of the longest in Supreme Court history. It was characteristic of his work as a judge that he took a different position than the majority of his colleagues in around a quarter of the statements made in the judgments. He is one of a number of judges in the history of the court who are called great dissenter because of their opinion, which often differs from the majority of judges, and is considered one of the most outstanding constitutional judges in the history of the United States.