John Marshall Harlan

Article

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the legal and social basis for racial segregation, was adopted in 1954 by the decision of Brown v. Board of Education repealed.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.

life

Family and education

John Marshall Harlan was born on June 1, 1833 into a family of the so-called planter aristocracy. Her ancestors had arrived in Delaware as Quakers in 1687. The Harlans owned extensive estates and around half a dozen slaves for household chores and maintenance of the surrounding gardens. A number of family members had held influential positions in the politics of the colonies and later US states throughout the family's history. His father, James Harlan, was a lawyer and a member of the US Congress for two terms. He later worked in Kentucky as a politician in various offices, including as Attorney General. His mother, Eliza Shannon Davenport, came from a local farming family. In 1822 his parents had married. They named their sixth of nine children after John Marshall, a prominent former presiding judge on the Supreme Court. Harlan first attended a private academy in Frankfort, Kentucky, as there were no state schools in his home state at the time. He then studied until 1850 at Center College in Danville. In addition, he worked on legal literature in his father's legal practice. He received his law degree from Transylvania University in Lexington in 1852. At the time, a university education was not a requirement for a job as a lawyer or judge, as the law schools referred to as law schools were just emerging. Rather, the training of lawyers usually took place through an apprenticeship in the office of a practicing lawyer. Harlan was admitted to the bar a year after graduating. From 1854 to 1856 he worked as a lawyer in his father's practice in Frankfort. In 1856 he married Malvina French Shanklin, together they had three sons and three daughters. Professional and

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