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Blackmun, Harry A. (12 November 1908–04 March 1999), Supreme Court justice, was born Harry Andrew Blackmun in Nashville, Illinois, the son of Corwin Manning Blackmun and Theo Reuter Blackmun, whose family owned a flour mill in Nashville. Blackmun grew up in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, where his father worked in a succession of enterprises, including wholesale and retail businesses, banking, and insurance. Blackmun was raised in a devoutly Methodist family with a strong work ethic. Although he was a serious, hardworking student, he had a healthy sense of humor and a well-rounded personality. He and ...

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Louis Brandeis. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92924).

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Brandeis, Louis Dembitz (13 November 1856–05 October 1941), "people's attorney" and U.S. Supreme Court justice, “people’s attorney” and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of Adolph Brandeis, a successful businessman, and Frederika Dembitz. His parents, non-practicing Jews, had quietly supported the unsuccessful Austrian uprising of 1848 and had immigrated to the United States with their families in the wake of the repression and anti-Semitism that followed. Born as Louis David, Louis changed his middle name as a teenager in honor of his uncle, abolitionist lawyer ...

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Pierce Butler. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105088).

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Butler, Pierce (17 March 1866–16 November 1939), lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born in Dakota County, Minnesota, the son of Patrick Butler and Mary Gaffney, farmers. His parents were Irish immigrants who came to the United States in 1848 because of the potato famine. Butler worked during his youth on the family farm and delighted in his parents’ tales of Ireland and their supposed acquaintance with General ...

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Benjamin N. Cardozo. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-104956).

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Cardozo, Benjamin Nathan (24 May 1870–09 July 1938), lawyer and jurist, was born in New York City, the son of Albert Cardozo, a lawyer, and Rebecca Washington Nathan. Cardozo’s mother died when he was nine, his father when he was fifteen. His sister, Ellen, ten years his senior, assumed much of the responsibility for raising him. Cardozo never married but resided with Ellen; she died in 1929 and thereafter he lived alone. The Cardozos were Sephardic Jews, congregants of Shearith Israel (Remnant of Israel), often called the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue. Rabbi ...

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Catron, John (1781?–30 May 1865), lawyer and Supreme Court justice, was born according to some accounts in Pennsylvania, and according to others in Virginia. The year of his birth is variously given between 1778 and 1787, although his niece reported that before he died Catron told his family he was born in 1781. Nothing is known of his parents. His early life was spent in Virginia. He later moved to Kentucky and then to Tennessee, where in 1807 he married Matilda Childress of Nashville. They had no children....

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Howell Cobb. Daguerreotype from the studio of Mathew B. Brady. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-110081).

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Cobb, Howell (07 September 1815–09 October 1868), lawyer and politician, was born at Cherry Hill in Jefferson County, Georgia, the son of John Addison Cobb, a planter, and Sarah Robinson (Rootes). Enrolling in Franklin College (now the University of Georgia) in Athens, Georgia, in 1829, he graduated in 1834. His college years were marked by his expulsion from school after participating in a riot to protest disciplinary action by the faculty for a minor infraction of leaving campus without permission; he was later readmitted. At the same time, they saw him first show signs of his strong Unionism, for he opposed the nullification movement in South Carolina. On 26 May 1835 he married Mary Ann Lamar; the couple had six children. With marriage Cobb acquired his wife’s sizable estate, including several cotton plantations and some 200 slaves....

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Daniel, Peter Vivian (24 April 1784–31 May 1860), lawyer, state official, and associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, was born at “Crow’s Nest,” in Stafford County, Virginia, the son of Travers Daniel, a planter, and Frances Moncure. His ancestors settled in Virginia early in the seventeenth century and founded a prominent gentry family. Daniel attended the College of New Jersey at Princeton for a time, but left in 1805 to read law in Richmond with ...

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Fortas, Abe (19 June 1910–05 April 1982), lawyer and associate justice of the Supreme Court, was born in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Woolfe Fortas, a cabinetmaker, and Rachel Berzansky. Although Abe’s father was born in Russia and his mother in Lithuania, the couple immigrated to the United States from England in 1905. Despite his father’s attempts to assimilate by changing his name to William, his mother raised her children as Orthodox Jews in an overwhelmingly Protestant community. Neither well off nor poverty-stricken, young Fortas supplemented his family’s income by working in a shoe store, giving violin lessons, and playing fiddle with local bands. His amateur violin skills helped finance Fortas’s undergraduate studies at Southwestern College in Memphis, from which he received a bachelor’s degree in 1930. At the age of twenty, he enrolled at Yale University Law School on scholarship, where he served as editor in chief of the law journal and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1933....

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Goldberg, Arthur Joseph (08 August 1908–19 January 1990), lawyer, jurist, and diplomat, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of Rebecca (maiden name unknown) and Joseph Goldberg, a peddler. Goldberg grew up in an immigrant slum on Chicago’s West Side, where he led a life filled with hard work. Thanks to extraordinary intelligence and drive, he managed to graduate from Benjamin Harrison Public High School in 1924, the first member of his family ever to get that much schooling. He then attended Crane Junior College, from which he soon made his way into Northwestern Law School. During his three years there, Goldberg compiled the best academic record in the school’s history up to that point and served as editor of the law review, while continuing to work part-time. He earned his bachelor of law degree in 1928 and his doctor of science in law degree one year later. He then joined the Chicago firm of Pritzger and Pritzger. In 1931 he married Dorothy Kurgans, an art student he had met at Northwestern; they were to have two children....

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Gray, Horace (24 March 1828–15 September 1902), jurist, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Horace Gray, a manufacturer, and Harriet Upham. He was a half brother of John Chipman Gray. Gray’s mother died when he was still young. After preparation at private schools, he graduated from Harvard College in 1845 at seventeen, an early age even for the era. As was typical of a wealthy family, Gray had no urgent need to prepare for a profession. However, in 1847, while on a European tour, he received word that his father had suffered a severe financial setback. Gray turned to law and entered Harvard Law School in 1848, graduating the following year. As an undergraduate, he had developed a great interest in botany and ornithology, exhibiting the ability to memorize and to categorize specimens. That aptitude marked Gray’s career in law....

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John Marshall Harlan. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90260).

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Harlan, John Marshall (20 May 1899–29 December 1971), lawyer and Supreme Court justice, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Maynard Harlan, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Palmer Flagg. He was born into a wealthy family that had achieved distinction in the law. His great-grandfather ...

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Oliver Wendell Holmes. Photograph by Louis Fabian Bachrach. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92753).

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Holmes, Oliver Wendell (08 March 1841–06 March 1935), Supreme Court justice and scholar, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Oliver Wendell Holmes, a physician and man of letters, and Amelia Lee Jackson, a leader of Boston society and charitable organizations. The elder Holmes, for whom the future justice was named, was one of the founders of the ...

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Iredell, James (05 October 1751–20 October 1799), statesman and jurist, was born in Lewes, England, and raised in Bristol, the son of Francis Iredell, a merchant, and Margaret McCulloh. Little is known of Iredell’s early education. The family’s circumstances were modest, and when his father suffered a paralytic stroke in 1766, the Iredells were forced to appeal to their well-connected relatives for assistance. In February 1768 one of these relatives, Sir George Macartney, secured for James a position as comptroller of customs for Port Roanoke in Edenton, North Carolina. Aided by his friendly disposition and his family connection to Henry Eustace McCulloh, one of the largest landholders in the colony, Iredell soon entered into Edenton society. He took up the study of law with ...

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Robert H. Jackson Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-102574).