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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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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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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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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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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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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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Jackson, Robert Houghwout (13 February 1892–09 October 1954), lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born in Spring Creek, Pennsylvania, the son of William Eldred Jackson, a farmer and small businessman, and Angelina Houghwout. When Jackson was five, the family moved to Frewsburg in western New York state near Jamestown. Jackson began his legal career at the age of eighteen, immediately after high school, as a clerk to his cousin Frank H. Mott, a prominent Jamestown lawyer active in the Democratic party. Although he did attend the Albany Law School for a year, Jackson described himself as “a vestigial remnant of the system which permitted one to come to the bar by way of apprenticeship in a law office.” He was the last member of the Supreme Court of the United States to become a lawyer in that fashion....

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Marshall, Thurgood (02 July 1908–24 January 1993), civil rights lawyer and U.S. Supreme Court justice, was born Thoroughgood Marshall in Baltimore, Maryland, the son of William Canfield Marshall, a dining-car waiter and club steward, and Norma Arica Williams, an elementary school teacher. Growing up in a solid middle-class environment, Marshall was an outgoing and sometimes rebellious student who first encountered the Constitution when he was required to read it as punishment for classroom misbehavior. Marshall’s parents wanted him to become a dentist, as his brother did, but Marshall was not interested in the science courses he took at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, from which he was graduated with honors in 1930. He married Vivian “Buster” Burey in 1929; they had no children....

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Powell, Lewis F., Jr. (19 November 1907–25 August 1998), Supreme Court justice, was born Lewis Franklin Powell, Jr., the son of Lewis Franklin Powell and Mary Lewis Gwathmey Powell, in Suffolk, Virginia, but spent most of his life in Richmond. The descendant of one of the original Jamestown settlers, Powell graduated from McGuire's University School in 1925, then attended the college of Washington and Lee University, where he was manager of the football team, managing editor of the student newspaper, and student body president, while also compiling an outstanding academic record. Following graduation and election to Phi Beta Kappa in 1929, he remained at Washington and Lee for law school, earning an LL.B. and admission to the Virginia bar in 1931. Delaying law practice for a year, Powell received a master of law degree at Harvard, where his professors included ...

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Rutledge, John (1739–18 July 1800), lawyer and statesman, was born in or near Charleston, South Carolina, the son of John Rutledge, a physician, and Sarah Hext, a wealthy heiress who was only fifteen years old at Rutledge’s birth. His early education was in Charleston, where he read law with one of the leading members of the Charleston bar, James Parsons, before being enrolled in the Middle Temple in London on 11 October 1754. Admitted to the English bar on 9 February 1760, he soon returned to South Carolina. The voters of Christ Church parish promptly elected him to the Commons House of Assembly in 1761, and he continued to represent that area in the local legislature for the remainder of the colonial period. During his first term the house was embroiled in the “Gadsden election controversy” with the royal governor over its right to judge the qualifications of its own members. Rutledge became chairman of the committee on privileges and elections, which vigorously upheld the powers of the representatives of the people. Meanwhile, his private practice as an attorney was flourishing, and he soon became one of the two or three best-paid lawyers in the province. He also operated several plantations and acquired at least 30,000 acres in various grants. These activities may help to explain why his committee work in the Commons House usually put him in the second, rather than the first, rank of leaders. Nevertheless, his colleagues chose him for important assignments. In 1765 the Commons House sent him and two others to the Stamp Act Congress in New York, where Rutledge served as chairman of the committee that drew up a memorial to the House of Lords protesting taxation of Americans by Parliament. In 1763 he married Elizabeth Grimké; they had ten children....

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Story, Joseph (18 September 1779–10 September 1845), U.S. Supreme Court justice, legal scholar, law professor, and congressman, was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, the son of Elisha Story, a prominent physician and surgeon, and Mehitable Pedrick, the daughter of a wealthy Loyalist merchant who lost most of his fortune during the Revolution. Story’s father was an early patriot and a member of the Sons of Liberty. He participated in the Boston Tea Party and later served at Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Long Island, White Plains, and Trenton. Growing up in the aftermath of the Revolution, Joseph absorbed from both of his parents republican values, Unitarian theology, a heritage of Puritan idealism, a fierce sense of nationalism, and an unbending dedication to public service....

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Wilson, James (14 September 1742–21 August 1798), lawyer and jurist, was born in Carskerdo, near St. Andrews, Scotland, the eldest son of William Wilson and Aleson Lansdale, farmers. His parents, members of the Associate Presbytery, intended him for the ministry. In 1757, having won a competitive scholarship, Wilson entered the University of St. Andrews, an important center of the Scottish Renaissance. He enrolled at the St. Mary’s College divinity school four years later but, because of financial problems caused by his father’s death, withdrew and became a tutor in a gentleman’s family. In 1765 Wilson began learning merchant accounting, then quickly changed plans. Financed by family loans and anxious to advance in the secular world, he sailed for America. In 1765–1766 he tutored in the College of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania) and also received an honorary M.A. He then applied to study law with ...