Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
James Clark McReynolds
Born at Elkton, Kentucky, he was graduated as valedictorian from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee in 1882, and attended the University of Virginia law school. He was secretary to Senator Howell Edmunds Jackson, who later became an associate justice himself. McReynolds practiced law in Nashville. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1886. Under Theodore Roosevelt he was assistant attorney general from 1903 to 1907, when he resigned to take up private practice in New York, New York.
In 1913, President Woodrow Wilson named him United States Attorney General and the next year appointed him to the Court. His opinions were terse and he did not often write dissents, considering it a waste of time. His fierce conservatism in the face of Franklin Roosevelt's legislation to fight the Great Depression led to him being labeled, with his conservative brethren, one of the Four Horsemen, along with George Sutherland, Willis Van Devanter, and Pierce Butler. McReynolds, who despised Roosevelt, voted to strike down the Tennessee Valley Authority, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and the Social Security Act, and continued to vote against New Deal measures after the Court's 1937 "switch" to upholding New Deal legislation. With the death of Butler in 1939, McReynolds was the last of the Four Horsemen on the bench.
McReynolds, an anti-Semite who refused to sit near Justice Louis Brandeis during Court proceedings, is considered one of the most unpleasant men to ever sit on the Court, being labeled "Scrooge" by Drew Pearson. However, McReynolds had a great love of children despite never marrying, and left a sizeable fortune to charity. When the Supreme Court Building opened, McReynolds refused to move his office from his apartment into the new building.
John Knox (1907-1997), his law clerk for one year in the 1930's, wrote a fascinating memoir of his experience only published after its author's death: The forgotten memoir of John Knox : a year in the life of a Supreme Court clerk in FDR's Washington (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). A monograph on the Justice--but which incorrectly labels him Chief Justice in the title--is I dissent : the legacy of Chief Justice James Clark McReynolds by James Edward Bond (1943- ) (Fairfax, Va. : George Mason University Press ; Lanham, MD : Distributed by arrangement with University Pub. Associates, 1992).
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