The fourth member of the United States Supreme Court from Tennessee, James Clark McReynolds, served on the Court from 1914 to his retirement in 1941. He also served as United States Attorney General under President Woodrow Wilson. Although he was born in Elkton, Kentucky after graduating from the University of Virginia Law School, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Vanderbilt Law School for three years.
Active in politics he was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1896 and that same year headed the Tennessee delegation to the Democratic convention. Under President Theodore Roosevelt he served as Assistant Attorney General from 1903-1907. McReynolds was an expert in anti-trust matters and was often retained by the government to file cases in that field of law. He was particularly successful in matters against the “Tobacco Trust”.
On March 15, 1913 he was appointed as the 48th United States Attorney General where he served until appointed to the United States Supreme Court on August 19, 1914. During his 27 years on the High Court he authored 506 opinions plus 157 dissents. He was a thorn in the side of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal as he wrote 93 dissents against the legislation proposed by Roosevelt.
McReynolds was continuously in conflict with the other justices and was labeled “Scrooge” by national journalist Drew Pearson. He was called a bigot, prejudiced and earned the reputation of being someone who seemed to take pleasure in making others uncomfortable. His prejudices extended to his selection of law clerks as he would only select white males to work for him. One of his displays of his prejudice against Jews was his dislike of Associate Justice Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the court, and who McReynolds would not speak to for three years after Brandeis’ appointment. McReynolds' list of prejudices had no limits. Race, smoking, segregation, sexism were all part of his makeup which created discord on the Court.
McReynolds died on August 24, 1946, alone in a hospital without a single friend or relative present. In death a tribute by the Christian Science Monitor praised McReynolds as being "the last and lone champion on the Supreme Bench battling the steady encroachment of Federal powers on State and individual rights.”
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