Judge Jeremiah S. Black

On this date in 1861, Jeremiah S. Black was nominated by President James Buchanan for the position of Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court. Born on January 10, 1810 near Stony Creek, Pennsylvania, he studied law and was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1830. He immediately began his career as deputy attorney general for Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In 1842, Black was appointed presiding judge of the Court of Common Pleas, which was essentially a position as a trial judge. In 1851, Black was successfully elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court where he served until 1857, including three years as Chief Justice. In 1857, President Buchanan appointed Jeremiah Black to the position of United States Attorney General where he loyally served the President for three years. In 1860, President Buchanan appointed Black the post of United States Secretary of State after the resignation of Lewis Cass. With less than a month before his term ended and President Abraham Lincoln would take over, Black was nominated for the Supreme Court seat left vacant in May, 1860 by the death of Justice Peter Daniel. By a close vote of 25 to 26, the United States Senate rejected the nomination on February 21, 1861. Black would instead become the official court reporter for the United States Supreme Court and would publish “Black’s Reports”, which was a two volume set of the Court’s opinions during his time as Court Reporter. Black would later briefly represent President Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial. Despite a serious accident in 1869 which left him unable to use his right arm, Black continued a brillant career. Black would go on to revise the Pennsylvania state constitution and represent Samuel Tilden before the Electoral Commission that decided the presidential election of 1876. Jeremiah Black died on August 19, 1883. Interestingly three years after his death, a relative of Black’s published a widely read volume of Judge Black’s essays and speeches, including one which advocated the adoption of the concept of “separation of church and state”, which wouldn’t be adopted by the Supreme Court until some 91 years later.