Justice Henry B. Brown

On this date in 1906, Justice Henry B. Brown retired as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court.  Born on March 2, 1836 in South Lee, Massachusetts, Brown grew up in Massachusetts and Connecticut.  He was admitted to Yale University at age 16 in 1852 and ultimately graduated in 1856.  After spending some time in Europe, Brown studied law at Yale and later Harvard where he graduated before moving west to Detroit in 1860.  After being admitted to the Michigan Bar in 1860, Brown began his legal career by starting in private practice as well as serving as a U.S. Deputy Marshall in Detroit, which is where his interest in Admiralty law began.  Still while also in private practice, Brown was promoted in 1863 and served as assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan.  In 1898, Brown was also appointed as a Judge of the Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit, but later that year lost an election to retain his seat.  Brown continued in private practice where his reputation as an expert in shipping law grew.  On March 17, 1875, President Ulysses Grant appointed Henry B. Brown to the position of Judge of the United State District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  Brown served in this capacity for the next 15 years while also at times teaching admiralty law at the University of Michigan Law School and medical jurisprudence at the Detroit Medical College.  On December 23, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison nominated Judge Henry B. Brown to serve as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court to the seat vacated by Justice Samuel Miller.  While on the Court, Justice Brown was known as capable and solid Justice who was known for his good character and pleasant manners.  However, Brown will always go down in history as the author of Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, which upheld the concept of “separate, but equal” doctrine and ultimately led the way for separate facilities for blacks and whites and the enactment of Jim Crow laws.  Defenders note that Justice Brown and his decision were a product of it’s time and that he wrote the decision for a Court which was near unanimious.  Nevertheless, Brown will alway be villified for this one decision despite the hundreds of others he authored of good quality.  Citing his near blindness, Justice Brown retired in 1906.  In retirement, Justice Brown took up traveling abroad before settling in Bronxville, New York where he died on September 4, 1913.