Justice John Marshall Harlan II

On this date in 1971, Justice John Marshall Harlan II died in Washington, D.C. from spinal cancer.  Born in Chicago, Illinois on May 20, 1899, Harlan was the son of a Chicago lawyer.  His grandfather and namesake, John Marshall Harlan, served on the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice from 1877 to 1911. (See October 17, 2013 entry).  After graduating Princeton in 1920 where he was editor of the newspaper and class president, Harlan became a Rhodes Scholar and attended Balliol College at Oxford.  After returning from England in 1923, Harlan attended and graduated New York Law School in 1924.  From 1925 to 1930, Harlan served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Special Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York.  During the 1930’s, Harlan was a leading trial lawyer at a highly regarded New York law firm where he worked on a number of high profile cases.  In 1943, Harlan volunteered for the military where he served as a colonel in the U.S. Army Air Force.  After his discharge in 1945, Harlan resumed his private law practice until 1951 when he was appointed Chief Counsel to the New York State Crime Commission.  In January, 1954, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower nominated Harlan to be a Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  He was confirmed, but only served one year.  On January 10, 1955, President Eisenhower nominated John Marsall Harlan II to serve as an Associate Justice on the United State Supreme Court to replace Justice Robert Jackson who had passed away.  On the Court, Justice Harlan was known as a conservative swimming against the tide of the Warren Court.  He believed in the concept of judicial restraint and strongly adhered to stare decisis.  Harlan believed in the broad interpretation of First Amendment rights as well as the Due Process Clause.  He opposed the incorporation of Bill of Rights on the state’s under the Fourteenth Amendment and the “One Man, One Vote” priniciple adopted by the Court in voting rights cases.  By the late 1960’s, Justice Harlan’s vision began to deteriorate until he was almost blind but continued service on the job he loved.  While gravely ill, Justice John Marshall Harlan II retired from the Court on September 23, 1971.  He would die three months later at age 72.  Justice John Marshall Harlan II has rightfully been described as one of the most influential Supreme Court justices of the twentieth century.   Interestingly, while Harlan was considered a conservative, Justice David Souter would generally follow Harlan’s judicial philosophy when he took his seat on the Court and go on to be considered one of the most liberal members on the Rehnquist Court.