Justice David Josiah Brewer

Justice David Josiah Brewer joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 6, 1890, replacing Justice Stanley Matthews. Brewer was born on June 20, 1837 in the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), where his father was a missionary. The family soon returned to the U.S., and Brewer grew up in New England. He initially attended Wesleyan University, but he transferred to Yale College (now Yale University) after two years and graduated in 1856. Brewer then received a law degree from Albany Law School two years later. He traveled west and eventually settled in Kansas, where he held several judicial positions during the 1860s.

In 1870, Brewer was elected to the Kansas Supreme Court. He was reelected twice to his seat and spent 14 years there. President Chester A. Arthur then appointed Brewer to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, where he served from 1884 to 1889.

On December 4, 1889, President Benjamin Harrison nominated Brewer to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on December 18 in a 53-11 vote, and he took the judicial oath early in the following month. His two-decade tenure coincided almost precisely with the era of Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller.

The Fuller Court has gone down in history for its use of substantive due process to protect business interests. Brewer joined the majority of the Court in cases such as Allgeyer v. Louisiana and Lochner v. New York, which struck down economic regulations based on the freedom of contract allegedly provided by the Due Process Clause. (By the late 1930s, the Court had abandoned this perspective.) However, Brewer penned perhaps his most notable opinion in Muller v. Oregon, leading a unanimous Court in upholding a state law that restricted the working hours of women. He based his conclusions on reasoning that sounds sexist to a modern reader, such as "the fact that woman has always been dependent upon man."

Brewer also joined the Court in key decisions striking down a federal income tax and limiting the scope of the Sherman Antitrust Act. He wrote for the Court in a case that furthered racial segregation in education, although he often dissented from decisions in which the Court ruled against Chinese immigrants. A deeply devout Justice, Brewer declared that the U.S. is a "Christian nation" in Church of Holy Trinity v. U.S. in 1892. Like his descriptions of women in Muller, this claim has grated on modern ears.

Brewer died on March 28, 1910 in Washington, D.C. and was returned to Kansas for burial. Justice Charles Evans Hughes replaced him on the Supreme Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Brewer:

Muller v. Oregon (1908)

Topic: Due Process; Equal Protection; Labor & Employment

The regulation of the working hours of women falls within the police power of the state, and a statute directed exclusively to such regulation does not conflict with the Due Process or Equal Protection Clauses.

Hodges v. U.S. (1906)

Topic: Labor & Employment

A U.S. court has no jurisdiction under the Thirteenth Amendment or other federal laws of a charge of conspiracy made and carried out in a state to prevent citizens of African descent, because of their race and color, from making or carrying out contracts and agreements to labor.

Shoshone Mining Co. v. Rutter (1900)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

The mere fact that a suit is an adverse suit authorized by the statutes of Congress is not sufficient by itself to vest jurisdiction in the federal courts.