Justice Henry Billings Brown

Justice Henry Billings Brown joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 5, 1891, replacing Justice Samuel Freeman Miller. Brown was born on March 2, 1836 in western Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale in 1856 and briefly studied law at both Yale Law School and Harvard Law School, although he did not earn a degree from either program. Brown then was admitted to the Michigan bar and started practicing law in Detroit.

In 1868, Brown briefly served as a judge on the Wayne Circuit Court in the Michigan state court system. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed him to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, a federal trial court, in 1875. He would remain there for 15 years.

On December 23, 1890, President Benjamin Harrison nominated Brown to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on December 29, and he took the judicial oath about a week later. Brown is largely remembered for writing the majority opinion in one of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history. The 1896 case of Plessy v. Ferguson stood for the "separate but equal" principle that bolstered Jim Crow laws throughout the South for over half a century. The Court repudiated it in 1954 with Brown v. Board of Education, which mandated the racial desegregation of public schools.

Brown retired from the Court on May 28, 1906 and was replaced by Justice William Henry Moody. He died on September 4, 1913 in Westchester County, New York and was buried in Detroit. The 12,000-square foot mansion that he built on 16th Street in Washington, D.C. is now the embassy of the Republic of Congo.

Selected Opinions by Justice Brown:

Mifflin v. R.H. White Co. (1903)

Topic: Copyrights

When there is no evidence that the publishers were the assignees or acted as the agents of the author for the purpose of taking out copyright, the copyright entry of a magazine will not validate the copyright entry subsequently made under a different title by the author of a portion of the contents of the magazine.

Westinghouse v. Boyden Power Brake Co. (1898)

Topic: Patents

Even if the patentee brings the defendant within the letter of their claims, infringement should not be found if the defendant has so far changed the principle of the device that the claims of the patent, literally construed, have ceased to represent their actual invention.

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

Topic: Equal Protection

A law that authorizes or even requires the separation of the two races in public conveyances is not unreasonable. (This decision essentially applied rational basis review to what would now be considered a suspect classification and was overturned by Brown v. Board of Education.)