Justice Horace Gray

Justice Horace Gray joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 9, 1882, replacing Justice Nathan Clifford. Gray was born on March 24, 1828 in Boston, Massachusetts. A precocious talent, he graduated from Harvard at the age of 17. Gray returned to Harvard for law school, graduating in 1849. Five years later, he was appointed as the Reporter of Decisions for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, the highest court in the state. His efforts in that position earned him a reputation as a gifted legal scholar.

Gray was appointed as a judge to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in 1864 at just 36 years old. He would remain there for 17 years, including eight years as the Chief Justice. Future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis clerked for Gray during part of this time.

On December 19, 1881, President Chester A. Arthur nominated Gray to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on the next day in a 51-5 vote, and he took the judicial oath in the following month. Gray became the first Supreme Court Justice to hire a law clerk, personally paying a recent Harvard Law School graduate to serve in this capacity.

Gray wrote for the Court in several early cases involving citizenship and immigration. For example, his opinion in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark helped clarify the principle of birthright citizenship, which is acquired by most children born to foreign parents on American soil. In cases such as Fong Yue Ting v. U.S., Gray helped lay the foundation for the "plenary power" doctrine. This has traditionally given sweeping authority over immigration to the political branches.

Gray died on September 15, 1902 in a town near Boston and was replaced on the Court by renowned jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. He is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Selected Opinions by Justice Gray:

U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark (1898)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

The Fourteenth Amendment affirms the rule of citizenship by birth within the territory, in the allegiance, and under the protection of the U.S., including most children born here to resident foreign nationals.

Fong Yue Ting v. U.S. (1893)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

An order of deportation is not a punishment for a crime, and this does not deprive a foreign national of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Deciding whether foreign nationals may be permitted to stay in the U.S. falls within the authority of the political departments of the government, and courts cannot express opinions on the wisdom, policy, or justice of measures enacted by Congress in this area.

Nishimura Ekiu v. U.S. (1892)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

It is not within the province of the judiciary to order that foreigners who have never been naturalized, nor acquired any domicile or residence within the U.S., nor even been admitted into the U.S. pursuant to law, shall be permitted to enter in opposition to the constitutional and lawful measures of the legislative and executive branches of the national government.

Elk v. Wilkins (1884)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

There are only two sources of citizenship: birth and naturalization. People not subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S. at the time of birth cannot become so afterwards except by being naturalized.