Justice John Catron

Justice John Catron joined the U.S. Supreme Court on May 1, 1837, filling a new seat that had been created by Congress with the Eighth and Ninth Circuit Acts. Catron is usually believed to have been born in 1786 in Pennsylvania or possibly Virginia. He spent most of his adult life in Tennessee, where he passed the bar in 1815 and entered private practice.

In 1824, Catron was elected to the Tennessee Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals. He became Chief Justice of that court in 1831. However, a new Supreme Court replaced the Supreme Court of Errors and Appeals a few years later, and he returned to private practice.

Catron had served under Andrew Jackson in battles against the Creek Indians during the War of 1812, and he remained loyal to Jackson after the general entered politics. He supported the candidacy of Martin Van Buren, a Jackson protege, against Tennessee politician Hugh Lawson White in the 1836 presidential election. Jackson rewarded Catron’s loyalty by nominating him to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 3, 1837, his last day in office. The Senate confirmed Catron on March 8 in a 28-15 vote, and he took the judicial oath about two months later.

A slave owner throughout his life, Catron fathered a son with a slave (owned by someone else) in 1827. He joined the majority of the Court in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision three decades later. However, he wrote a separate concurrence to disagree with Chief Justice Roger Taney’s assertion that Congress could not pass laws to regulate the territories. Despite his pro-slavery position, Catron opposed the secession of Tennessee and briefly fled to Kentucky during the Civil War.

Catron died on May 30, 1865 in Nashville, Tennessee. He was not replaced on the Court because Congress removed his seat with the Judicial Circuits Act of 1866. (President Andrew Johnson had nominated Henry Stanbery to replace him, but the Senate took no action before the seat was removed.)