Justice John McKinley

Justice John McKinley joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 9, 1838, filling a new seat that had been created by the Eighth and Ninth Circuits Act of 1837. McKinley was born on May 1, 1780 in Culpeper County, Virginia, but his family soon moved to Kentucky. He passed the bar there in 1800 and entered private practice.

McKinley then moved to Alabama in 1818 and was elected to the Alabama state legislature two years later. He narrowly lost a U.S. Senate race in 1822 but prevailed four years later when he pursued a seat that had become vacant. However, McKinley lost his reelection bid in 1830. After another term in the state legislature, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1832 and served a single two-year term. McKinley then served in the state legislature again and was elected to the Senate for the second time in 1836. He stayed there for less than two months after the term began in March 1837.

On April 22, 1837, President Martin Van Buren appointed McKinley to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. He was formally nominated to the seat on September 18, and the Senate confirmed him on September 25. During his 14 years on the Court, McKinley wrote relatively few opinions. He often advocated for states’ rights and was perhaps best known for Pollard’s Lessee v. Hagan, which involved the ownership of lands below tidal waters in states that were formerly territories.

McKinley died on July 19, 1852 in Louisville, Kentucky. Justice John Archibald Campbell replaced him on the Court.