Justice John McLean

Justice John McLean joined the U.S. Supreme Court on March 12, 1829, replacing Justice Robert Trimble. McLean was born on March 11, 1785 in northern New Jersey. However, his family moved west and eventually settled in Ohio, where he was admitted to the bar in 1807. McLean eventually entered private practice and worked for the U.S. Congressional Land Office in Cincinnati.

In 1812, McLean was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He joined the Ohio Supreme Court four years later and would serve there until 1822. After briefly serving as the Commissioner of the General Land Office under President James Monroe, he became the U.S. Postmaster General in 1823. McLean held that position until 1829, serving under three Presidents.

On March 6, 1829, President Andrew Jackson nominated McLean to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on March 7, and he took the judicial oath five days later. McLean would spend over three decades on the Court. During that time, he was repeatedly considered as a presidential candidate. McLean received votes at the Republican Convention in 1860, shortly before his death.

Despite the length of his tenure, McLean did not leave a lasting mark on the law. Perhaps his most notable majority opinion came in Wheaton v. Peters, an early copyright case. He wrote that no reporter could hold a copyright in Supreme Court opinions.

McLean was the only Justice to dissent in an 1842 decision that largely prevented states from regulating the activities of slave catchers. He was also one of only two Justices to dissent from the infamous pro-slavery decision of Dred Scott v. Sandford in 1857, which held (among other things) that slaves were property and that an African-American could not be a U.S. citizen. He dismissed the notion that "a colored citizen would not be an agreeable member of society" as "more a matter of taste than of law." McLean pointed out that several states had allowed people of color to vote.

McLean died on April 4, 1861 in Cincinnati and was buried there. Justice Noah Haynes Swayne replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice McLean:

Wheaton v. Peters (1834)

Topic: Copyrights

No reporter has or can have any copyright in the written opinions delivered by the Supreme Court, and the Justices cannot confer on any reporter any such right.