Justice Joseph Bradley

Justice Joseph Bradley joined the U.S. Supreme Court on March 23, 1870, filling a new seat that had been created by Congress with the Judiciary Act of 1869. Bradley was born on March 14, 1813 in Albany County, New York. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1836 and was admitted to the New Jersey bar three years later. Bradley spent the next three decades in private practice.

On February 7, 1870, President Ulysses S. Grant nominated Bradley to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was not the first choice for the seat, but the Senate had rejected nominee Ebenezer Hoar a few days earlier. The Senate confirmed Bradley on March 21 in a 46-9 vote, and he took the judicial oath two days later.

Joining the Court soon after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified, Bradley participated in some of the earliest decisions interpreting this provision. He dissented in the Slaughterhouse Cases, which severely limited the scope of the Privileges or Immunities Clause. However, Bradley wrote for the Court in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, finding that the Fourteenth Amendment does not support federal laws prohibiting discrimination by private parties. He also penned a notorious concurrence in Bradwell v. Illinois that voiced an anachronistic view of women and their status in society.

Bradley played a key role in the electoral commission that resolved the 1876 presidential election at the end of Reconstruction. He took a seat on the commission after one of his colleagues, Justice David Davis, resigned to join the U.S. Senate. Since Bradley was a Republican, his presence resulted in a Republican majority on the commission. (Davis was an independent, so he would have served as the tiebreaker on an otherwise balanced commission.) The commission ultimately voted exactly along party lines to award the disputed electoral votes to Republican candidate Rutherford B. Hayes, giving him the Presidency.

Bradley died on January 22, 1892 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in New Jersey. Justice George Shiras replaced him on the Court.

Selected Opinions by Justice Bradley:

Civil Rights Cases (1883)

Topic: Due Process; Equal Protection

It is state action of a particular character that is prohibited by the Fourteenth Amendment. Individual invasion of individual rights is not the subject matter of the amendment.

Baker v. Selden (1879)

Topic: Copyrights

A claim to the exclusive property in a peculiar system of bookkeeping cannot be maintained by the author of a treatise in which that system is exhibited and explained.

City of Elizabeth v. American Nicholson Pavement Co. (1878)

Topic: Patents

The use of an invention by the inventor or people under their direction, if made in good faith solely to test its qualities, remedy its defects, and bring it to perfection, is not a public use that precludes a patent even if others thereby derive a knowledge of it.