Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller

Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 8, 1888, replacing Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite. Fuller was born on February 11, 1833 in Augusta, Maine. He graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1853 and briefly studied law at Harvard Law School, although he did not receive a formal law degree. Fuller was admitted to the Maine bar in 1855, but he soon left his home state for Chicago, where he entered private practice.

Fuller was a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention of 1862 and was elected to the Illinois state legislature soon afterward. He served there for only two years, after which he did not pursue political office further. However, Fuller remained involved in Democratic party politics and attended several Democratic National Conventions. President Grover Cleveland offered him the position of U.S. Solicitor General, but he declined.

On April 30, 1888, Cleveland nominated Fuller to the Chief Justice seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on July 20 in a 41-20 vote, and he took the judicial oath in the early fall. Fuller would serve as Chief Justice for over two decades. He started the tradition of the Justices shaking hands with one another before their conferences.

As a jurist, Fuller often favored business interests and sought to blunt government power. He wrote for the Court in striking down a federal income tax and limiting the scope of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Neither of these decisions has aged well. Fuller also ended up on the wrong side of history when he endorsed the aggressive application of substantive due process to economic regulations. He voted with the majority of the Court in Lochner v. New York, which relied on the constitutional freedom of contract in striking down a state law regulating the working hours of bakers. The Court would abandon the viewpoint epitomized by Lochner in the late 1930s.

The Fuller era also saw one of the most infamous decisions in Supreme Court history, Plessy v. Ferguson, which endorsed the "separate but equal" principle in racial segregation. Fuller voted with the majority in this case as well, although only a single Justice (John Marshall Harlan) dissented. The Court repudiated Plessy over half a century later in Brown v. Board of Education.

On a lighter note, Fuller spurred a surprising amount of controversy over his mustache. Newspapers nationwide argued about the merits of the mustache during his confirmation process and beyond. A New York newspaper worried that it would distract attorneys arguing cases before the Court, while an Ohio newspaper felt that it would prove useful in shutting his mouth. At any rate, Fuller kept his mustache, and several later Justices brought mustaches to the Court as well.

Fuller died on July 4, 1910 in Sorrento, Maine and was buried in Chicago. Chief Justice Edward Douglass White replaced him on the Supreme Court.

Selected Opinions by Chief Justice Fuller:

Loewe v. Lawlor (1908)

Topic: Antitrust

A combination may be in restraint of interstate trade and within the meaning of the Sherman Antitrust Act even when the persons exercising the restraint are not engaged in interstate trade, and some of the means employed are acts within a state and individually beyond the scope of federal authority.

Pollock v. Farmers' Loan & Trust Co. (1895)

Topic: Taxes

A tax on the rents or income of real estate is a direct tax under the Constitution. Also, a tax on income derived from the interest of bonds issued by a municipal corporation is a tax on the power of the state and its instrumentalities to borrow money and is thus unconstitutional. (This decision was later nullified by the Sixteenth Amendment.)

U.S. v. E.C. Knight Co. (1895)

Topic: Antitrust

The monopoly and restraint denounced by the Sherman Antitrust Act are a monopoly in interstate and international trade or commerce, but not a monopoly in the manufacture of a necessity of life.