Justice Robert Cooper Grier

Justice Robert Cooper Grier joined the U.S. Supreme Court on August 10, 1846, replacing Justice Henry Baldwin. Grier was born on March 5, 1794 in south-central Pennsylvania. He graduated from Dickinson College in 1812, having attended for just one year. Grier then worked as a teacher and a school headmaster before being admitted to the Pennsylvania bar in 1817. After starting his career in private practice, he became a judge in the Pennsylvania state court system in 1833. Grier held that position for 13 years.

On August 3, 1846, President James K. Polk nominated Grier to the U.S. Supreme Court. He was the fourth nominee to the seat left vacant by the death of Baldwin over two years earlier. The Senate confirmed Grier on August 4, and he took the judicial oath six days later. The 841-day gap between the death of Baldwin and the arrival of Grier remains the longest vacancy in Supreme Court history.

Grier served on the Court during the years leading up to the Civil War, as well as during the war and the first few years of its aftermath. He supported the Union and wrote for the Court in upholding the blockade of Southern ports ordered by President Abraham Lincoln. However, Grier concurred with the infamous 1857 decision of Dred Scott v. Sandford, which found that slaves were property and that African-Americans, whether enslaved or free, could not be U.S. citizens. He reportedly informed President-elect James Buchanan about the decision in advance. Buchanan endorsed it during his inaugural address on March 4, 1857, two days before it was announced.

Grier left the Supreme Court on January 31, 1870 after a period of declining health. Justice William Strong replaced him on the Court. Grier died just eight months later on September 25, 1870 in Philadelphia and was buried in a nearby town.